st stephen's chapel
st stephen's chapel
The size of St Stephen’s Chapel belies its great historical importance due to the pivotal role this building played in the signing of the first Constitution of the Anglican Church in New Zealand.
The First Chapel
Many people are unaware of the fact that St Stephen’s Chapel is the second chapel to be built on this site. The building of the first chapel in 1844 demonstrated a commitment by Bishop George Augustus Selwyn (left tryptic) to serve the local Māori population. This chapel was built of stone and Bishop Selwyn called it ‘a refreshing sight in a wilderness of weatherboard.’ The first chapel lasted four years before violent weather weakened the structure to such a degree that it was ultimately removed from the site.
St Stephen’s Chapel
The St Stephen’s Chapel we see today was designed by Frederick Thatcher and completed in 1856 with considerable encouragement from Bishop Selwyn who favoured the site due to its proximity to the households of the Governor, Chief Justice and Attorney-General, as well as the local church and community leaders. The Bishop was also determined to hold a constitutional conference and Judges Bay seemed to him to be the ideal place for such an undertaking. The new chapel was built in timber in the Selwyn-Thatcher ‘colonial gothic’ style which is widely seen across New Zealand. Unlike other churches built for Bishop Selwyn following the shape of the Latin cruciform, St Stephen’s Chapel is in the shape of a Greek cross, a symbol of the establishment of the church.
The Anglican Constitution of New Zealand
Soon after his arrival in New Zealand in 1842, Bishop Selwyn stated, ‘I find myself placed in a position such as was never granted to any English Bishop before, with the power to mold the institutions of the Church from the beginning according to true principles.’ Bishop Selwyn convened a historic conference at the new St Stephen’s Chapel on 13 June 1857. At this meeting, the First Constitution of the Anglican Church in New Zealand was signed by seventeen signatories on the table which now serves as the altar in the Chapel.
St Stephen’s Chapel Today
St Stephen’s Chapel now falls under the care of Holy Trinity Cathedral and, though it is removed from the Cathedral precinct, many visitors choose t0 make the pilgrimage to St Stephen’s Chapel to visit the gravesites of prominent Auckland colonists. As it has for over 160 years, the Chapel continues to be a place for weekly worship by people of faith and is also a popular venue for small weddings, funerals and baptisms.