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Paul Davidson stands in the choir loft, while on location, shooting the film ‘A Test of Faith’ (2017).  

The film documents the seismic strengthening (2014-2017) of Saint Mary of the Angels, Boulcott Street, Wellington.
Due to screen in the Resene Architecture and Design Film Festival, May-June 2018. http://www.resene.co.nz/filmfestival.htm

The present church is the third on the site and was opened in 1922. Designed by well-known church architect Frederick de Jersey Clere, it was modeled on the 13th century Cathedral of St Michael in Brussels and was the first time reinforced concrete was used for such an ambitious design. A beautiful building both inside and out, the church features twin towers enclosing a frontal rose, soaring columns and portals, magnificent stained glass windows throughout and a stunning marble high altar. For almost 100 years St Mary’s has served parishioners from all walks of life and welcomed the community as a bold statement of faith for generations of Wellingtonians.

The short update film by Australian based ABC journalist – Anna Maria Nicholson, who visited Saint Mary of the Angels in Wellington – her family church.

The July 2013 Wellington Earthquake closed Saint Mary of the Angel’s and fundraising ($9.3 million) started towards a Siesmic Strengthening project of enormous proportions, championed by L.T. McGuiness, Wellington engineers. The journey has been video-documented in stage updates, by Bytesize Productions and Aspire Design.

The full feature length documentary “A Test of Faith”,  will show the work of the engineers and architects as they perform their calculations, discuss the options and draw up plans for the structures necessary. As the work progresses, each critical stage will be recorded, described by the on-site personnel as they carefully take things apart and put them back together again. Every step poses a threat of damage, or even catastrophic failure, to the delicate existing parts of the building, and everyone involved will feel the pressure.

Father Barry discusses the hopes and fears of the parish for their church, the fund-raising challenges and eventually the joy of a successful re-opening.

Technical considerations will be outlined in simple terms with the help of computer animations and expert explanations. We will also talk with the people involved, in large or small roles, and explore the special significance their work in such a historic and spiritual building holds for them.

St Mary of the Angels is the church of Wellington Catholic Parish, a parish staffed by the Society of Mary (“Marists”) since 1875. It sits on an imposing site in Boulcott Street, right at the heart of the Capital City. It is beloved by Wellingtonians, of all faiths, who come here to sing or listen to the choir, the famous organ, pray, light a candle or simply to find a peaceful oasis in the middle of the busy city.

After the tragic Christchurch earthquakes and the disastrous impact on many of that city’s churches, plans were underway to review and strengthen St Mary of the Angels, which meets less than 20% of the current earthquake building code. However planning was accelerated after the Wellington quake of July 2013, and the decision made to close the church until its integrity and safety could be assured. Fundraising commenced and by May 2014 the initial engineering and architectural designs were completed and appropriate consents obtained. The work is now under way on this most ambitious, challenging but essential task – a true test of faith.

The architectural and engineering challenges faced in the strengthening project are enormous. The church was the first of its type built in concrete, and although the result was uniquely beautiful, the years of natural deterioration, city vibration and occasional earthquakes have taken their toll. Bringing it all up to modern seismic standard, whilst maintaining the look – and safety – of the existing design, is a unique engineering challenge.