Topic: Sisters of the Anglican Community of the Sacred Name

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A description of the burial plots of the Sisters of the Anglican Community of the Sacred Name in Linwood Cemetery, Christchurch, NZ. And some detail on the Community it's buildings and activities.

The two large community plots of the Anglican Sisters of the Community of the Sacred Name (CSN) are next to each other where Block 47 joins Block 48 at the border with the Bromley Park playing field.   Block 47 Plots 245-250 and 319-324 are 12 borderless soil topped plots co-joined with a single border that contains a central monument dedicated to Mother Edith the foundress and life-long Sister In Charge of the Community. The perimeter of this area is clinker brick similar to that used in the construction of the CSN Deaconness House, a Victorian-gothic style building built in 1913 on the corner of Barbadoes Street and St Asaph St (sadly demolished following damage in the 2011 earthquakes).  Mounted on the brick surround are black granite carved plaques, one for each person in this Community's plot  There are 28 women buried in the area, three of whom were not Sisters and one plaque is a memorial to Sister Theodora who died overseas.   The first burial was that of 16 year old Sister Margaret (B47P324 Rose Elizabeth HARBOTT), whose ashes were buried there on 31 October 1917 a few days after her death.   The second burial was Sister Mary Alice MILLER (B47P245) on 10th August 1920.  The Foundess and Mother, Sister Edith MELLISH (B47P248) was the third on 29 May 1922.  The last burial was Sister Margaret Mary TEMPERLEY (B47P249) who died  in 2004.  The Friends have planted perennials on the plot to keep weeds down, bind the sandy soil and povide Summer colour to the area.

Block 48 Plots 1a-8a and 1b-8b are 16 soil-topped plots co-joined with a simple concrete perimeter. The area is divided into two down the centre by a concrete berm on which, in a straight line are 8 small desked plinths.  Five have black granite plaques bearing the names of the five Sisters interred in there.  Eleven plots are empty.  The first burial in this Community plot in September 1977 was that of  Sister Agnes (B48P1a Alice Georgina Maude TERRELL) and a recent is Sister Leona Ada FORD (B48P1b) in 2008. On January 23rd 2019 Sister Brigid (Molly Doreen SPILETT) was interred [ashes] following a Requiem Mass in the Community of the Sacred Name's guesthouse chapel Tuam Street, Christchurch. Sister Bridgit died on January 19th 2019 in Ashburton in her 94th year, having been Professed 55 years with the Community.*


We need to carry out further research to determine when the plots were purchased by, or allocated to, the Community.

The history of the community has been well documented in a book written in 1993 by Ruth Fry to mark 100 years of the order and sites the social and human problems of the early Pioneers who "had brought their troubles with them, ... (and) were not well prepared to provide social services.  Where families were concerned, this was women's work and there was concern that proper organisation and training should be available. Bishop JULIUS (B11P4) was installed as Bishop of Christchurch in 1890 and spearheaded the growth of social action in the city.  This was a time when women in New Zealand were wanting better opportunities and 1893 was the year NZ women were finally given the vote; the bishop a supporter to the cause.  In the same year, Edith MELLISH (B47P248) was brought over to NZ by Bishop JULIUS from the Deaconess Community of St Andrews in London, England to found a women's order.  Originally known as the Christchurch Deaconess Institution it's focus was to train women in teaching and home nursing.  It was re-named the Community of the Sacred Name on 8th June 1911 with the motto "The Name above all Other Names."  and only at that time did the role of Sister-in-Charge become re-titled "Mother".

Women joined the order for a period of training that took about two years, first as a Visitor,  then as an Aspirant (4 weeks),  then a Postulant (6 months).  If eligible, the next step would be to become a Novice and wear a Habit (2 years), then time as a Probationer "following which if they were considered suitable would be 'set apart' as Deaconnesses by the Bishop."

Within the first year of the order, there were six women attached to the Community.  By all accounts they worked hard providing refuge for women and young pregnant girls, teaching and nursing.  The Centennial History of the Community (Fry pp 11-59) is scattered with the work they were involved in and states that in 1897,  (four years since forming);

"Nearly two hundred girls taken from the baneful surroundings of vicious homes, or rescued from the Police Court, the houses of ill-fame, or the cruelty of unnatural or drunken parents, have already passed through the Home, where they have been taught to earn a livlihood through handiwork; where kind- hearted ladies with loving care and interest supply the human element during their stay, and follow them after they are gone and endeavour the more important work of implanting and nourishing spiritual life."

The members of the Community were trained by Sister Edith as "properly qualified mistresses for church school work" to teach Sunday Schools, Bible classes and Religion in Schools being... " required at least to reach Stage Two of the Anglican Board of Studies Licenciate in Theology course."  Their daily tasks also included  general care of the Cathedral... "cleaning the communion vessels, sweeping the sanctuary, washing linen and mending the cassocks as well as arranging the flowers ('all ten vases').....(At Deaconess House)... there were the ordinary domestic tasks.... like bringing in the coal and filling matresses with chaff.  However, the most exhausting work was caring for the girls in institutions (they worked in) when they were unsettled...  For Sister Edith, there were visits to the police station and the court when the cases of girls in her care were coming up, and there were links with other institutions to which they might be removed or from which they came particularly Burnham Industrial School and Mt Magdala, the home for pregnant girls run by Roman Catholic Sisters.  Vists to Addington Gaol are recorded, though women were not normally permitted to visit prisons at this time.  When a mother in need was brought before the Charitable Aid Board, a Deaconess would sometimes accompany her."

"Visiting the sick often involved the Sisters in home nursing and they frequently had to answer emergency calls.  In 1903, a probationer, Margaret Beere , was given permission to accompany Eveline Cunnington (B46P209), a well-known Christchurch social reformer, to the women's gaol at Lyttelton and, in the following year, she was made an official prison visitor.  Sister Marian called frequently at Herrick's Home for Inebriates and, in 1905, was temporarily in charge of that institution." In the absence of trained people in the city's morgue, the Sisters helped lay out fatal accident cases.

"Many of the Community activities maintained the convent tradition.  Fine church embroidery was an art for which the Sisters became known, practising it themselves and passing on their skills to guilds of women who came to help or paid for lessons (led by Sister Edith).  Though discipline was strict and much time was given to work as well as to prayer and meditiation, the need for daily relaxation and occasional suitable treats was not entirely subdued. ... Sister Edith bred canaries and, on her rest day would take pleasure in tending them and cleaning their cage.  Others found relaxation in gardening.  It is one of the strengths of the Community that all members have been expected to take their weekly rest day and their four weeks' holiday, usually in January.  The girls in their care were also taken on outings - to Sumner by tram for a picnic, walking on the Port Hills, or in November the annual Christchurch Show. "

All this was framed around a daily routine of rising by 7am, attending Eucharist and Divine Office from which at least three of the following "Hours" were to be said a day; Lauds at 7.40am, "Terce followed by meditation (9am), Sext (12.30pm), None (1.50pm), Vespers (5.45 pm) and Compline (9pm).  Strict silence was to be kept from Compline till 9.45am."

Even today, the nuns still wear a full habit and from 1904, following approval by the Bishop, they were seen in the streets riding bicycles to save time getting from task to task. The habit originally consisted of a cap "... of goffered white lawn, worn indoors with a short veil: outdoors a longer veil was worn attached to a stiff white hood.  From 1901, the Sisters wore a grey habit with starched white colar and cuffs and, outdoors, a long grey cloak.  The Scapular, a long apron-like garment, had special spiritual significance... Slight differences in garment distinguished the Probationers, Novices and Sisters.  The knotted girdle and ring were presented to a Sister at the time of her profession.  Novices wore a plain wooden cross and Sisters a similar one mounted with a narrower silver cross.... Over the years, the regulations surounding the Habit were to make little concession to the changing lifestyle"

The Community provided essential support during the main tragedies of the early 20th century;

Return of the Terra Nova (February 1913) - "Sister Edith was asked by the Bishop to go to Lyttelton to meet Scott's wife who had come from England hoping to meet her husband.. . She travelled on the Lyttelton train with Wilson's wife and officers of the Terra Nova.  Mr Lilley (sic) (biologist) of the Antartic Expedition came with Mrs Bowers (wife of Lt Bowers who died with Scott) ... to dinner at the Community and the Sisters joined other Christchurch citizens and the full complement of the Terra Nova in a memorial service in the Cathedral."

World War 1 (1914-1918) - "The war was to touch their lives, particularly in the loss of family members and to some extent in their work.  Mostly they were to be seen calmly keeping up the tasks they had started... Rather than filling the gaps for enlisted men, the Sisters were concerned with the hardships war brought to the mothers and children left behind.  Their usual daily work and prayer gave many opportunities for support, with extra involvement in the care of orphaned children and district nursing.  They arranged afternoon tea parties for soldiers' wives in the Community garden in an effort to help them 'spiritually and socially'."

Influenza Epidemic (1918) - Nurse Sybila MAUDE  (1862-1935) was an Associate of the Community and in 1897 lived at Deaconess House.  Through her connection with the Community, she began District Nursing which became the Canterbury-wide "Nurse Maude" organisation that still operates and bears her name.   "When the influenza epidemic hit Christchurch in 1918 and Nurse Maude was asked by the health authorities to arrange emergency nursing services, several of the Sisters helped her... Sister May had a strenuous time as St Saviour's (orphanage) had children with scarlet fever and diptheria as well as several cases of influenza."

Nurse Maude  is buried in St Peter's Anglican Church at Church Corner, Upper Riccarton.

Edited/ updated 2020

The Community of the Sacred Name for a period after the Christchurch Earthquakes was partly based in Ashburton on a rural property.

The Sisters in New Zealand operate a retreat and guest house in Tuam St and live in a cottage constructed on the site of the old Barbadoes St convent. The Christchurch site is the mother house of the community which also has members serving in the Pacific.

An article in the Christchurch Press by 

"City councillors favour giving the owners of a heritage-listed former convent in central Christchurch a $950,000 grant to help save it.

The former Community of the Sacred Name convent, at the corner of Barbadoes and St Asaph streets, includes a two-storey, Cyril Mountfort-designed wooden chapel and dates to the late 19th century.

It is the only Anglican convent in New Zealand and has a category 1 listing with the New Zealand Historic Places Trust and a Group 1 listing in the Christchurch City Plan. It was given to the Home and Family Trust in "as is, where is" condition and needs about $2.6 million worth of earthquake repairs.

The trust wants to fix and remodel the building for use as its base.

 The Christchurch City Council's communities, housing and economic development committee yesterday voted in favour of giving the trust a $950,000 heritage grant to help it pay for the work. The decision needs to be ratified by the full council.

Brendan Smyth, the council's acting heritage team leader, told councillors the building deserved to be saved. It had been off-limits to the public as a convent, but could now be open for people to see its beauty.

"This is as original as you will get in terms of a turn-of-the-century chapel by a prominent architect. It's a fantastic building," Smyth said.

Councillor Ali Jones said she was concerned that even with a $950,000 council grant the trust would still have to find twice that amount to proceed with work needed to save the building. She questioned whether the council should hold off until the rest of the money had been secured.

"I don't want the building to be lost but I want some more surety there will be progress and they will get the rest of their money," Jones said.

Cr Paul Lonsdale said he had met with the trust and was confident it would be able to raise the money required, particularly if the council showed its support by committing to the funding.

Committee chairman Cr Andrew Turner said he strongly supported giving the trust the money.




Christchurch City Council; Conservation Plan for Linwood Cemetery; February 2006.

Fry, R; Community of the Sacred Name - A Centenial History, Christchurch, NZ; 1993

See also : TE ARA NZ, Original Deaconess House,

© Friends of Linwood Cemetery (2015)

Updated 23rd December 2015 by Alexandra

*edited 31st March 2020 additions Hugh

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Sisters of the Anglican Community of the Sacred Name

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Sisters of the Anglican Community of the Sacred Name by Friends of Linwood Cemetery is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License