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Consecrated in 1917, the St Peter Chanel Church was Motueka’s second Roman Catholic Church. The marble for the building was donated by Messrs Marny and McKee from their quarry in Takaka. The stone had been quarried for a bridge to be built over the Maitai River in Nelson, but came available when this project was cancelled.  At the time, St Peter’s was believed to be the first marble church in the Southern Hemisphere.  The Parish Priest of the time, Fr Tymons, was the leading light in getting the new church built. He not only actively cajoled and begged local businessmen and farmers for their support, but also took part in building the roof.

No relation to Gabriel (Coco) Chanel of the perfume company, Pierre Louis Marie Chanel was a French priest, born on 12 July 1803, and ordained in 1827. In 1823 he became a member of the Society of Mary, and set out in 1836 to serve as a missionary in the South Pacific under Bishop Jean Baptiste Pompallier, New Zealand’s first bishop. Whilst Fr Chanel was serving in Futuna Island (near Tonga) a misunderstanding with its king, Niuliki, led to his being killed by the king’s son-in-law, Musumusu on 28 April 1841.  Pierre Chanel was declared a martyr, and beatified in 1889; he was canonised in 1954 by Pope Pius XII.  Since then many Catholic churches in the South Pacific have been dedicated to St Peter Chanel. His feast day in the Catholic Church is 28 April.

In 1985 the church was found to be too small for Motueka’s growing Catholic community, so a new larger church was built on Old Wharf Road. The marble church was purchased by the Goodman family, who also underwrote the building of the new church. History repeated itself here, because it was Patrick Goodman’s grandfather, JE McCarthy, who had been guarantor for the construction of the marble church.

The old marble church then became The Motu Centre, and was used by the Intellectually Handicapped Children’s Society as a workshop and crafts outlet. In 1992 the building was offered to the Motueka Music Group, who re-named the building The Chanel Arts Centre, and set about upgrading it to make it more suitable for a small concert venue.  Subsequent developments are described on the MMG History page, and information about booking the Chanel can be found on the Contact page.

 Bernard Redshaw

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