The first church of St John was built in 1862 opposite the west end of the present cathedral and was in the Wellington Diocese. The first Bishop of Waiapu, however, resided in Napier because unsettled conditions in Poverty Bay threatened security. So Hawke’s Bay was included in the Diocese of Waiapu in 1869 and St John’s Parish Church was raised to the status of a pro-cathedral.
The foundation stone of the first Cathedral was laid in September 1886 and the brick building of traditional English design was consecrated two years later. On February 3rd 1931, while communion was being served, the building was totally destroyed by earthquake with the loss of one life.
For 25 years a “temporary” wooden building, dedicated in October 1932 served as a Cathedral for the diocese.
In 1946 it was decided to rebuild and the foundation stone was laid on 12th October 1955. The chapel, chancel and most of the nave were dedicated by the Bishop of Waiapu and Archbishop of New Zealand, The Most Reverend Norman. Lesser, in 1960. But it was 1965 before the building was completed and the Cathedral was consecrated on 8th October 1967.
The preliminary design was by Mr R.S.D. Harman of Christchurch, and after his death Messrs. Malcolm and Sweet, of Napier, prepared the final design, with A.B. Davis and Son doing the construction.
In 1974 the altar was moved forward to a circular sanctuary from its original east wall position. The Maori Memorial Chapel was resited in the previous sanctuary and the original chapel converted to a two storied Diocesan Centre. Mr Martin Yeoman, Napier, was the architect and the builders were J.C. Mackersey Ltd.
The Cathedral is increasingly recognised as a fine example of modernist architecture. In 2005 the last three windows were installed finally completing the building.