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Taranaki archaeologist Ivan Bruce (pictured above) is fully engrossed with the complex job he has been tasked with - to help understand the historic Taranaki Cathedral Church of St Mary and its grounds.
You might say his work will be a labour of love.
“It is a highly significant and historic church – you can’t just rip into it. I am keen to see the building and everything associated with it looked after because of its significance to Taranaki.”
His recently completed consultant’s report has been submitted to Heritage New Zealand. It is all part of the consent process required to enable the earthquake strengthening to begin on what is the oldest stone church in New Zealand.
As well as earthquake strengthening the historic building so it can be reopened, the $15 million cathedral fundraising project – launched in April - will futureproof its interior, add an atrium hospitality space and extend the Hatherly Hall foyer across the site.
New Plymouth-based, Ivan, an archaeological specialist in the Taranaki and Whanganui regions, comes highly rated. He is the chairman of Heritage Taranaki and has been a consulting archaeologist since 2000. He has completed many successful archaeological digs and reports close to home as well as further afield within New Zealand.
Ivan explains the archaeological report is required due to the fact the cathedral pre-dates 1900. As such, it requires an Archaeological Authority from Heritage New Zealand Pohere Taonga before any work can begin. “All archaeological sites are protected under the Heritage New Zealand Pohere Taonga Act,“ he explains.
The purpose of the act is to prevent destruction of such sites and where they are affected, they must be fully recorded prior to being demolished or altered.
The site, including the churchyard, is of such significance it requires to be recorded and all the information collected and reported on to an appropriate standard, he says.
Wearing his chairman’s hat for Heritage Taranaki, Ivan says the group backs the move to save the church and is “supportive of St Mary’s and the work required to do the earthquake strengthening”.
A major hurdle was in knowing where the graves were that may be under or near the church, which has undergone several extensions over the years.
“In the 1893 extension in particular, they extended over the area which contained graves. Some of these graves are not visible. The church grew over the graves – something that was not an unusual practice in England. “We can’t be certain from records that all the affected graves were relocated and it is possible that in doing the excavation for the new foundations a grave may be encountered. Of course, if a grave is located it will be treated in a respectful way.”
Ivan is enjoying his research. He has been poring over maps of the graveyard. The questions he needs to answer are: Are there graves that will be affected? Are the maps correct? And if anybody is found, is that all that are there?
He is helped in his work by research already undertaken by parishioner John Pickering, who along with Howard Vosper, spent more than three years restoring 89 graves. The pair’s work completed two years ago, unearthed a wealth of stories and information.
“I look forward to hearing the results of the geotech work soon to start,” says Ivan. Depending on the results, less additional foundation work may be required, so from his point of view there would be a reduced archaeological impact. The all important geotech report should be completed in about two months’ time.