As Australian cities grew up in the second half of the nineteenth century, the Anglicans in each place set about building their cathedral but were often trumped by the Catholics, who were mostly poor Irish settlers escaping the penury and famine of their native land.
Catholic cathedrals in Australia usually stand on top of a hill, and are richly ornate. Their builders – congregations, priests and architects – went out of their way to state that only the best was good enough for God.
In Melbourne, the Anglican Cathedral, St Paul’s, is particularly fine, yet the Catholic Cathedral, St Patrick’s, is magnificent. Its spire, 344 feet high, is the highest in Australia.
The architect of St Patrick’s Cathedral was William Wilkinson Wardell (1823-1899), a London-born convert to Catholicism, trained by Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin.
The cathedral was begun in 1858 and consecrated in 1897: William Wardell was one of the few architects of Gothic cathedrals to see his design substantially completed in his lifetime, though the spires were added in 1939 by Archbishop Daniel Mannix, the politically powerful Irish-Australian who held the see from 1917 until his death at the age of 99 in 1963.
Mannix’s statue by Nigel Boonham (1997) stands outside Wardell’s cathedral, gazing across to Parliament House, symbolising the lengthy struggle to overcome the early disdain towards Irish and Catholic settlers in Australia.
Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Gothic Down Under: English architecture in the Antipodes explores the influence of British architects, and British-trained architects, on the design of churches and other buildings in the emerging communities of Australia and New Zealand. For details, please click here.