Christchurch family restores stained glass windows shattered in earthquakes

A north Canterbury family have spent the past eight years restoring hundreds of stained glass windows, broken in the earthquakes.

The historical artworks were shattered into thousands of pieces, and now the Stewarts are putting them back together bit by bit.

One of the pieces is a 150-year-old jigsaw puzzle. The beautiful nine-metre-tall stained glass window from ChristChurch Cathedral, depicting the saints, is in tiny pieces.

It is painstaking work for Graham Stewart, who restores stained glass windows from churches the quakes took.

"Some of these projects we've spent a year just assimilating these parts that make up the whole of that window, and it's incredibly satisfying once it's done," he says.

His family has been working on hundreds of the windows over the past eight years. Each one is an historical artefact.

Each piece retains as much of the original glass as possible. Where it's missing, the window makers match the colour with new mouth-blown glass.

"I go in there and chop out the parts that I want," Mr Stewart says.

It's a family affair. His sons work full-time on the restoration at the Stewart home in north Canterbury.

It can be dangerous. In June 2011 the family were working inside St John's Latimer when a strong aftershock hit. A brick wall collapsed, burying Mr Stewart's son, Victor, alive.

"We heard the rumble and next it was black, and I was freaked out, like unbelievably scared, and some guys who were working nearby came and dug me out," he says.

There were no serious, long-lasting injuries, and the family still go into churches. Their aim is for their work to be invisible.

"No, they won't see us - what I hope is they'll see the original artist's work, for one, the beauty of the original artist's work," Mr Stewart says.

Their contribution to Canterbury's heritage will bless churchgoers for another 150 years.