Saint Michael and All Angels was the first church in Christchurch. the original building was a makeshift schoolroom-cum-church so small that people were likely to hit their heads on the beams. Its early history, closely connected with that of a young settlement, vividly illustrates the problems of colonial life. Yet, by the late nineteenth century, St Michael’s with a fine new church in the heart of a growing town, was the leading Anglican parish in the Diocese of Christchurch, perhaps in New Zealand. Its worship and life were typical of those aspired to by many Anglican churches in New Zealand for the next fifty years. From 1910 however St Michael’s diverged somewhat from this model. It became, and has remained, a sometimes notorious example of Anglo-Catholicism in New Zealand.
St Michael’s is a Late Victorian Gothic building combining elements of the French fourteenth century gothic, and English Medieval styles. It was designed by William Fitzjohn Crisp and is one of the few buildings known to be designed solely by Crisp. The church is constructed entirely of Matai timber (native black pine) on rubble stone foundations. St Michael’s is one of the largest timber churches of its style in the world and possesses a warmer atmosphere than one you would find in a stone building. Such a massive timber building requires an intricate framework, with pillars carved from single trees supporting nave arches and huge tie-beams in the roof structure. Structurally the church has changed little since completion in 1872, the only alteration being the 1896 removal of a tie-beam and secondary arch to give a better view of the east window.
St Michael and All Angels has one of the best collections of stained glass windows in New Zealand.
Erected in 1861, the belfry was designed by Canterbury’s leading Victorian architect, Benjamin Mountfort. He also designed the provincial chambers and some of the windows in St Michael’s. The bell it houses was brought out with the first four ships in 1850, and was rung every hour of daylight to indicate time to the early settlers. It is still used to ring the Angelus and to call the faithful to worship everyday.