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The Church of the Holy Innocents near Peel Forest is tucked away in peaceful solitude among trees and below towering hills on the road to Mesopotamia.

The church was badly damaged in the February 2011 earthquake, with a large portion of stone wall behind the altar crumbling, but today it stands impressive and inviting.

The church was a gift to the community by John Barton Acland (1823-1904) and consecrated by his father in law, Bishop Henry John Chitty Harper in 1869.

It is named in remembrance of three infant children who died between 1864 and 1869 and are buried at the churchyard cemetery.

Both Acland and his partner Charles G. Tripp (1820-97) were devout churchmen.

They were one of the first runholders in South Canterbury and took up Mt Peel Station in 1855. Tripp later took up the “Orari Gorge Station.

Bishop Harper conducted services at their homesteads in 1857 and 1858 when he made pastoral tours on horseback accompanied by his son Henry and was escorted by Tripp across the treeless Canterbury plain and the Rangitata River.

A number of Aclands, Cains and others with a “local connection are buried in the church grounds.

The graves include those of a lady born in America and another born in faraway Lithuania.

The ashes of New Zealand crime writing queen Ngaio March are also found there, and marked with a plaque.

The interior of the compact church is made of native pit-sawn timber and the altar rails are knotted totara.

Impressive and vibrant stained glass windows catch the eye and hold the gaze with their intricate detail.

The earthquake restoration work of the church took seven years and cost around $1.6 million. The cost was funded by insurance, generous community donations and grants.

The restored Anglican church was reopened by Bishop of Christchurch Victoria Matthews at a re-dedication service in September last year.

The church is a regular stopover for visitors to South Canterbury, including those enjoying walks in Peel Forest and drives up the Rangitata Gorge road.

Photos: The secluded and peaceful Church of the Holy Innocents, near Peel Forest.