The image above is a beautiful postcard image dating to the early 20h century. Yet the scene portrayed is one whose history dates back far further, with the stunning Church featured actually being the oldest surviving Church building in Sydney!
St James Church is a beautiful, convict built building, which is today the oldest remaining Church in Sydney. Yet is is significant for far more than simply its age. In 1819 the convict architect Francis Greenway was asked by Governor Lachlan Macquarie to design a courthouse. Macquarie, at this time, had grand plans for the area around George and King Streets, planning to build a beautiful cathedral on George Street, and a courthouse and a school on King Street. However, these plans were going to undergo significant changes. Macquarie was, by this time, known for his grand architectural ideas, and Commissioner Bigge, who had been sent from London, recommended significant changes to the planned George and King Street precinct.
The cathedral plans were put on hold (and the cathedral wasn’t completed until nearly 50 years later, in 1868). The plans for the courthouse and school also underwent significant alterations. Both were already under construction, but the school became a courthouse, while the planned courthouse became a Church. It was this courthouse which became St James Church, the Church pictured above. It was consecrated in 1824 and in 1836 it was was the church where Bishop Broughton, the first Bishop of Australia, was installed and regularly officiated. Classes for the first theological college of Australia were held at St James and the first ordinations of Australian Anglican clergy were also held at the Church. It was even the location of the first attempt to teach kindergarten in NSW!
Last week, we left off with the destruction of the original St Mary’s Cathedral. The Cathedral, complete with Pugin designed additions, had been burned to the ground on June 29, 1865, leaving behind just one building intact, the Chapter Hall which had been built in 1844. Yet this was not the end for St Mary’s Cathedral.
Almost immediately after the destruction of the Cathedral, plans were made to build a new, bigger and grander Cathedral in its place. Later in 1865, Bishop Polding approached William Wardell, an architect and friend of Polding, to design the new building. Wardell had arrived in 1858 and had created a formidable reputation for grand, Gothic revival buildings, and it was this style which he planned to use for the new St Mary’s Cathedral.
The foundation stone was laid on December 8, 1868 and while building was going on mass was held in two temporary timber buildings. In 1869 a brick ‘pro-Cathedral’ was built in place of these temporary timber structures, and then in 1882, with the consecration of the first stage of the Cathedral , services were transferred to St Mary’s itself. The Cathedral continued to be built, in stages, until 1928, when the final southern section was completed. This section included the two towers, whose original design included grand spires. However, these spires were actually only added in 2000 – over 130 years after the building of the grand Cathedral commenced.
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!