A parable in stone and glass

Catholic Standard August Editorial

When St Matthew commented on why the Lord spoke to the crowds in parables, he quoted from Psalm 78. He says that it was to “expound things hidden from the foundation of the world”.

The Lord’s preaching and teaching was about spiritual realities, and the Lord used images from everyday life to explain His message. Nature is a witness to the spiritual world. As human beings we are most readily in touch with the physical world around us. The spiritual world, while absolutely real, remains more elusive.

In the living of our Catholic faith we rely upon sacramental signs to point us to the action of grace. Water, bread, wine and oil are used to convey the hidden yet powerful action of God within us. Similarly our liturgical year is expressed in colour – white, green, purple, red. The Church has always appealed to the human senses to assist in conveying spiritual meaning.

Thus, Christianity has always turned to the arts – to architecture, to stained glass, to painting, to music – to convey elements of the spiritual world. Christian art is one of the glories of Western civilisation.

Entering a church takes us up into the spiritual world. Every church is a living testament to our Catholic faith. The mother church of a diocese is its cathedral.

We can be justifiably proud of our beautiful cathedral in Hobart. The architectural lines of the cathedral create a spiritual environment. The very atmosphere is captured in colours as the sun streams through the stained glass.

The beauty and simplicity of the cathedral entices us to silence, to attention to spiritual things, to be drawn into prayer. Like all churches the cathedral is the house of God. The building is a testament to our faith and a vehicle for our communion with things of the Spirit. Here is the pre-eminent place where we find God.

Our first bishop, Robert William Willson, gave priority to building a cathedral in Hobart. He had a particular appreciation of the nineteenth century Gothic Revival movement whose great advocate, Augustus Pugin, was a close personal friend.

Our first bishop struggled to advance his hopes of a fitting cathedral to be built on the site of the first church built by Tasmania’s first priest Fr Philip Conolly because of the poverty of his flock – half of whom were convicts. In 1860 a donation of 10,000 pounds by a recent convert to the faith, Roderick O’Connor, gave the bishop the confidence to begin his great work. He engaged an architect from Melbourne, William Wardell, who was a student of the Gothic Revival movement. Thus, the style and character of this cathedral was born. Its noble and graceful lines reflect the medieval English architectural and devotional tradition.

The last major work done to the interior to this cathedral was some 60 years ago by Archbishop Guilford Young. There is now a noticeable deterioration in the interior fabric and an evident need for restoration. There are practical things that need attention: heating, flooring and the lighting. There is need for a refreshment of the sanctuary area to enhance the dignity of the liturgical celebrations. 

On Sunday, 19 July, the restoration project for St Mary’s Cathedral was launched. This restoration will faithfully reflect the liturgical and devotional heritage of this beautiful cathedral, carrying on the vision of Bishop Willson.

This church is the mother church of the Catholic Archdiocese of Hobart. It belongs to the entire Catholic community across the state. It is also an important part of the heritage of the city of Hobart, contributing to the broader life of the city.

Above all, it is the house of God. It is the place where all can find, in moments of quiet and reflection, the way to encounter the presence of the living God. This work of restoration will enhance the dignity and beauty of our cathedral and secure its place in the lives of current and future generations.

In its material expression this cathedral is, in fact, a parable in stone and glass which points to the kingdom of heaven and, in the words of the psalmist quoted by St Matthew, “expounds things hidden since the foundation of the world”. 

Archbishop Julian Porteous
August 9, 2020

Tags: Archbishop's Blog