Christchurch Cathedral is so pivotal and important to the city that a University of Canterbury (UC) has launched a research project into the significance of the church.
Associate Professor Patrick McAllister said the iconic church was the heart and soul of the city and would be the subject of a summer scholarship project later this year.
The cathedral suffered serious damage in the earthquakes and the future of its ruins and its artefacts has provoked public outcry and heated controversy, with appeals to local and national government and to the monarchy McAllister said today.
Documenting and unravelling this controversy by means of analysis will be timely for the people of Christchurch and New Zealand.
The assumption is that the cathedral controversy is a social process, possibly revealing a variety of social relationships between individuals and groups which are, in a sense, mediated by the building itself.
The cathedral controversy may be at least partly about social relations in the city, including relations of affinity and / or antagonism affecting the groups and individuals involved. Some of these may be historical, some recent. The second hypothesis is that the controversy could be related not merely to the cathedral as a place but more generally to the series of earthquakes and the social and emotional trauma that they gave rise to.’’
McAllister said it suggested that the controversy was also a means of dealing with the disruption that the disasters wrought and of ‘reclaiming’ the city that was taken from its citizens by the earthquakes.
The project would seek to collect and analyse information about the cathedral controversy. UC researchers want to find out why had there been no agreement about the future of the cathedral and how were the different arguments about the cathedral’s future framed and expressed.
The major issues associated with the controversy would emerge from a content analysis of material collected, McAllister said.
The cathedral is a place that Christchurch people clearly identify with, but for many it is more than just a place, it is a place that embodies the city and its history. Thus it is a site of memory, a place through which to think about the past, whatever that may mean and different people will have different memories associated with it, some deeply personal.
To most it is also a sacred place, a place of worship, and as such it has a special status which reinforces its role as a place of memory and symbol of the city.
In taking a position against demolition of the cathedral people may thus be protecting their identity, their link to the city and their link to the past. The research project seeks to determine if these assumptions can be borne out in the ways in which people speak and write about the cathedral,’’ he said.
UC master of arts student in anthropology Patricia Allan is currently engaged in a related project, looking at the artefacts that were contained within the cathedral and of the ways in which these were of importance to people.
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