Christchurch's 19th century cathedral - which dominates the city's central square - sits battered, its spire and parts of the roof and walls collapsed.
But cathedral dean Reverend Peter Beck said its damage was nothing compared with the human toll. "It is devastating about the cathedral, but the most important thing at the moment is not the buildings, it's the people, and we've got to reach out to each other here in Christchurch and Canterbury and do what we can to deal with those who are wounded, those who have been killed and their families," Rev Beck said.
The cathedral is not alone. Other historic churches also suffered earthquake damage.
Knox Presbyterian Church on the corner of Bealey Ave and Victoria St, has lost its windows and much of its walls, while the Chinese Methodist Church in Merivale, the Christchurch Catholic Cathedral, the Oxford Terrace Baptist Church, St Lukes Anglican Church and the Rose Historic Chapel in the CBD have all been affected, along with the Holy Trinity Church in Lyttelton, near the earthquake's epicentre. A church on Durham St has also reportedly collapsed. Cathedral administrator Monsignor Charles Drennan told NZ Catholic engineers fear it cannot be saved. The church suffered damage to two bell towers, bringing much of the front facade down with it.
The cathedral's main dome also has major cracking, while stained glass windows were also "in ruins".
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key described Christchurch - a sister city of Adelaide - as "a scene of utter devastation." Adelaide Lord Mayor Stephen Yarwood yesterday expressed his concern and sympathy.
"Our thoughts are with the people of Christchurch. We can't imagine what it must be like for individuals and families. Our feelings of sadness are strengthened knowing that Christchurch is our sister city," Mr Yarwood said.