St Francis Xavier’s Cathedral, Wollongong — 1

I am not a Catholic, but I was once a groomsman at a wedding here. Hi, Renato and Ursula! In  Western Australia, last I heard.

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This particularly beautiful Madonna and Child wasn’t here back in the 70s when that wedding happened.

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The Cathedral is the oldest church of any denomination in the Illawarra region, according to the cathedral web page.

By 1836 the Catholics of Wollongong had built a wooden chapel with seating for 250 people. The first Catholic school was opened in 1838. The pioneer priest Father John Rigney decided to build a larger permanent church in 1839.

The “Australian Catholic Directory” of 1841 states that “the church of St Francis Xavier will be a handsome stone building in the pure Gothic style, sustained with much ornament and will be sufficiently large to contain 1,500 persons. Its estimated expense is 2,000 pounds”. The building was eventually furnished in the Gothic style and old photographs show a splendid Gothic interior. Unfortunately the interior has been greatly altered over the years and apart from the beautiful stained glass window behind the sanctuary and the ceiling over the nave, little exists of the original interior. Some sanctuary furnishings including the stone altar are of Gothic Revival style, reproductions of Early English medieval church furniture from the thirteenth century. The tracery pattern to the sanctuary window is a typical thirteenth century “Geometrical” design. When meditating on the stained glass sanctuary window we might remember that stained glass is basically a Christian art. It had not existed until the Christian era, and has evolved as an integral element in the Christian church.

It has been much altered over the years, however. I have to say that the more recent changes – since I last saw the place – are for the better.

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