25 March, 2019

Archbishop Polding's Gothic Vision

Figure 1.
Archbishop Polding in Gothic Revival vestments
In May 1841, Bishop Polding arrived in Europe to visit the Vatican and to encourage priests and religious to join the Australian mission.  During this visit, Pope Gregory XVI established the dioceses of Hobarton and Adelaide and made John Bede Polding ARCH-bishop of Sydney and Metropolitan of Australia.  The new bishops were Father Francis Murphy, pastor of Saint Patrick's Church Hill, Sydney, who was appointed to Adelaide; and Father Robert Willson, pastor of Saint Barnabas' church, Nottingham, England, who was appointed to Hobarton.

In June 1841, Bishop Polding attended the consecration of a new Cathedral which had been built in the city of Birmingham, England.  This Cathedral was designed by the emerging luminary of Gothic Revival art and architecture, Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin.  Pugin was a once-in-a-century creative genius whose very name evokes wonder.

Archbishop Polding was deeply impressed by the new Birmingham Cathedral and in general by the Gothic art which it incorporated.  It seems it was a moment of revelation for the Archbishop, because he subsequently engaged Pugin to prepare some designs for churches in far-off Australia.  He wished the architecture and art of his Archdiocese henceforth to be Gothic.  The story of these Australian churches is intended for future posts.

Figure 2.
A Puginesque chasuble in the Collection of the Archdiocese of Hobart.

In this post we will limit ourselves to a particular point about this Australian Gothic Revival.  The Archbishop was quite taken with the sacred vestments which were designed and made under the supervision of Pugin for the Birmingham Cathedral's consecration.  These vestments were more ample in their form, lavish in their colours and sumptuous in the materials they were made from.  Over the next few decades, this new form of vestment, referred to as Gothic became common throughout Australia.  The new Bishop of Hobarton, Robert Willson, was a friend of Pugin and an admirer of his work.  He acquired a great deal of Pugin's liturgical art, including vestments, for his diocese. Some of those early Sydney and Hobart Gothic Revival vestments were made in England, whilst others were made by Religious here in Australia.  Happily, some of these old vestments still survive for us to admire.  They an important part of our Liturgical Tradition and Catholic Heritage.

Click on the images for an enlarged view.


1. Figure 1 is a digital enhancement of the painting of Archbishop Polding which hangs in the Great Hall of S' John's College at the University of Sydney. In this painting, the Archbishop is wearing a splendid cope of figured gold silk, which was presented to him by a member of the English Catholic nobility 1855-56.

2. Figure 2 depicts the front of a Gothic Revival chasuble in the collection of the Archdiocese of Hobart. This Marian chasuble, of a beautiful ivory and gold figured silk, was made shortly after the death of AWN Pugin in 1852, but closely based on his designs. The orphrey of this chasuble is identical with that of Archbishop Polding's cope, shewn in Figure 1.

3. We are indebted to Mr Brian Andrews of Hobart for his seminal research into Pugin's role in the development of an Australian Catholic aesthetic.


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