As we believe, so we should pray. Should we build as we believe?

I really like this discussion of the crisis of beauty in the modern age, and the Catholic view of beauty.

I was going to suggest that we try to offer suggestions for the top ten most beautiful Catholic churches in the country, and the worst ten Catholic churches… but then I stopped and thought about the huge number of ugly churches that would vie for that title, and the sparseness of those that would excel.

Other than the amazing Blessed Sacrament Cathedral in Christchurch ( :( ) and St Mary’s of the Angels in Wellington…
I have to say my third position would be those churches that have been maintained by many Catholic Maori in rural areas. Whether it is the original church at Pukekaraka Marae (Otaki, in the Wellington Archdiocese), or that at Waihi Bay Marae (Southern tip of Lake Taupo), or another, these churches have maintained their Catholic and Maori identies, and their beauty.

What would you suggest on the list of most and least beautiful Catholic churches in NZ? Have you any tips on beautiful Catholic churches in rural areas?

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    Comments: 15

    1. bamac September 8, 2012 at 12:40 pm


      Am afraid that neither of the two churches on my list are rural.

      Our church here in Pakuranga , since its renovation, is now very much, I feel, what a catholic church should be . As you enter the church your eyes are immediately drawn to the Tabernacle which is in centre spot, where it should be … On either side of the sanctuary is an icon … one of Our Blessed Lady and one of St Mark , our patron …Towards the back of the church is a shrine to the Divine Mercy and another on the other side, to Our Blessed Lady complete with a stand for votive candles ( something I haven’t seen in years)

      The only other church on my list would be the church at the Tyburn Monastery at Bombay, South Auckland. The little church was moved from Mercer where it had stood for many years. The woodwork inside has all been restored and two wings added… one for the nuns’ choir stalls and the other for further room for the congregation which tends to overflow on Sunday mornings for Holy Mass … the atmosphere in the church leads one most definitely to prayer … Exposition is continual from after Mass until evening.

      Holy Mass at Tyburn is N.O… very reverent with the responses chanted in Latin .


    2. Marty Rethul September 8, 2012 at 3:00 pm

      Good post Opthomistic!

      I agree that the churches you’ve mentioned are very beautiful.

      Leaving them aside, then, I’d go for the following:

      Top Ten (in no particular order):

      1. St John the Evangelist, Little River
      2. St Mary’s, Hokitika
      3. St Patrick’s, Waimate (anything built by Petre that has largely escaped the Great Iconoclasm)
      4. St Patrick’s, Dunedin (anything built by Petre that has largely escaped the Great Iconoclasm)
      5. Sacred Heart, Waikiwi
      6. Sacred Heart, Timaru (anything built by Petre that has largely escaped the Great Iconoclasm)
      7. St Patrick’s, Oamaru (anything built by Petre that has largely escaped the Great Iconoclasm)
      8. Our Lady and the Irish Martyrs, Cromwell (what a name) (anything built by Petre that has largely escaped the Great Iconoclasm)
      9. St Joseph’s Chapel, Hamilton
      10. St Michael’s, Remuera

      Bottom Ten (in no particular order)

      1. Blessed Sacrament, Gore (Truly, truly dreadful. Probably the worst.)
      2. St Mary’s Basilica, Invercargill (something built by Petre that did not escape the Great Iconoclasm)
      3. Holy Name, Dunedin
      4. Sts Peter and Paul, Nightcaps
      5. Our Lady of Lourdes, Havelock North (in fact most parish churches in the Palmerston North diocese built or refurbished since 1980)
      6. Our Lady of Victories, Sockburn (modernism gone rampant)
      7. St Anne’s, Woolston (mainly for the ‘resurrexifix’)
      8. St Joseph’s, Whakatane (three revisions and it just gets worse each time)
      9. St Mary’s Cathedral, Hamilton
      10. Good Shepherd, Balmoral

      The Bottom Ten is a tight affair. So many awful churches clamouring for inclusion, so little space. I’ve tried to include a smattering from all the dioceses.

    3. Shellstar September 8, 2012 at 10:31 pm

      Beautiful churches are few and far between here in the Hamilton Diocese but my four favourites would be the chapel attached to Sacred Heart College’s boarding house (currently under threat of demolition), the chapel on the grounds of St John’s College (origionally built in Ngaruawahia as part of the Mission Sisters’ convent), the beautiful chapel attached to the Tyburn Monastery at Ngakuru and the already mentioned church at Little Waihi which looks out over Lake Taupo (the locals aren’t keen on visitors but if you say you’re Catholic and want to visit the Church they’re OK).

      The other week I stumbled on a gorgeous looking Catholic church at Tokaanu but it was locked so I’m not sure if it’s still used. It looked well kept.

    4. Teresina September 9, 2012 at 12:20 am

      There certainly are an abundance of ugly Catholic churches around. When I was in Wellington recently I was especially taken for a visit to see St Joseph’s Mt Victoria … uuglee … We made a visit to the Blessed Sacrament which was in a spartan side room – the tabernacle consisted of a small brown wooden box on four black metal legs – the smallest tabernacle I’ve seen, and absolutely no embellishment whatsoever – just a brown wooden box. My cousin’s comment to me was “Isn’t that disgusting!” The only saving grace was the old stain glass window of St Joseph taken from the old church and the lovely crucifix behind the small desk that doubles as the altar. The architects say that the parish’s vision for the church was that it would be simple and modest … well, they’ve certainly achieved that. The approach up some wooden steps on to a wooden platform was like the approach to a worn out old mountain hut. You can see some photos here but these were obviously taken some years ago and don’t do justice to how plain and ugly the really is.

    5. Teresina September 9, 2012 at 12:27 am

      The link to photos of St Joseph’s Mt Victoria, Wellington

    6. Valerie September 9, 2012 at 10:20 am

      Teresina, those photos are amazing. Those spaces are so sterile and cold.

      I think the Cathedral in Hamilton is terrible; it’s so ugly, and made worse by the fact that the Bishop has replaced Our Lord Jesus Christ as the central figure in the Cathedral.


    7. Don the Kiwi September 9, 2012 at 10:21 am

      I notice the last of the photos is a cross, presumably in the sanctuary?

      How protestantised is that – Catholics have crucifixes – particularly in the sanctuary!!

    8. Teresina September 9, 2012 at 11:09 am

      Don, to be fair, there is a very large crucifix behind the altar. Looking at those photos again, I think they may be stylised photos, which is why they look so much better than the real thing! The crucifix in in the second photo here and the last photo shows the interior: But as Valerie says, it is so sterile and cold, and because of that I found it very difficult to pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament if I had my eyes open, hard to imagine what heaven is like when you’re there. The parishioners who chose the tabernacle probably have far more attractive letter boxes …

      And, yes, the Hamilton Cathedral leaves a lot to be desired – especially with the Bishop’s chair so centrally placed as it is … it is so high up that I think if you sat on that throne your legs would be dangling or at least that’s how it appears to me. I believe one of the pastoral women who now refers to altar servers as “table setters” often sits in the chair perhaps to see how she fits …

    9. Valerie September 9, 2012 at 4:36 pm

      Table setters?

      I laughed out loud Teresina, in a sad way

      How she fits?

      That sitting gesture, is discouragingly ironic in the truth that it manifests


    10. To Be or Not To Be September 9, 2012 at 11:55 pm

      Ugliest Churches

      St Anne’s, Manurewa, South Auckland
      St Therese’s Mangere East, South Auckland

      The worst in my opinion is by far St Mary’s in Mt Albert though

    11. Opthomistic September 10, 2012 at 12:08 pm

      Meanwhile, the Anglicans try to propose a joint Cathedral. Three cheers for Bishop Jones for rejecting it the first time someone decided to ask what the Catholics thought!

    12. Opthomistic September 10, 2012 at 12:42 pm

      Okay, phew, looks like the Anglicans weren’t suggesting it either, just some “academics” on the ARIC, and the Press decided to try and press it.

    13. Benedicta September 10, 2012 at 1:15 pm

      St Joseph’s at Mt Victoria is totally ugly. I think the worst experience of being in it is the seating. I felt like I was at an ampitheatre. Considering the iconoclysm effect it was rather like sitting in pagan Rome and watching Catholicism being thrown to the lions.

      My seat was so comfortable! That was another unrewarding experience…the nearest comfortable effect like it was being in the cinema in Petone. The one with the great seats!

      I was doing my Friday night happy hour with Arhcbishop Fulton Sheen last week. He said an interesting thing…when the Church drops something the world picks it up. Has anyone noticed the presence of so many Church things in interior design, antiques (French in particular), statues and so on. I have to confess to having some things in my home because they are beautiful and having holy meaning.

      Check this out

    14. Benedicta September 10, 2012 at 1:24 pm

      Beauty is lost outside and inside.

      I want to share this as if this lady is reading I want to say how much we felt for her and how brave she was.

      At Mass (well its valid) a lady, young attractive and well turned out, who seemed a visitor, stood up before Mass started. She turned around and said to the people seated in the small church (99% seated), “How can anyone pray in here if you all keep talking”.

      Quite right actually, we get heartily sick of the chit chat. Stunned silence for about 30 seconds. Then the whisperers started (again in full flight)…”THAT lady told us to keep quiet because she couldn’t pray!”, “RE..LL..Y! Well well! (giggle giggle).

      During Communion this lady went up to receive Our Lord and when she went back to her seat she looked over the people briefly. Her eyes were full of tears and she looked so very hurt.

      I think afterward she went to the Sacristy to wait for the priest. That wouldn’t have done her any good.

      Blessed are those who mourn…and the Mass and homily were enough to upset one who loves the Church as the Body of Christ.

      The point is there is no where else to go, the Mass is valid and all attempts to change things are rejected with attitude.

    15. JimmyG September 10, 2012 at 4:41 pm

      Our churches have become zoos. It’s a pity that we don’t have more mice and less hyenas.