Memorial stained glass windows, thought to have been destroyed and lost forever in a fire that gutted Tauranga’s Holy Trinity Anglican Church 20 years ago, have been found. The original that was damaged is now restored.
“I was in Christchurch for a conference on the night of the fire,” says Brian Hamilton, who was vicar at the time. “My wife rang me at two in the morning to say the church was on fire.”
The next day, he visited the blackened ruins. “It was terrible to see. The insurance company hired demolition people to take stuff away and the pieces of glass weren’t thrown out but packed in a box. It was someone’s idea that maybe they could be used again somehow. I didn’t really think they could.”
That could have been the end of it, because the glass was put away in boxes and forgotten about for nearly 20 years.
Planning had already been underway prior to the fire to build a new, larger and more modern church, while retaining the old church as a chapel. However, around midnight on June 29, 1999, an arsonist set the building alight.
A new auditorium was built to replace the old church building; this was to be the first stage of a major site development.
“They got to the end of stage one and probably ran out of money and steam,” says church administrator Donald Carter. “Stages two and three were to be a hall area and a childcare centre, but it never happened.
“We got to the point where the hall itself needed to have at least maintenance, and we saw the opportunity to refurbish it. We needed to clean out all the hall detritus and that’s when the stained glass windows were discovered.”
The caretaker, Hugh Hodson, discovered them by chance while clearing out the hall stage area.
“He brought them to me asking: ‘what are these?’” says Donald. “Having done a bit of work on the history, I recognised them as stained glass windows from the old building.”
Holy Trinity Anglican Church has been closely associated with the European settlement and establishment of Tauranga for more than a century. Built in 1875, the church was a very attractive kauri timber building with a fine pipe organ, serving the parish well until the 1990s when congregation growth made it too crowded and unsuitable for a contemporary style of worship.
The soldiers’ memorial stained glass windows, depicting the crucifixion of Christ, had been unveiled back in 1923, donated by a Mrs McCaw in memory of her husband. Three marble memorial tablets installed below the window recorded the names of the parish’s 43 fallen.
Donald and Hugh carefully laid out the pieces of glass, then called Steve from Leadlight Expressions who has restored them as a triptych to be placed in the new chapel, enclosed in double paned glass. The centre window had the figure of Christ burnt out.
In a fortunate twist of fate, the architect was called because the new chapel’s design included four windows that were in a zigzag. The size of the stained glass window was the same size as the window spacing that the architect had allowed in the drawings. He had designed it without knowing about the windows.
Rather than a rebuild, the inside of the hall has been reimagined, retaining its same footprint.
“In there will go an 80-seat chapel that will have technology to double as a conference centre,” says Priest-in-Charge Rev Adrienne Bruce. “A 130-seat hall opens towards Devonport Road, so it will be a lot more open and friendly, with meeting rooms. It will link through to the main building, extending the facility for breakout areas or smaller groups.”
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