Missing from the photo of this church is the spire. It used to rise above the 60 foot entrance tower and was surrounded by four corner pinnacles, the bases of which are still in place. The completed tower, with spire atop, was once a dominating feature of the Temuka township skyline, reputedly visible from a distance of thirty-two miles away. After the earthquakes in 2011 the spire was deemed unsafe and eventually removed in 2016, I understand it may be replaced at some stage in the future by a fiberglass copy.
The 2 acre site it sits on originally held a small wooden church built to serve the young parish which was formed in 1876. By 1879 the congregation had outgrown this building and plans were begun to replace it.
The newly appointed parish priest, Father Louis Fauvel, a Frenchman from Normandie, had a huge influence on the design of the new church. His specifications were based on his parish church in Constances, France, where he had attended seminary.
This very substantial building was built using Opihi limestone from the Upper Waitohi district which was donated by Henry Collett and conveyed to the site, some 11 miles distance, by the parishioners. The spire itself was of Oamaru stone. The architect of the church was Henry Evans, of Timaru. Stone work contractors were from Christchurch and the wood work and painting done by Timaru contractors. Work began in 1879 and the new church was completed in 1882.
With a peel of bells cast in New York, a four faced clock from London and an impressive collection of 31 stunning stained glass lancet windows, designed and produced in France it was considered one of the most noteworthy churches in Canterbury.
St Joseph’s is registered as Category 2 with Heritage New Zealand and it was a wonderful find while driving off the main street in Temuka. Well worth a visit.
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