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Pilgrimage centre to honour NZ national, spiritual roots

By Paul Titus

A 40-year old vision to create a centre for Christian pilgrimage and worship of international significance near Marsden Cross in the Bay of Islands is poised to become reality.

At a ceremony near the site on January 6th the Marsden Cross Trust Board unveiled its plans to build a memorial and chapel to mark the arrival of Christianity in New Zealand. The complex will highlight co-operation between Maori and Pakeha and is intended to be one of the nation’s key historical, cultural and spiritual landmarks.

Marsden Cross marks the point at Oihi Bay where Samuel Marsden landed in 1814 to establish a missionary settlement. Marsden was hosted by people of the adjacent Rangihoua Pa and their chief Ruatara.

Marsden Cross Trust Board chairman Anglican bishop the Right Rev Richard Randerson says the site is the cradle of the modern nation. It is the scene of the first Christian service and recalls a time when Maori and settlers looked to the future with hope in a spirit of interdependence. It is for New Zealand what Iona is for Scotland and Lindisfarne is for England.

Inspiration to create a pilgrimage centre initially came via Rev Patricia Bawden. Patricia took part in New Zealand’s vibrant ecumenical youth movement in the early 1960s. In 1965, she says she was called by God to go to a healing conference at Iona. During her visit to Europe she visited a number of pilgrimage centres including Lindisfarne, Lee Abbey, L’Abri, and Grandchamp on Lake Neuchatel, Switzerland.

“At Grandchamp on August 25, 1965 I had the vision for an international ecumenical youth centre. I was drawn to Marsden Cross because the 150th anniversary had been in 1964. It was a two way vision, first to acquire the land and second to establish a centre and chapel. I didn’t realise it was going to take 40 years,” Patricia says.

In 1974 the vision was nearly realised when a group working with the Crown entered into negotiations to acquire a site beyond Marsden Cross. It ended up in private hands, however, and it was not until recently that it again became available as farms have been subdivided.

Now, through the generosity of landowner Bill Birnie and Timaru businessman Allan Hubbard, the Trust Board has purchased 20 hectares of land in the valley beyond Rangihoua Pa with foot access to Marsden Cross Reserve.

Throughout that time, Patricia says, she never doubted the vision though achieving it was a lonely and costly journey. Her passion for the project led her to research the early history of Maori-Pakeha relations and write her book The Years Before Waitangi.

“God shows you the end but doesn’t always show you the path in between. It is very significant for me that the ceremony was held on January 6th, which is the Feast of Epiphany in which we remember the wise men who followed the star to Jesus. God had a purpose and a plan and I prayed to find it. At times it was painful but now God has turned over a page in the book of history and I am full of joy and thanksgiving.”

The centre, designed by architect Pip Cheshire, will consist of a library, meeting room, and chapel that will hold up to 80 people as well as a curator’s lodge. Outside the chapel is to be a paved courtyard where more people can gather on significant occasions. The different parts of the complex will be linked by a massive spinal wall and covered walkway adorned with European and Maori works of art and sculpture.

“The centre will be a whare wananga in the Maori tradition, a place of education, learning, and spirituality,” Richard explains. “The design of the building is imaginative and exciting and it will nestle into the landscape. It will be a place of national and international significance and will be worthy of what is symbolises. It will not be extravagant but it will be of a very high quality.”

Both Richard and Patricia emphasise the importance of working with local Maori in the project. The Trust Board has consulted with the local iwi and will work with their spokesperson Hugh Rihari. Members of the Trust Board include Anglican bishop Right Rev Te Kitohi Pikaahu and Methodist Taha Maori tumuaki Rev Diana Tana.

One focus of the centre will be environmental issues. The area the memorial is of archaeological significance. Any planting will need to be carefully monitored. It is also within in is a kiwi sanctuary.

The Trust Board plans to raise $12.5m to build and maintain the project. Current plans are for construction to begin by the end of this year.

Those who attended the January 6th ceremony included Northland MP Shane Jones and former governor general Sir Paul Reeves. Although some money for the project will come from government culture and heritage funds, but it is intended to create a wider sense of ownership by seeking donations from the public as well.

Through his role with fundraising consultants Compton International Rev Graeme Brady will lead the effort to raise money for the project. Graeme worked on a variety of projects including raising funds to restore cathedrals in Europe but he says the Marsden Cross memorial is the most exciting thing he has done in ages.

“This was the sight of the first European birth in New Zealand, the first European school, and the first land sale. It is truly a national project and I am quite sure we could raise the money for it through major funding from rich people. But it is important it does not become a rich man’s folly.

“I am not yet sure how we will do that. It could be along the lines of the Welcome Wall at the Maritime Museum in Sydney where new Australians can put their families’ names on a wall. Many different groups have a stake in the project – local residents, the business community, government, churches and ecological organisations.”

Graeme says fundraising for the project will take place in two phases. In the first half of 2006 the focus will be on major donors. In the second half of the year, trained teams will raise money from the public.

Along with Diana, Methodists on the Trust Board are Northland landowner Diane Paterson and Rev Terry Wall.