Battle over chapel altar moves up a notch

DUNEDIN — The wrangle over the Italian marble altar at Teschemakers Chapel could roll on into 2012 as the battle moves up a notch.
Fr Mark Chamberlain of Holy Name Parish, north Dunedin, has lodged an appeal to the High Court to overturn a recent Environment Court decision.
In August this year, Environment Court judge Jane Borthwick, along with commissioners Charles Manning and John Mills, heard legal submissions on the status of the altar and whether it could be regarded as a chattel and able to be removed without resource consent.
In mid-October the court said the application by Susie Scott to make her interim order final was upheld. The court decided the altar was “part and parcel of the chapel” and therefore was not a chattel. Therefore resource consent would have to be applied for in order to remove it.
The decision delighted Ms Scott and her supporters. The court decision also applies to the chapel’s stained glass windows.
Fr Chamberlain then consulted his legal team of Paul Cavanagh QC and Michael Nidd and subsequently decided to lodge an appeal against both findings.
Ms Scott and supporters are disappointed at the latest move.
Fr Chamberlain said he is very grateful for the support and efforts of his legal team of Mr Cavanagh from Remuera parish and Dunedin lawyer Mr Nidd. Fr Chamberlain indicated that the legal costs are covered in his case.
Fr Chamberlain noted the altar had originally been donated by the Hart family. In his view, the altar was for the celebration of the Mass — and this had not happened for about 14 years, since the chapel was deconsecrated. The altar was one of the items that the Dominican Sisters considered they owned in the chapel as a chattel. The Sisters had offered the altar to Fr Chamberlain to use in Holy Name Church.
Fr Chamberlain has indicated that he hopes the issue can be resolved out of court.

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Michael Otto

Reader Interactions


  1. Paul McKenna says

    With respect, I am surprised [at the actions of] Fr Chamberlain and his legal team [regarding the Teschemakers chapel and altar argument]. . . . It was in a pre-vatican II environment that this church was built, and to understand the relationship of THIS altar to THIS church one has to return to the cultural norms that existed when the church was built.
    These norms directed that the altar was emphatically not a chattel. In fact there could be no church without an altar. No one would consider a roof to be a chattel, but an altar is an even more important part of a Catholic church than it’s roof. The Altar was the very reason for the church and without a stone altar, the church could not be consecrated. I stand to be corrected, but I recall that part of the consecration ceremony involved the bishop symbolically ‘mortaring’ the altar to the floor of the church to emphasise the cohesiveness of the two and the doctrine that the church, of which the building is a symbol, is rooted indissoluably to the sacrifice and death of Our Lord Jesus Christ, symbolised by the altar.
    It is true that many churches had to wait a number of years before their parishes could afford an altar worthy of the ediface. In such times, Mass was offered on wooden altars which were always considered liturgically as a temporary measure until an appropriate stone altar could be obtained. Yet in these cases the church could never be formally consecrated. So too, if an altar was damaged, the
    church was considered desecrated and had to be re-consecrated.
    In my opinion this is all grounds for considering that the removal of the altar
    does require a resource consent as it directly affects the cultural meaning and heritage of the building, and this is subject to the Resource Management Act.

    — Paul McKenna,
    Architectural Consultant

    Abridged: NZC moderator

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