|One of the posts of the Domain gates, Sydney.|
This rare 1870 photograph was taken not much
more than a year after the foundation of
the present Saint Mary's Cathedral.
Image : State Library of NSW.
On Tuesday last, the holy feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin, the foundation stone of the new St Mary’s Cathedral was laid by His Grace the Archbishop. Our readers are aware that in this instance the ceremony did not take place at the very inception of the undertaking. Already a vast amount of work has been performed and perhaps the most difficult portion of the entire building has been disposed of. What has been done up to this time is not of a kind to catch the eye, or to make any outward show for itself; but every inch that the building progresses henceforth will be apparent to every observer and give visible promise of the completing of the whole edifice. It can be no wonder, then, that the ceremony of last Tuesday must have given joy to the hearts of all present, as it must prove a consolation to every Catholic in Australia. It is now something more then three years since the great affliction of the destruction by fire of the old Cathedral befell the Sydney people, and the progress made in the endeavour to replace that loved Temple of God has been in the highest degree creditable to the Catholics of the diocese. Of course, they were only carrying out grand mission which God has appointed for the Irish people, to build temples to His holy Name wherever on the habitable globe the English language is spoken; and it would have been a sad reproach to all concerned if they had proved laggards in the good work. But the zeal with which they hastened to repair the ravages of the unsparing flames testified that their attachment to Holy Faith is as intense now as it has been for the last fourteen centuries; and the munificence with which they contributed money towards the erection of the new church showed that the long-famed Celtic generosity was as warm and enthusiastic here as it has been as in the olden land. Australian Catholics may then well be proud of their efforts to replace the beautiful church which 29th day of June, 1865 saw burnt to the ground.
The walls of New St Mary’s, as they rise should teach Catholics very important lessons which it would be profitable for colonists of other creeds also to bear in mind. They should preach to us the grand lesson of Christian love and toleration. Catholics never will, and never can forget the ready sympathy experienced from prominent members of other denominations when the old Cathedral was destroyed and the practical way in which that sympathy was expressed. The open-handed generosity with which so many of our Protestant fellow-colonists contributed to the erection of the magnificent temple - an important epoch in whose completion was marked triumphantly on Tuesday - has earned the liveliest gratitude of the children of the old faith …
Another good lesson which we might learn from our rising Cathedral, is internal harmony and unity of purpose. Unless we all combine heartily to carry out the great work before us, it must assuredly languish. We have a great many secret and open enemies to contend with. The tone of the press, and the current of modern philosophy all through the civilized nations are, undoubtedly, hostile to Catholicity. We hear uttered every day the most confident prophecies of the approaching downfall of our Faith. The rapid strides made by infidelity and the mis-named “liberalism”, which are alienating so many from the bosom of the Church, ought to prove to us that Catholics cannot be idle, but that it is incumbent on them in all times, and in every lawful way, to oppose the spread of pernicious opinions by clinging more closely to the Holy See, and making open profession of the Faith that is in us.
And what more glorious outward semblance of our attachment to the true Church can there possibly be than a magnificent temple in which its priests shall minister, and its doctrines shall be preached to many generations yet unborn? A building, like what our future Cathedral is destined to be, will remain for long years a memorial to the faith and piety of the present people of Sydney. The emblem of salvation, with which it is to be surmounted, will be a standing invitation to those who do not belong to the only safe fold, to seek shelter and security within its walls. In a mere worldly point of view, what greater proof can we give of our attachment to the Faith of the Apostles than to subscribe out of our poverty the enormous sums of money necessary to bring to completion a building of the magnitude contemplated for the new St Mary’s?
Moreover, it is by no means the only enterprise we have got on [our] hands. All over the country, churches, convents and schools, proportionate to the wants of people are springing up and these all costs cost large sums. There is no compulsion used, or indeed possible; the people, rich and poor alike, give freely and abundantly according to their means; their only inducements are the desire for the glory of God and their hereditary love for their creed. We might challenge the world to produce members of any Church so devoted to their faith, and so ready to make these sacrifices - which worldlings most shrink from - for its advantage.
There is yet one more lesson to be derived from the walls of the new Cathedral, one of hope and confidence in the future. If Catholicity in Australia only progress for the next century as it has during the past half century, it will be a great and powerful branch of the Church of Peter. There are men in Sydney at this moment who can recollect the humble building in which the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was first offered up in the capital of New South Wales. They can call to mind the slow degrees by which religion was emancipated from state supervision and the marvellous advances made as soon as its freedom was secured. The Venerable Prelate, who laid the foundation stone on Tuesday, could himself tell of times when the Church was fettered and impeded in the exercise of her sacred ministrations, he could describe the accelerating swiftness with which the flock of the Shepherd multiplied and grew strong when the obstacles in their path were removed by wise and liberal governments. The retrospect on his career in Australia, which the ceremony of Tuesday must have caused His Grace to make, cannot but have been abounding in joy and consolation to him as a high dignitary of the Catholic Church.
The presence of the Right Reverend Bishops of Bathurst, Goulburn and Maitland, with His Lordship Bishop Bataillon, the veteran and energetic missionary of the South Sea Islands, gave additional splendour to the scene and additional proof of the strength of the Church in the southern hemisphere. And not the least significant or imposing feature in the assemblage round the foundation stone was the large body of clergy from the diocese of Sydney and also from the interior [namely, the country areas] who were present to testify their interest in the ceremony. It was pleasant, moreover, to see that many of the foremost citizens who differ from us in religious belief, exhibited their esteem of their Catholic neighbours by attending the laying of the foundation stone of our Metropolitan Church … Harmony existing among the different Christian sects of which our population is composed, is an absolute necessity for prosperity and progress of the colony, and we cannot repeat too often that the men who strive to disturb our peaceful relations with each other, ought be regarded as public enemies.
We are convinced that magnificent spirit of unity presented at the late ceremony will do much to exorcise the demon of bigotry from among us, and tend to maintain in its pristine force, the spirit of toleration and mutual charity, on which we have always, and most justly, prided ourselves. The future of our cathedral cannot longer be in doubt after the fresh impetus its direction has received from the munificent donations received on last Tuesday. Within comparatively speaking a few years, a portion of the building large enough for actual requirements will be completed so that the Catholic inhabitants of St Mary’s district will be able to worship once again in a suitable church. Of course, it would be very hard to say when the entire building, as planned by the architect, will be finished. Possibly the rising generation of Australians may have happiness of witnessing its completion, or it may be that it will be reserved for a very distant time; but of one thing we may rest thoroughly satisfied, the Catholics of this beautiful always maintain the religious edifices of the country on a scale at least commence your with the requirements of the population.
This expansive editorial also included references to some political events of 1868, which were not quite pertinent to this post. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Editor assumes that all Catholics in NSW at that time were Catholic, whereas there were English, German and most probably other Europeans as a minority of the Catholic population.
The old Cathedral of Saint Mary was not "burned to the ground" as is claimed in this editorial and elsewhere. The fire completely gutted the building, but most of its walls were still left standing and reasonably sound the following morning.
A reference is made to "the humble building" in which the first Mass was offered in Sydney town. This most likely refers to Mass offered by the convict priest Father James Dixon or to the later brief ministry in the colony of Father Jeremiah O'Flynn. These priests will be the subject of posts on this blog.
Concerning the image, this is one of a number of views around Sydney city taken in 1870. Through the right-hand gate can just be glimpsed the masonry of the massive plinth of the present Cathedral's northern gable. Above that, the pyramid-shaped cap is the bell-tower, being a surviving section of old Saint Mary's Cathedral. Through the left gate can be seen the old Cathedral presbytery, built shortly before this photograph was taken.