St Mary’s Cathedral – Part 1

St Mary's Cathedral 1

This week, with Christmas upon us, it seems the perfect time to share the beautiful image above. The image, which was published as a postcard, shows St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney, a central part in the Christmas traditions of many Catholic Sydney families for well over 100 years.

St Mary’s Cathedral is the oldest continuously used site of Catholic worship in the whole of Australia, though the Cathedral we see today is not the first religious building to occupy the site. The land where St Mary’s stands today was given to the Church in 1820 by Governor Macquarie. Macquarie had been petitioned by Father John Joseph Therry for a site to build a Catholic Chapel and the site was selected due to its location near the edge of town, the convict barracks and the convict garden. In 1821 Macquarie laid the foundation stone for the Cathedral and between 1822 and 1828 the first stage of St Mary’s Cathedral took shape. At this time, the site was more a religious complex than a single religious building, made up of St Joseph’s Chapel, two presbyteries and a school. The chapel was used to hold services while the main Church was built, and when St Mary’s itself opened, the chapel was converted to be part of a Benedictine seminary.

St Mary’s was an ongoing project of a sort for much of the early to mid 19th century. Although the first mass was celebrated in 1833, it was not until 1835, when Bishop Polding arrived that the Church was raised to the rank of a Cathedral. In the 1840s, famous architect Augustus Pugin designed a belltower for the Cathedral, which was built in 1843. Eight bells were installed in this tower. In 1844, a Chapter Hall, also designed by Pugin, was built, replacing the earlier school building. Today this Chapter Hall remains the oldest building on the site. In 1847, the original site was extended with the addition of two extra land grants (one to the North and one to the East), which allowed a new facade and bell tower to be built, again to designs created by Pugin. Then, on the night of June 29, 1865, it was all lost, when fire decimated the Cathedral.

Come back next week to find out about the history of the St Mary’s we are familiar with today!

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