A Christian polymath beloved by her flock

Lynda Patterson, Dean of Christchurch Cathedral
Lynda Patterson, Dean of Christchurch Cathedral

Much has been written over the past fortnight about the death of Lynda Patterson, the dean of ChristChurch Cathedral in New Zealand and first woman to hold that post.

But so rich was the praise for the Ulster-born Anglican that, even in the thousands of words devoted to it in the News Letter, it was impossible to include all those paying tribute to her.

For instance, Bishop of Waikato Helen-Ann Hartley had said she possessed “an ability to combine lightness and humour with immense depth, all in one sentence. I’m reminded of G.K.Chesterton who said: angels can fly because they take themselves so lightly. That was Lynda.”

Lay Canon Yvonne Densem said simply: “Even in our darkest hours she made us laugh.”

Born in Lagan Valley hospital on February 6 1974, she was the daughter of Lynda and Cedric Patterson from Dromore, Co Down; a car plant worker and school assistant,

She was an only child.

Her father said she had been taken to Sunday School from around age three, and that she developed in interest in religion at a very young age.

She had studied at Dromore Central Primary School and Banbridge Academy, and later went on to study in Mansfield College - one of the institutions making up the University of Oxford.

According to her tutor John Muddiman, in the last year of high school she event taught geology to GCSE students, so accomplished was she in the subject.

The Very Reverend Lynda Patterson attained a First in Theology at the college, and went on to attain an MSt (Master of Studies) degree in it too.

She also tried to undertake a doctorate of philosophy, but did not complete it.

Mr Muddiman said this was partly due to other commitments, and partly because she simply wanted to read every single work she could before putting pen to paper.

While at Oxford she became junior Dean, junior chaplain, then a tutor and director of theology studies - all before her 30th birthday.

In 2005 she moved permanently to New Zealand after having visited a couple of years earlier with a friend who had connections with the country.

She was ordained as a priest and later became assistant Dean at Christchurch’s Anglican cathedral.

She also learned to speak the native language of Maori, and her father recalls her reciting the Lord’s Prayer to him in that far-flung tongue.

Rev Patterson was inside that very building when the lethal 2011 earthquake struck, causing its spire to collapse.

She, along with 19 others inside, survived – but more than 180 of the city’s other residents did not.

When the Dean of the cathedral quit later that year to pursue a council seat, she took on the full role of Dean.

On her watch, a new place of worship called the Cardboard Cathedral opened in 2013, made variously of cardboard tubes, shipping containers, timber and stained glass.

A recurring theme throughout the tributes to her was how she held the congregation together following the disaster.

Her father Cedric said that pneumonia had become more common in the city in the wake of the quake, and that she had repeatedly contracted it in the year leading ahead of her death.

Before she was found dead at home in Christchurch, having failed to turn up for Sunday worship, she had said she was not feeling herself, but told her family she would be fine.

The death certificate records her date of death as Sunday, July 20, and the cause of death as a heart attack. She was 40.

She had two funerals – one in New Zealand on Tuesday, July 29, and the other in Dromore Cathedral on Sunday, August 3.

She is buried in the churchyard by the cathedral. She is survived by both her parents.

A memorial service is to be held to her in Oxford’s Mansfield College on October 25.