CHAPEL OF THE SACRED HEART
The Chapel of the Sacred Heart is celebrated as the finest French Gothic-style interior in Aotearoa New Zealand. Wellington architect John Sydney Swan worked with the Sisters of the Sacré Coeur to design the chapel, as they were ‘steeped in the knowledge and love of French Gothic architecture as a fitting temple of God’. The chapel design was influenced by the Alsace Lorraine chapel in France where Convent Superior Mother Anna Biehler was baptised.
Designed in 1929 and opened in 1930 under commission from the Catholic Church, the Chapel’s soaring vaulted ceiling forms a high ribbed canopy over a light, airy space of awe-inspiring and undeniable beauty. The ornately carved altar was sculpted in Rome, and like the apse floor, is of Italian Carrara marble. The altar contains relics of martyrs St Auxilius and St Crescentius and St Madeleine Sophie Barat, founder of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and once had brass altar rails the nuns would polish daily.
The twelve stained glass windows along each side wall, spaced between slender half columns, were made by Munich company Mayer & Co. with John Sydney Swan personally donating the central window, demonstrating his attachment to Erskine College. The gilded tabernacle was inset with rubies, diamonds and Ceylonese moonstones; and the finely carved marble shrines, Gothic-style timber panelling, pews and stalls, and statuary added to the awe-inspiring and elegant richness of the chapel's interior decoration. The Chapel’s foundation stone was laid by Archbishop Redwood in 1929, and the Opening Mass was celebrated by Archbishop O'Shea in 1930. The altar was consecrated in 1930 by Bishop Wade from the Solomon Islands, and the chapel bell was cast by A & T Burt of Dunedin.
The immaculate proportions of the Chapel have created a space widely renowned for its exceptional acoustics, with many noted performers, including the Vienna Boys Choir and the Trapp Family Singers appreciating the chapel’s ‘extraordinary clarity and long reverberant time'. As well as hosting countless first communions and other celebrations, the Chapel has also celebrated the beatification and canonisation of St Madeleine Sophie Barat and St Philippine Duchesne.