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Quake strengthening begins on Timaru’s historic St George’s Church

Scaffolding has gone up around St George’s Coptic Church as earthquake strengthening begins.

JOHN BISSET/Stuff

Scaffolding has gone up around St George’s Coptic Church as earthquake strengthening begins.

A stand-out historic building in Timaru is being earthquake strengthened and having roof tiles damaged in a heavy hailstorm two years ago replaced at a cost of around $800,000.

Dr Albert Makary of St George’s Coptic Church said the cost of the work on the former Chalmers Presbyterian Church in Elizabeth St would be considerable.

The church’s spire is a notable feature on the Timaru skyline and familiar to people travelling through the town on Theodosia St/State Highway 1.

“We don’t have insurance for repairing the damage from the hailstorm, and we had a lot of damage from the storm, almost 4000 tiles have to be replaced,” Dr Makary said.

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“I’m still getting the exact assessment. The roof repair could be up to $200,000.”

Earthquake strengthening and maintenance work inside the church would require a further $600,000, he said. The church had not been insured as it needed to be earthquake strengthened.

“God will provide, we are about halfway there.”

The altar in St George’s Coptic Church.

Valentina Bellomo/Stuff

The altar in St George’s Coptic Church.

He said the church would welcome any contributions the public could make to assist with the cost of the work and from trusts.

“Many thousands got married and worshipped there, and we are trying to look after this heritage building which is a part of South Canterbury history.”

Bracing will be placed under the roof canopy as well as steel rods along the sides, the spire will be strengthened and slates replaced.

Dr Albert Makary says the church would welcome contributions from the community to assist with the cost of the work.

Valentina Bellomo/Stuff

Dr Albert Makary says the church would welcome contributions from the community to assist with the cost of the work.

The Gothic revival designed church was built in 1903 and has a level 2 Heritage New Zealand category.

It was Timaru’s second Presbyterian church and built by a breakaway group when the congregation split over the issue of prohibition.

The church’s interior was extensively remodelled in 2018 when two carpenters came from Egypt to convert it to a Coptic style. An iconostasis, a wall of icons and religious paintings, was installed, and patterns carved into the pews. The church’s original coloured glass windows remain.

A view of the church interior with an iconostasis either side of the altar.

Valentina Bellomo/Stuff

A view of the church interior with an iconostasis either side of the altar.

Dr Makary said St George’s had 30 to 40 regular worshippers and is one of five Coptic churches in New Zealand with the others in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. A priest travelled from Christchurch to lead services.

“It is very mobile between Christchurch and Dunedin. When the children go to university the family go and when the children leave university they might come back.

Coloured windows installed when the church was Chalmers Presbyterian Church have been retained.

Valentina Bellomo/Stuff

Coloured windows installed when the church was Chalmers Presbyterian Church have been retained.

“Children stay with the family until they are married.

“It is a different ideology. Western culture is pro-independence, eastern culture is pro-support, each comes with advantages and disadvantages,” Dr Makary said.



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