- Church officials say quake-damaged cathedral will be demolished
- Walls to be reduced to three metres and the base kept as a prayer garden
- The Anglican Church says the cost to rebuild the structure is 'staggering'
- The cathedral had survived five other quakes in its 131-year history
The remains of what was Christchurch Cathedral, whose shattered spire became a symbol of the New Zealand city's quake devastation, is to be dismantled after Anglican church officials said the earthquake had damaged the structure of the iconic church beyond repair.
Bishop Victoria Matthews said the existing church walls would be brought down to about 3 meters and the base of the church kept for use as a prayer garden.
Officials had thought part of the building could be saved but said on Friday that recent aftershocks had made the existing structure unsound.
"What we need to do is bring the walls down to a safe level which is probably about 2-3 meters," Bishop Matthews said. "There will be no bulldozers, no wrecking ball. This will be done with deep respect and love."
The cathedral -- one of the city's best-known historic buildings -- was severely damaged in the earthquake on February 22, 2011, its neo-gothic spire crashing to the ground. The quake destroyed many buildings in Christchurch's central business district and killed 185 people.
News of its demolition was greeted with dismay in Christchurch where heritage campaigners say the decision was taken without public consultation.
Christchurch City Councillor Aaron Keown vowed to protest to stop the demolition and said there was widespread support for his position.
"I would be in there chaining myself to the building to stop that and I know lots of other volunteers would come in to do that," he told the Christchurch Press.
Bishop Matthews said the cost of saving the cathedral was "staggering" and that NZ$50 million (US$42 million) would be needed to rebuild existing parts of the building or NZ$100 million for a complete reconstruction.
She said bringing the walls down to a safe level would allow officials to retrieve artworks and other church relics still inside the structure. The cathedral is within Christchurch's "red zone," the worst-hit area of the city where many of the buildings still remain too unstable to enter.
The Anglican Church has said that it is committed to building a new cathedral, but no plans have been drawn up about where it will be placed, how much it will cost or what it will look like.
The 131-year-old cathedral had previously been damaged in earthquakes in 1881, 1888, 1901 and in 2010, according to its website.