10 March, 2019

Stations on the Polding Walk 1 : Lewisham

Church of Saint Thomas of Canterbury, Lewisham
Image : The Saint Bede Studio.
The large tract of land, on which many Catholic buildings are now densely packed, was once no more than the grounds for a small stone church, a cottage presbytery and a large cemetery spread over almost 2 hectares.  It is almost impossible to visualise this today, since the old church and the surrounding cemetery are long gone and with them our bearings of the layout of the precinct.

In the central section of that old cemetery on Saint Joseph's Day, 1877, was laid in the earth the remains of Australia first bishop, John Bede Polding OSB. For some years a simple stone slab covered his grave and engraved upon it was an heraldic device featuring a bishop's mitre between a crozier and a Metropolitan Cross. Later, a more elaborate altar-like tomb was raised over the hallowed site.  But in 1901, the remains of Archbishop Polding (along with those of some other pioneering clergy) were taken in a solemn procession from Lewisham to Saint Mary's Cathedral, where they were interred in the Chapel of the Irish Saints.  

Almost all the graves in the old Lewisham cemetery and their headstones were removed in the early years of the 20th century to Rookwood, where they still remain.

When Archbishop Polding died, none of the Catholic buildings on the Lewisham site existed, except for the overgrown former presbytery, which was in 1877 but a year-old, four-room cottage.  The present Church of Saint Thomas of Canterbury, in which the first station of our Walk will be celebrated, was opened eleven years after Archbishop Polding had died. His gravesite was some metres east of the present Saint Thomas' church.

This engraving of the late 1870s shews the Lewisham cemetery with the grave of
Archbishop Polding in the foreground.

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