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.


21 March, 2019

21st March 1819

Downside Monastery in Somerset (England) shewing the buildings constructed in 1823.
These buildings were constructed whilst Dom JB Polding was part of the monastic community. 

Image : Downside Abbey website.

In March 1819, in the small chapel of a great house in Wolverhampton, England, a young monk from Liverpool was ordained a priest.  He belonged to a community of Benedictines who had re-established themselves in a new monastery at Downside, in Somerset only a few years before. 

The young monk offered his first Mass solemnly at Saint Gregory's Monastery, Downside on Saint Benedict's Day, 21st March 1819, two hundred years ago today

This was Dom John Bede Polding.  His young life and his initial priestly ministry was based in monastic communities.  But in 1834, the Holy See selected Father Polding OSB to become the first Catholic bishop on the Australian continent.

This photograph of 1857 depicts the Benedictine Community of Saint Gregory at Downside.
These monks were contemporaries of Archbishop Polding.

Image : Downside Abbey website.

19 March, 2019

The Burial of Archbishop Polding

On Saint Joseph's Day, 1877, was laid in the earth the remains of Australia's first bishop, John Bede Polding OSB. This was in a cemetery at Lewisham (or Petersham as it was then known) which has long since ceased to exist.  After his funeral Mass at Saint Mary's Pro-Cathedral (since our present Saint Mary's Cathedral was merely rows of stonework and not yet a building) a vast procession took place to conduct the Archbishop's remains from the Pro-Cathedral to the Petersham Cemetery.  At that time, it was the largest Funeral Sydney had ever witnessed.

Archbishop Polding pictured with his successor
Archbishop Roger Bede Vaughan OSB
Image : Good Shepherd Seminary Strathfield
At the graveside, surrounded by most of the bishops of Australia, clergy from the Archdiocese and beyond and a large gathering of the Faithful, Archbishop Roger Bede Vaughan OSB gave this short address, which was reported in The Sydney Morning Herald :

My Lords and Dearly Beloved – I assure you that I feel far too depressed today, after what I have gone through during the last week, to say any words at all, if I did not think that you would feel it as a loss if I did not, in a very short way, express the feelings which animate your hearts now that we are putting away all that is mortal of John Bede Polding, amongst his priests and amongst his people. Such a life as his, and such a work as he has done, you know as well as I do, require long thought and long study, not only to amass but to place before the minds and the imaginations of others in order that they may appreciate his spotless life, and learn the lessons which it teaches.

As to myself and my loss, this is not the place I suppose to speak of a personal loss, though what is your loss, what is the loss of each one of us but a personal loss? But I feel it because it leaves upon me a weight which was borne by him, and also because I know more of his former life before he came to this colony than any here present. I know something of his career during the years he was in the some house of religious discipline in which I myself was taught to serve God at early morning and late at night; and I can assure you here surrounding me that there was never anything in this world that had a more powerful action on my spirit, not from what I knew of him by any personal contact, but from the traditions that he left behind him, and from that indescribable influence which, like on opulent flower in a garden, spreads its perfume hither and thither. What he was as a bishop you know better than I do, because you have been in contact with him year after year, and have listened to the sage counsels and gentle reproofs which came from his lips. I will not detain you now in speaking of the works he has effected, or of his great piety, or of the wide-spread influence which he possessed throughout the community.

On another occasion myself, or some other person will endeavour to set forth a brief history of his life in the great and exalted position to which he attained, and to exhibit that gentleness, that forbearance, and all those other qualities which take so many years to learn, and which were displayed by him with such great brilliancy. May his mantle indeed fall upon my shoulders, and may I learn from him those lessons I so much need, and may he look upon that Church for which he laboured so indefatigably for many years. And let us in return not forget him. If you would do something for him remember his soul in your prayers, for, however spotless a man's life may be, there is an eye more searching than man's – the eye of the Judge of all men; and, if there be any soil, it will have to be burned out in the purging fires.

Pray then that he may receive that reward he longed for in life, and you will have performed the most holy service you can perform to John Bede Polding. Having buried his remains you may free his soul from the penal fires in which it may even now be placed.


The image presented with this post is a copy made many years ago of a large photograph in the Archives of Saint Patrick's College Manly.  It is likely - but not certain - that the two Archbishops were photographed together, probably in the year 1874.  It also possible that it is not a "life study", but that the two Archbishops were photographed on separate occasions and then a montage was created to make them appear together.  Further examination of the original image would be required to clarify this point.


17 March, 2019

March 1877

Archbishop Polding passed from this life in an upper room of the old Darlinghurst presbytery on 16th March 1877.  His last illness, being nothing more than the decline of old age, was brief.  The Benedictine monks prepared the body of the Archbishop in Gothic Revival Mass vestments and then he was laid-in-state in a downstairs room of the presbytery for two days.  During that time, thousands passed through the room in order to pray for and pay respect to their much-loved Archbishop.

Understanding the significance of the occasion, an artist was present and sketched the scene in that room for posterity.  Laying upon a draped table is the Archbishop, surrounded by a small group of the Faithful, together with some nuns, a priest and tonsured Benedictine monks.  The room displays the full panoply of Victorian mourning.  Drapes cover walls and windows, lighted candlesticks and flowers are everywhere in the room.  The archbishop's crozier stands upright by his head.


14 March, 2019

Station on the Polding Walk 4 : Broadway

Saint Benedict's church Broadway, depicted in the 1950s.
Image :  https://www.flickr.com
The venerable Church of Saint Benedict at Broadway in Sydney is amongst the oldest churches in Australia, being commenced in 1845 and consecrated in 1862.  Between those years, it was constructed in several stages.  Saint Benedict's was designed by the famed English architect of the Gothic Revival AWN Pugin, who based his design on a mediaeval church in Islington (London).  Between 1939 and 1941, two-thirds of the old church was taken down and then re-built on a smaller scale.  Over the years, Saint Benedict has been well maintained, but has also been the victim of many unsatisfactory interior "restorations", not least so as recently as 2005.  In a future post, we will give more information about this important and historic building.

On the Polding Walk, the Office of None will be sung at Saint Benedict's at 2.45pm.

Interior of Saint Benedict's Church Broadway
Image : chalkandcheesephotography.com

13 March, 2019

saint john's college at the university of sydney

Interior of the Chapel of Saint John's CollegeImage: website of Saint John's College.
The Third Station on the forthcoming Polding Walk is the College of Saint John the Evangelist, within the University of Sydney.  This Catholic College was established by an Act of NSW Colonial Parliament in December 1857 as a tertiary institution within the recently completed University of Sydney.  The college was the enterprise of Archbishop Polding and his Coadjutor, Bishop Charles Henry Davis (who died in 1854 before the College was established), who wished to extend the principles of Benedictine monastic formation into Australian tertiary education.

Several architects were associated with the construction of this complex of buildings, but the adopted plans were drawn-up by William Wilkinson Wardell in 1859 and based on similar institutions in Cambridge and Oxford.  In its earliest form, the College was " T " shaped.  The Chapel, which is accessed from within the College, has the peculiarity of being on the second storey of the lateral wing.  In its compactness and mostly in its original form, it is one of the delights of Gothic Revival in Australia.

In the Great Hall (directly opposite the Chapel) hangs the famed 1866 portrait of Archbishop Polding, painted by Eugene Montague Scott.

During the Polding Walk, the hour of Sext will be celebrated in the Chapel at 12.15pm, followed by luncheon.

Read more here about the history and architecture of Saint John's College.

Saint John's College, photographed in the latter years of the 19th century.
The College is shewn in its original form, before additions of the late 1930s.

Image : website of S' John's College.

11 March, 2019

Station on the Polding Walk 2 : Newtown

Saint Joseph's Church, Newtown.
The old stone church of Saint Joseph at Newtown is well-known to Sydney-siders and travellers because the nearby rail line passes by the church on its way to Central Station.  Thousands see Saint Joseph's each day.

The building is hardly altered from the day it was opened on Sunday 25th May, 1869.  Archbishop Polding blessed Saint Joseph's on that day; its pastor and founder was the French missioner Father Joseph Marie Garavel.

Father J M Garavel (1824-1885)
First Pastor of Newtown 1865-1869

Saint Joseph's will be the second Station on the Polding Walk 2019 with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament being celebrated at 11am.

10am : Office of Terce 

Church of Saint Thomas of Canterbury, Lewisham 

11am : Benediction 

Church of Saint Joseph, Newtown 

12.15pm : Office of Sext 

S’ John’s College, University of Sydney, Camperdown 

12.30pm : BBQ Luncheon 

2.45pm : Office of None 

Church of Saint Benedict Broadway 

4pm : Office of Vespers 

Crypt of Saint Mary’s Cathedral

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.

09 March, 2019

The Polding Walk

On Saturday 16th March, the Annual POLDING WALK will take place.  This year, the Walk coincides with the 142nd Anniversary of the Archbishop's death.

Please review the attached itinerary.  Perhaps you can join us for part of the Walk, or at one of the Stations.

07 March, 2019

Looking to our Catholic Heritage

Archbishop Polding photographed in Melbourne, 1869.
This image, in the collections of the State Library of Victoria,
was digitally colourised by the Saint Bede Studio.
This Blog has been established in conjunction with the Facebook page

It is intended to make available here articles on the history of the Church in Australia during the 19th century, together with extracts from primary sources, photographs etc., particularly focussing on the life and ministry of Archbishop Polding and his contemporaries.  Sometimes our posts will be very brief, sometimes with a lot of written content, but we hope to make it interesting to a wide readership.

This is a difficult moment in the history of the Catholic in Australia and worldwide.  Our blog is intended to be a source of encouragement and inspiration as we help a new generation of Australian Catholics to learn about the beginnings of the Church on this continent.  Perhaps reflecting on our past can help us untangle the difficulties of the present and in learning about the lives of our Catholic pioneers we can be reminded of how they struggled to bring the Gospel to this land.

Please consider following this blog and making its existence known to like-minded Catholics. 


05 March, 2019

In an houre of need

Thanks to Father Finigan we found this beautiful prayer of Saint John Fisher, dating from the year 1508, which he uttered during a Sermon. It is a prayer for the appointment to the Church of good bishops. Unfortunately the prayer was not answered as fully as he might have hoped. John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester since 1504, was the only Bishop in Catholic England to refuse to assent to the Act of Supremacy, the supreme arrogation of the vile despot Henry VIII (Tudor), severing England from Communion with the Roman Church. For such a refusal, Fisher was put to death by the tyrant in June 1535.  Pope Paul III had made him a Cardinal shortly before his death. Pope Pius XI canonised him four hundred years later (together with Sir Thomas More).

The portrait accompanying this post is described here . Based on Holbein's famous drawing, this portrait might easily be a photograph taken yesterday, so lifelike is it.

Lord, according to Your promise that the Gospel should be preached throughout the whole world, raise up men fit for such work. The Apostles were but soft and yielding clay till they were baked hard by the fire of the Holy Ghost.

So, good Lord, do now in like manner again with Thy Church militant; change and make the soft and slippery earth into hard stone; set in Thy Church strong and mighty pillars that may suffer and endure great labours, watching, poverty, thirst, hunger, cold and heat; which also shall not fear the threatening of princes, persecution, neither death but always persuade and think with themselves to suffer with a good will, slanders, shame, and all kinds of torments, for the glory and laud of Thy Holy Name. By this manner, good Lord, the truth of Thy Gospel shall be preached throughout all the world.

Therefore, merciful Lord, exercise Thy mercy, show it indeed upon Thy Church.