St Patricks Cathedral occupies a magnificent position in Melbourne and is the largest Church building in Australia. It is the cathedral church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne and the seat of its archbishop. It was conferred the title and dignity of Minor Basilica in 1974 by Pope Paul VI. The Church is located at Eastern Hill, just across St Peters Church. The Cathedral was built in stages from 1858 to 1939 in Gothic Revival style.
History of the Cathedral
On 4th October 1848, when Dr James Alipius Goold was appointed as the Bishop of the recently created Melbourne Diocese, St Francis Church was his Cathedral Church. Few years later, as the Catholic population of Melbourne city increased, for want of another church, an application for a grant of a Church site was made to the Government. In July 1848, land was sanctioned at Eastern Hill for a Church. The land was part of St Hellier Estate, owned by Edward Curr, which when he died became crown property. It was only due to the persistence of Irish – Australian Businessman and Politician, Sir John O’Shanassy, Government favoured the Church for the land grant.
A small weatherboard chapel already existed at the Eastern Hill reserve, used for Sunday mass, became the first St Patrick Church. The foundation stone for a new Church was laid on 9th of April 1850, by Bishop Dr Goold . Goold did not have any plans to build a Big Gothic Structure as Melbourne was still a little hamlet. The original budget for the church was 6000 pounds. More than 2000 people assembled there for the ceremony. The Gold was discovered in Victoria the next year and the building operations on St Patrick came to a standstill due to the non-availability of trades people and very little progress was made for the next two years. During this time Bishop Goold and Dean Fitzpatrick were away in Europe and Vicar General Dr Geoghegan was the incharge of Church construction.
When Bishop returned in February 1853, Melbourne had already changed, with fortune seekers from all around the world arriving to try their luck at the Gold fields. At the time of his departure to Europe, Melbourne was still a sleepy town with not much prospects ahead. Goold realised the inadequacy of building a small Church for a fast-growing City. The Bishop decided to take down what was already constructed and commence a new building with a new plan for a larger Church. The building was in advanced stage by then with the high walls were already standing. The Bishop decided to pull down what was already built at a cost of £60,000 and start anew.
Portions of the Old building, like the columns and part of the aisle roofing became part of the new design and the estimated total cost of the new building was £200,000. For the next few years funding issues slowed down the construction. In February 1858, Bishop called a general meeting of all interested parties to address the funding issue. Enthusiasm prevailed and within two years first session of the church was completed and roofed. On 14th February 1858, this was blessed by Bishop Goold and it served as the first St Patricks Church at the site.
In June 1858, before Goold left for his ad limina visit to Vatican, he already took a decision to build a large Cathedral at the site and he delegated the responsibility of finalising the plan and announcing it publicly to Rev Fitzpatrick. Early in 1857, Architect William Wilkinson Wardell arrived in Melbourne from England. By then Wardell had already designed around 30 Churches and other buildings in England.
With his uncompromising love for Gothic Structures, Wadell was a perfect choice for designing St Patrick Cathedral. At Goold’s request Wadell prepared a design for the church and Fitzpatrick approved it in Goold’s absence.
In 1858, the contract was signed, and work began on the Church. Fitzpatrick faced stiff criticism from many corners for committing for such a colossal building when great a lot of money was already spent on two churches in the location. But his perseverance made it possible. He faced a lack of interest from the public which resulted in financial constraints for the project.
On 11th June 1886, when Goold died, he lived to see his great Cathedral take final shape. Beneath the pavement of the nearly finished chapel of Holy Souls his mortal remains were reverently laid. On 21st January 1890, Rev Fitzpatrick who was known as the founder of the St Patrick Cathedral died peacefully. He was part of the building process for around 40 years.
The high Altar arrived in October 1896, made of Emperor Red Marble manufactured at Farmer and Brindleys in London. The Cathedral was consecrated on 2nd October 1897 by Bishop Corbett of Sale and the formal opening took place on 31st October. The total expended on the Cathedral till that date was £217,376.
In the early 1900’s the discussion was of erecting the great main tower and the spire and the two frontal spires and Arch Bishop Mannix took a personal interest in the project. Early in 1936 Arch Bishop Mannix instructed the architects to prepare a design for the remaining towers and spires and decided to build a new Spire to a height of 340 feet, 90 feet more than the original design. The building was officially completed in 1939.
The cathedral’s original pipe organ was built in the late 1870s by Robert Mackenzie and completed in 1880 by George Fincham. The current installation built by George Fincham & Sons, Melbourne in 1962-64 and incorporates a substantial part of the original.
To prepare the for the Cathedral’s Centenary Celebrations in 1997, the Cathedral underwent significant conservation work in 1994 under the guidance of Falkinger Andronas Architects and Heritage Consultants. The Pilgrim Way was created at the Church ground in the late 1990’s. Created by Green and Dale Landscape Architects, The Pilgrim Way with a central concept of flowing water has water cascading down the channel that divides the two sides of the stepped pathways over a selection of quotations that are cut with gold inlays into the blue stone structures
“Pillared on earth and pointing to the stars
The peer of the old-world temples, there it stands
Upon the summit of the Eastern Hill
And gazed out across southern seas
A work of centuries crowded into years”
(An Ode by Rev J.J. Malone)
Address: Cathedral Pl, East Melbourne VIC 3002, Australia
Based on – Advocate (Melbourne, Vic. : 1868 – 1954) The Story of St. Patrick’s Cathedral