13 October, 2019

Archdiocesan Presbyterate circa 1872 : 1

Clergy of the Archdiocese of Sydney with Archbishop Polding circa 1872.

Writing from Sydney on 11th July, 1873 to Dom Henry Gregory OSB at Downside Abbey, Archbishop Polding remarked : 

I send you a photograph of most of the priests of the Archdiocese; you will recognise many old friends — old in more senses than one.

The photograph appears above.  Except that it is not one photograph, but a montage of individual portraits of the priests, arranged to give the impression that they were all gathered together with the Archbishop. It would appear that the montage was assembled in 1872, or even slightly earlier.  It is a clever piece of work.

A close examination of the image reveals that the priests are disproportionate to each other and often looking in different directions.  The background of the image and the floor covering are obviously created by drawing, not photography.  The quality of lens available in these earlier years of photography would not permit such a wide-angle view to be captured.  Once the montage - probably quite large - was completed, it was then photographed and smaller prints were made available for distribution.  Probably at one time many copies of the photograph existed.  One is on display in the crypt of Saint Mary's Cathedral, Sydney.

The extract from the letter of Archbishop Polding puts paid to a foolish inaccuracy which pops-up from time to time, namely that this image was taken at the Plenary Council of Australia held at Saint Mary's in 1844.  Photography had not arrived in Sydney in 1844 and many of those who appear in the group were not in Sydney in 1844.  So, let us read no more of such silly claims.

A further post will provide some closer-views of the image, and identify each of the forty-five priests depicted with the Archbishop. 

A framed copy of the clergy group on display in the Crypt of Saint Mary's Cathedral.
Also on display are the mitre and crosier of Archbishop Polding used by him
after the devastating second Cathedral fire of 1869.


26 July, 2019

Rare Engraving of Archbishop Polding

Guild of Archbishop Polding

A recent discovery has been a drawing of Archbishop Polding sketched around the year 1850 by a local artist named O'Connor.  This pen and ink study was most likely made into an engraving and published in a magazine or journal, as was common before journalistic photography.

The archbishop's appearance is distinctive in this drawing, since he is wearing a somewhat rare item of episcopal dress called the cappa magna.  The cappa magna is a voluminous enclosing cloak to which is attached a large hood.  It also has an extended train of some metres in length.  Typically, this hood was lined with the fur of a form of weasel called "ermine" which has white fur with a black tail.  The image shews this peculiar arrangement of white fur with small black tails. 

Although every bishop was entitled to use this vesture, most likely at that time in Australia, Archbishop Polding would have worn this in his role as Metropolitan of Australia.  Originally intended for the practical purpose of keeping the bishop warm sitting in the Cathedral, its use became merely ceremonial and was restricted to the most solemn occasions.


14 July, 2019

Paintings of Archbishop Polding : updated

Although there are several paintings of Archbishop Polding in existence, only one is certain to be painted from a "sitting".  

The portrait concerned was painted in 1834 or 1835 and shews John Bede Polding shortly after his consecration as a bishop.  That painting is kept at the Downside Monastery, which was Polding's Religious House before coming to Australia.

Adjacent is a reproduction of the Downside painting (not the original). It is painted from the original, but makes several distinct changes. Where is the copy? When was it made and by whom?

If any reader knows where this portrait is kept, or has any further details about it, we would be most grateful if you would write to us at:


07 July, 2019

The Letters of Archbishop Polding

Marking the bi-centenary of the birth of Archbishop Polding in 1994, the Sisters of the Good Samaritan in Glebe NSW, published in three volumes the known letters of their Founder, +John Bede Polding OSB.  This worthy project was organised by the late Sister Xavier Compton SGS, who had spent much of her life researching the work of the Archbishop.

Should any readers of this post have copies of these volumes which they are willing to sell or donate to the Guild of Archbishop Polding, please contact us at : 

These are the bibliographical details of the three volumes :

The Letters of John Bede Polding OSB : 1819-1843 Volume 1
Editor, Sister M. Xavier Compton SGS
Published by the Sisters of the Good Samaritan, Glebe, 1994
ISBN 0646216074
Length 232 pages.

The Letters of John Bede Polding OSB : 1844-1860 Volume 2 

Editor, Sister M. Xavier Compton SGS
Published by the Sisters of the Good Samaritan, Glebe, 1996
ISBN 095963875
Length 332 pages.

The letters of John Bede Polding OSB : 1861-1877 Volume 3
Editor, Sister M. Xavier Compton SGS
Published by the Sisters of the Good Samaritan, Glebe 1998.
ISBN 0959638768

Length 390 pages.


03 July, 2019

On the day of his consecration as a bishop

On the Feast of Ss Peter and Paul, 1834, which fell that year on a Sunday, Dom John Bede Polding OSB was consecrated Bishop of Hiero-Caesarea (a moribund ancient See, now in modern Turkey) with the governance of the Vicariate Apostolic of New Holland (mainland Australia), Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) and adjacent islands.  Resident at Saint Gregory's Abbey, Downside, Father Polding came to London and received Episcopal Orders in a small chapel - not much more than a drawing room - in the residence of the Vicar Apostolic of the London District, Bishop James Yorke Bramston. (1)

The chapel was so small that only a few persons could also be present, apart from those celebrating the Sacred Liturgy. (2) It would seem that the Rites were performed very simply, within the celebration of Low Mass.  Almost immediately after the Mass, the new bishop wrote to the President-General of the Benedictine Congregation in England, Father John Augustine Birdsall. (3)

35 Golden Square

Right Reverend James Yorke Bramston
Vicar Apostolic London 1827-1836.
To you, ever-dear Father President, I feel impelled both by a sense of dutiful subjection which dignity cannot extinguish, and by affection which present and approaching events render more intense, to address the first announcement that I am now numbered amongst the successors of the Apostles! numbered amongst them to do the work of the Apostles, and may that divine Spirit which proved His power in the weakness and innate worthlessness of those first selected to receive it, even now manifest that Power in one far more weak and worthless.  Thanks be given to God, my fears are dissipated ; and armed with the strength which comes from above, I hope to press forward to the work of God.  Oh! continue your fervent prayers for me - co-operate by all means in the sacred cause; let me be considered only as a deputy of our Congregation, extending the wings of its [care] over a land far distant and very wicked.  I do hope ...  that in a few years the Benedictine Province of N. S. Wales shall be deemed no inconsiderable or uninteresting part of our Holy Institute.

Father John Augustine Birdsall OSB
President-General of the English Benedictines
Image : http://btsarnia.org
Dr Bramston was assisted by his coadjutor Dr Griffiths, (4) and by a French Bishop, Monsgr. Rouchaeux (5) - who accidentally happen to be in London - the lately-consecrated Bishop of Nilopolis, and V[icar] A[postolic] of Oceania Orientalis, comprising the Sandwich and Friendly Isles, and the others including New Zealand, scattered over the part which gives names to his Vicariate.  Mr Barber and Mr Scott (6) were my chaplains.  The solemn rite was performed in the private chapel - much too small for the proper display of the ceremonies, yet on the whole I infinitely preferred this comparative absence of pomp and bustle to the convenience of a public chapel accompanied as it would have been with pomp and bustle.  Only Mr Robert Selby and his son, Philip Jones and his brother were permitted to be present.  Philip is quite interested in my Vicariate.  He has promised £25, and all the fruit of his best exertions amongst his friends.  I must write a line to Downside by this post ; and as Dr Bramston wishes me to accompany him, I must conclude with the renewed expression of my sincere and affectionate attachment, and believe me to be ever, ever-dear Father President, your dutiful son in J. C.

+John Bede Polding.

I reside at Pagliano's Leicester Square.  I shall remain in London till Thursday or Friday.

To be continued ...

Golden Square in the Soho district of London : an engraving of the 18th century.
Image : http://www.british-history.ac.uk


(1)  After the tyrant Henry Tudor separated the Church in the Kingdom of England from its allegiance to the Holy See, and following the accession of his Protestant daughter Elizabeth to the throne in 1559, one by one, the Catholic bishops of England were deposed and died, until eventually Apostolic Succession lapsed.  In 1623, Pope Urban VIII, with solicitude for the persecuted Catholics of England, appointed a Vicar Apostolic for England, but this was a short-lived remedy.  In 1688, the Holy See divided England into four Vicariates Apostolic, with a bishop to lead each.  At this time, the public practice of the Catholic Faith was strictly forbidden and frequently subject to persecution.  Catholics were deemed traitors to the Kingdom of England.  Between 1688 and 1850, there were eleven Vicars Apostolic of the London District.  James Yorke Bramston became Vicar Apostolic of the London District in 1827 and died in 1836. This was the bishop who conferred Episcopal Orders on John Bede Polding OSB.

(2)  The site of Bishop Bramston's house was on the north side of Golden Square, in the Soho district of London.  A large house was completed in 1689 at no. 35 Golden Square and was rebuilt between 1732 and 1737.  From 1830 to 1855, no. 35 was the residence of the Catholic Vicars-Apostolic of the London district, commencing with Bishop James Bramston who lived in the the house from 1830 until his death in 1836.  Cardinal Wiseman was the last Catholic bishop to occupy the house and in 1856, the silk and wool merchants  Messrs. Gagnière moved into the premises and later took over the adjoining nos. 34 and 36. This firm demolished no. 35 in 1914 to allow the erection of a building more suited to commerce, which stills stands on the spot.  And so the room where John Bede Polding was consecrated no longer exists.  The house at no. 35 was completely distinct from the well-known Chapel of the Assumption, which was built elsewhere in the same square in 1788.  

(3)  Father John Augustine Birdsall OSB (1775-1837) an Englishman, entered the English-Benedictine House at Lamspringe, in Hanover and was ordained in 1801.  After persecutions of Catholic religious in Prussia, he returned to England where he worked zealously as a missionary, though he rarely lived in a Benedictine community.  In 1826, he was elected as the President-General of all the Benedictines of England.

(4) Bishop Thomas Griffiths succeeded Dr. Brampston as Vicar Apostolic of the London District in 1836.  At the time of Bishop Polding's Consecration in 1834, he was coadjutor bishop of the London District.

(5) Monsignor Etienne Rouchaeux or Rouchouze of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary was born in France in 1798 and appointed as a Vicar Apostolic of Eastern Oceania in 1833. He was lost at sea in 1843.

(6) One of the many curiosities of the 18th and early 19th centuries was the manner in which Catholic clergyman were referred to throughout the British Empire.  A Catholic priest was usually referred to as "Mister".  It is even more surprising that Catholic priests referred to each other in this manner.  In this letter, Bishop Polding is referring to two Benedictine confreres Dom Luke Bernard Barber OSB and Dom William Dunstan Scott OSB.


26 June, 2019

Perhaps you can help ?

Our project to promote interest in the life and work of Archbishop Polding is being blessed by increasing numbers of visitors to our Facebook page and blog.  We are discovering that interest in Archbishop Polding is not confined to Australia, but that there are "followers" overseas, particularly in England and Europe.

It is so wonderful to learn of the esteem in which the Archbishop is held even by those beyond these shores.

As our project continues, we find ourselves in need of support from those of you following this work.  We need support in planning events (such as the annual Polding pilgrimage), help in distributing promotional material about the Archbishop, assistance with our ongoing research work and other general assistance.

Perhaps you have some time to assist?  Perhaps you have already studied Catholic history in Australia and would like to help make it better known? Perhaps you are retired with more free time and have an interest in Archbishop Polding?  Perhaps you are interested in history or genealogy and are familiar with historical research?  Perhaps you have experience in organising religious gatherings? Perhaps you have secretarial skills?  Perhaps you are young and enthusiastic?

Please consider offering assistance!

We can be contacted at this e-mail address or via our Facebook page.


01 June, 2019

Looking through the Eye of Faith : 2

Over a period of years, we hope to publish on this blog extracts from Archbishop Polding's Pastoral Letters, as published in The Eye of Faith : The Pastoral Letters of John Bede Polding.  The editors of this important volume had carefully collated all the Pastoral Letters which J B Polding had written to the Faithful of the Church in Australia, of which he was bishop, since 1835. 

In this post, we continue with extracts from an essay which acts as a preface to this volume.

In diebus illis
Archbishop Polding in 1869.
Image : State Library of NSW.
In Polding’s day, in the Church in the New World, the pastoral letter resumed something of the role and importance which its forerunners had in the early Church. In the United States and Australia, clergy were scarce and Catholics were in a minority. In each place, people from different cultural backgrounds were thrown together and were faced not only with the challenge of being pioneers in a new land, but also that of building new human and religious communities. In the case of Australia, there was the additional strangeness of the southern hemisphere and the worn, strange nature of the continent itself. 

In his Pastorals, Polding developed his themes after the manner of the early bishops and monastic leaders, the Fathers of the Church. His Benedictine formation ensured that the first foundation of his thought would be the Scriptures and their writings. … He was primarily a spiritual man, one who read Scripture with the eye of Faith. 

The Polding Pastorals are possibly Australia’s only (though by no means pure), example of a religious literature – and of an implied Christian culture – which was both markedly monastic in character and contemplatives in orientation. They confronted the activism and unbelief which marked his day (and do no less today). §

His monastic tradition and formation gave Polding the special aptitude to grasp the Pauline doctrines of the Body of Christ and a spiritual fatherhood. § [They] also gave him his compassionate understanding of the needs of convicts and aboriginals, an understanding which was never patronising. 

Most of Polding’s direct quotations came from the scriptural texts then most commonly employed by the liturgy … As a teacher, as well as one who had learnt in this school, he placed great value on the liturgy. He tried to make it a feature of the Australian Church, even to the public recitation of vespers during his visits to country stations. However, his best use of the Bible was not by quotation or as a basis for apologetics. It was when he savoured the Word of God that Polding’s thought was richest and his exhortations most telling. 

Polding’s liturgical formation gave him a sensus fidelium which enabled him, when he had the leisure, to ramble with delight and sureness through the whole field of the Scriptures. This it was which gave to his best teaching the charm of poetry and, to his exhortations, direct access to men’s hearts. 

This use of Scripture helped Polding to speak directly to his audience. It amounted to a form of teaching which flowed from a life of a prayer and which attempted to arouse in his people of desire for God and the things of God. In its subordinate parts, it presented values other than those materialistic and hedonistic ones which produced inhumanity, the crude brutality of the early colony and the refined cruelty which was taken its place. It took account of the fact that early Australia failed to support little more than a misconstrued old Testament religion – harsh justice, the thriving of the mighty and the lamentations of the weak, many of whom lapsed into that petty iniquity which their little means could afford. According to one observer, those many Catholics who had abandoned the religion had also erected proud barriers protect to protect either the success or their shabby iniquities. Polding deplored this but he seldom confronted the miscreant with the imprecations of church law. Rather, he sought to reach people with the immediacy of the Scriptures, to speak to their hearts and thus encourage them to overcome their pride or their lassitude. 

As a whole, Polding’s teaching aimed to bring a Christian culture to Australia, an integration of the ordinary and extraordinary elements of human life with its most sublime possibilities. He sought to bring to the young church in Australia a contemporary form of that monastic and Christian culture which had inspired medieval Europe. That this grand plan did not find full life, as its model had not found constant, living expression, save as an ideal, destroyed neither the value of Polding’s teaching nor the wisdom of striving to establish an inspiring religious culture in Australia. § 

As the interior of the old continent [of Australia] demands timeless youth, Polding knew how to start afresh. He faced fire, and flood, and dry rot, and disease and yet he continued. He fought for his foundation as a pioneer, in the face of the elements, had to fight for his flock and herds, his crops and his homestead. And when the occasion demanded a fierce fight he could be as a young David facing his Goliath. §

In his determination, Polding showed the young virtue, hope. In his labours, which continued almost until the sun had set, he acknowledged that, as they were from him, his works were impermanent; [yet] as requested by God, by his office as a founder- bishop, they were somehow necessary. The sympathy between Polding and Australia gave a special attraction to the teaching which was required of him. He wrote of spiritual freedom in a land of penal origin. To a land mostly desert, he brought the seeds of a new and satisfying spiritual fruit. His pastoral letters present the gospel truth which sets men free. They present this truth in ways which invite and show men how to live in brotherhood. They brought wisdom to a fertile desert land, to a place which, it has seemed to eyes blind to faith, God forgot.

The Eye of Faith was printed by the Lowden Publishing Co., Kilmore Victoria in 1977.  The editors were Gregory Haines, Sister Mary Gregory Foster and Frank Brophy.  Special contribution to the volume were made by Professor Timothy Suttor and James Cardinal Freeman.

The engraving of Archbishop Polding was published at the time of his death, but was based on a photograph taken in Melbourne in 1869.  In it, the Archbishop is wearing a cope and mitre which were not his, but belonged to the Bishop of Melbourne, James Alipius Goold OSA.  The mitre was designed by AWN Pugin.