Grief Amongst the Rubble – Christchurch’s Darkest Day

Just over a month ago I climbed up the Christchurch Cathedral Spire with my family.

I looked out onto Cathedral Square and appreciated the beauty of the city.

We took the boys for a ride on the hop on/hop off tram, watched people play chess in the square, and felt our beings relax into holiday mode.

Cathedral Square and the Christchurch CBD was a highlight – so relaxed for a CBD, and beautiful, despite the still present damage to buildings from the September quake.

The Christchurch Cathedral was majestic; its stained glass windows glowed. The people of Christchurch were lovely.

The woman in the Cathedral visitors centre gave the boys a chocolate each when we came down from our climb.

The guy who ran the kids bungee jumping in the middle of Cathedral Square let the boys jump a bit longer because no one else was waiting. I can still picture his face.

It is so surreal to see the pictures beamed before us now of the Cathedral spire in ruins.

I have a picture of my husband and I hugging each other at the top of the spire. It’s a picture that’s all about love and the freedom of being on holiday.

I bought a post card of the Cathedral and the public artwork ‘Chalice’ that sits in Cathedral Square. I stuck it in front of my computer at work to remind me of good times, and that life is more than sitting at a computer. For the past month it served that purpose.

For the last few days I can’t believe that the postcard is a picture of the past.

Today Christchurch really does remind us that life is so much more. We’re reminded of all that is precious – how fragile life is and of the need to make the most of being with our loved ones.

We have a sense of the immense pain and suffering of those who have lost family, friends and co-workers, and yet we know what we feel in sympathy, is but a fraction of their reality.

For years I have been involved in researching heritage sites. In particular I have done research on how we interpret the history of sites where painful events have happened. How we interpret the history of sites like the Myall Creek Massacre, or the role of memorials in commemorating events of the past.

I was keen to go to Christchurch on my holiday to see the public artwork ‘Chalice’ in Cathedral Square because I had written about it in the past.

Memorials can be pretty powerful places. Places where people go to remember the past and to commemorate traumatic events, like the Pool of Remembrance at the War Memorial. Some memorials are more transient than the typical stone obelisks or bronze statues that dominated memorials in the past – examples include the roadside memorials of flowers and crosses that line our highways – personal remembrances of lives lost to accidents.

These transient memorials tend to mark the exact spot where an accident occurred. Sites that are not situated at the actual location of events can also become memorials. Chalice, an installation in Cathedral Square, Christchurch, highlighted one instance of this.

The sculpture was designed by Neil Dawson to celebrate the new millennium and the 150th Anniversary of the founding of Christchurch and Canterbury. Chalice was installed in Cathedral Square in the early days of September 2001. A few days after its installation, the collapse of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre in New York shocked the world. The citizens of Christchurch reacted to this event by using the newly installed Chalice as a memorial site. Following the impetus of one individual who left a wreath at its foot, hundreds of wreaths were brought and laid beneath the sculpture. Unwittingly, Chalice became the site for the people of Christchurch to remember September 11.

Chalice is a reminder for me of our human need to grieve, and to have a place where we can collectively do this. Chalice shows the very real binding force that a piece of public art can have in a community, and how places can have completely unexpected layers of social significance and meaning. In 2001 Chalice allowed the people of Christchurch to express their grief for New York.

The recent earthquake has been devastating, the destruction unbelievable.

Yet amazingly in the few photos I have seen of Cathedral Square, in amongst the chaos, Chalice still stands.


Image from

The people of Christchurch are going to need a place to grieve for years after this tragic event. Perhaps Chalice will be it.

Perhaps it will continue to stand tall, and help the people of Christchurch with its presence.

I hope so.


About greenleftyidealist

Green, left and idealistic. A mum, a runner, a rogainer, a public servant and wanna be writer. My dog is golden.
This entry was posted in psychology and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Grief Amongst the Rubble – Christchurch’s Darkest Day

  1. Carol Wright says:

    Please Read Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ essay about the chalice. She wondered if it were still standing, so I posted link to your blog and photo.
    in the past day, we’ve posted many time a link to a pdf file for Post Trauma Recovery protocol….how to, tips, encouragement. Please find url and forward to any of your NZ friends or anyone trying to deal with effects of extreme trauma.
    Carol Wright

  2. Carol Wright says:

    here is Dr. Estes’ FB entry with link to the Kiwi poem and the pdf document to help post-trauma victims with ways to cope and recover.

  3. Southernrata says:

    This is lovely, thank you. I had been wondering what happened to that sculpture, whose name I couldn’t remember. I like it more and more…

  4. Do you happen to know if the Chalice survived the June 11 earthquake and aftershocks, too? Your post was so hauntingly familiar. I live in Texas, and my husband and I spend as much time in Christchurch, Wanaka, and other places on South Island as the NZ government will allow (we were denied residence — nobody wants old Americans — no pensions, no health insurance, so even being at the top of the “critical skills” list won’t help an American over 45). And for us, Cathedral Square and the CBD are among our favorite places on the planet. We were there last in October, and were devastated when we saw the damage after the February earthquake. In the last two days, I’ve looked for, but not found, new photos that show whether the Chalice is undamaged. I hope so — it’s a universal symbol of hope. Thanks for the beautiful blog post and photos!

  5. Lisette Cautley says:

    The Chalice is stil standing – here’s a link to the photos taken 17 June 2011 just after the second big earthquake on 13 June. If you watch the video it shows the chalice is still there. Hope among the rubble!

  6. Melissa says:

    Yes it’s still there, I live in Christchurch and have been threw all the earthquakes and doing a school project on the Chalice, (Rebuild Christchurch thing) And I don’t believe (well think) the Chalice will ‘come down’ if there is another earthquake because it does look strong and modern Thank you for this blog even how i live in Christchurch it’s good information and i didn’t know stuff about the Chalice 🙂

    • You’re welcome. Glad to hear the Chalice is continuing to stand strong. Hope the project goes well and our thoughts are still with you all in Christchurch during the long road to re-building.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s