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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Bells toll again at quake-ravaged cathedral

Bells toll again at quake-ravaged cathedral

Published: 8:30PM Tuesday April 12, 2011 Source: ONE News

After seven months of silence, the bells of Christchurch's Catholic basilica have tolled once more.

But it will be a long time before services are held there again following extensive damage from February's earthquake.

The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament closed its doors after the September quake and a thorough assessment of the structure is now underway.

Assistance priest Father John Rissr says he heard the bell ring as it was being salvaged.

"I heard the bell. I thought to myself that's the first time I've heard the bell in seven months. So I came to see it."

The bell recovery is just part of the painstaking job of assessing the damage to the cathedral.

Heritage consultant Carole-Lynne Kerrigan says other bells are stuck in the bell tower.

"That was the first of four that we've managed to get out. The others are pretty much lodged in there," she said.

Structural engineer Jaimie Lester says part of the building is being demolished to make assessments.

"What we're trying to do is deconstruct part of it to get a better idea of what's gone on further down the structure, and also to enable securing to take place."

The experts are working to save 100 years of local history brought to the ground in just seconds.

"Anything that we can get information from we're numbering, bagging and putting into storage," said Kerrigan.

"The intention with the stone is to reuse as much as possible so that later we can put the whole jigsaw back together again."

The 1905 neo-classical basilica was built to last.

Historians say the architect was acutely aware of the damage that can be caused by earthquakes, having lived through two major earthquakes himself. The basilica walls are reinforced with concrete and it sits on a thick concrete foundation designed to slide as the earth moves.

"It certainly helped its performance. But at the end of the day the earthquake that happened was far greater than what was expected," said Lester.

But with disaster, for parishioners comes hope. Father Rissr said prior to the earthquake, a statue of the Virgin Mary at a window of the cathedral was facing inwards, but it did a complete 180 degree turn in the quake and is now facing out.

"So I think Our Lady is certainly keeping an eye over us," he said.

Experts will try putting the building back together piece by piece.

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