Saint Mary's Cathedral
Saint Mary's Cathedral is a minor basilica, the seat of the Archbishop of Sydney, and the main church for the Catholic community in Sydney. It’s located at the intersection of Saint Mary's Road and Prince Albert Road in Sydney, New South Wales. The cathedral is visited every day by churchgoers and tourists alike. Mass is read at the church every day in the morning, in the afternoon, and in the evening, so if you want to attend a service, you are at liberty to select whichever one that fits best within your schedule. If you are a tourist looking to enjoy the cathedral's architecture and art, you can take a tour of the building between the services.
History of Saint Mary's Cathedral
When Sydney was established as a penal settlement back in the late 18th century, the monarchy allowed the Church of England to operate in Sydney, but it did not sanction the Catholic Church. It wasn't until the 1820s when a Catholic church was officially established in Sydney. The first Saint Mary's Church was built in 1921 where the current one stands today. This church was used by the community for a number of decades, and it even underwent major renovations in 1851. However, in 1865, the church caught on fire, and it burned to the ground. In its place, a wooden church was built, but it also burned down a few years later in 1869. After the second fire, a brick church was built, as a temporary solution while the main cathedral was still under construction. The construction of the cathedral started in 1868, and it went on for decades.
The church was officially consecrated in 1905 although construction still went on until 1928. In the August of 1932, Pope Pius XI bestowed the title of Minor Basilica upon St Mary's Cathedral, making it one of world’s highest ranked Catholic churches. In this century, the cathedral has been the centre of many important religious events in Australia, including a papal visit in 2008.
The architecture of St Mary’s Cathedral
The cathedral has a gothic revival architectural design. It has pointed stain glass windows and sharp pinnacles. It has a conventional cathedral plan, which includes a cruciform shape, a tower over the area where the nave and the transepts cross, three entrance doors for the congregation, and twin towers on the western side. The transept of the cathedral faces Hyde Park, and it has a well-decorated doorway that serves as the main entrance to the church.
The interior of the cathedral is gold coloured, and the ceiling has many decorative carvings. The church has 4 chapels, of which there are 2 small ones and 2 larger ones. The church has about 40 pictorial stain glass windows which depict many important Catholic doctrines. Since the church is under the patronage of Saint Mary, most of the stain glass depictions are centred on her.
Art, sculptures, and religious monuments in St Mary’s Cathedral
As you would expect from a Catholic cathedral, St Mary's is full of sculptures, pieces of art, burial crypts, religious relics, and monuments.
Some of the greatest attractions at the cathedral include:
- The Statue of Our Lady: Help of Christians. This is a magnificent statue of the Virgin Mary holding Baby Jesus, with a golden sword at her feet.
- The sculpture of the Unknown Soldier. This is a lifelike depiction of a dead soldier that was sculpted by G.W. Lambert.
- The Crucifixion. This piece of art is one of a collection called the Stations of the Cross.
- The relic of Saint Francis Xavier.
- The Baptistery.
- A giant pipe organ built around a rose window in the transept of the church.
- The historic church bells.
- A statue of Saint Mary of the Cross
- A statue of Saint Patrick.
- A statue of Saint John Paul II.
- Burial crypts for a number of bishops, Archbishops, and priests who served at the church.
Saint Mary's cathedral holds a lot of historical and religious significance not just for the Catholic community, but for the entire population of Sydney. Whether you are an architectural enthusiast, or you are interested in Australia's religious history, you owe it to yourself to witness first hand the majestic beauty of Saint Mary's Cathedral.