St Mary’s Cathedral

History of St Mary’s Cathedral

St Mary’s Cathedral has served the Tasmanian community for almost 140 years, and has touched the lives of thousands of people. Generations of Catholics have faithfully gathered in this sacred building to offer worship to God and pray for the needs of the world.

St Mary’s Cathedral was the vision of the first Bishop of Hobart Town, Robert William Willson, who chose the design and spent years raising the necessary funds to commence construction of the original cathedral building which was located near the site of a temporary wooden chapel which had been constructed by the first Catholic priest in Tasmania, Fr Philip Conolly.

Substantial foundations were laid in 1860, and the partially-completed original St Mary’s Cathedral was opened in 1866. Bishop Willson never saw his vision completed. In England when the first stage of construction was completed, he died the next day.

Bishop Robert William Willson courtesy Archives and Heritage Collection.

The plans for St Mary’s Cathedral had been drawn by gothic revival architect William Wardell, who also designed St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne and St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney. The famed gothic revival architect Augustus Welby Pugin – who had a great friendship with Bishop Willson – had been a friend and mentor of Wardell.

Structural problems due to faulty construction meant that the original cathedral building had to be largely dismantled and rebuilt to a modified design between 1876 and 1898.

The modified St Mary’s Cathedral was designed, based on William Wardell’s plans, by architect Henry Hunter, who was also responsible for the designs of the Church of the Apostles in Launceston, and St David’s Anglican Cathedral in Hobart.

The modified plans for St Mary’s Cathedral by Henry Hunter.

The present-day St Mary’s Cathedral was officially opened in 1881. The cathedral spire – part of Wardell’s original design – was never built; but the necessary supporting stonework remains in place. Within St Mary’s Cathedral, imposing pillars and stonework, exquisite stained glass windows, and the magnificent pipe organ (circa 1895) are works of leading international and Australian artisans.

The cathedral spire was part of William Wardell’s original design, but was never built.

St Mary’s Cathedral is the site of major liturgical events for the Archdiocese of Hobart, and all Tasmanians are welcome to visit and encounter the rich history and religious significance of the building.

St Mary’s Cathedral Restoration Project

This outstanding gothic cathedral is undergoing significant restoration so that it may continue to play a central role in the Catholic Church in Tasmania and serve the city of Hobart and the people of Tasmania.

The planned restoration project will repair deterioration that has occurred since the last major works took place 60 years ago. It will bring the cathedral to its completion while deeply respecting the original design and the way it was intended to operate.

The restoration work will seek to engage skills and supplies sourced locally allowing the building to continue to stand as a testimony to the gifts of those Tasmanians across the generations who have contributed to this edifice. This historically and culturally important Hobart landmark has served as a revered space of quiet serenity and prayer for Tasmanians for generations.

The restoration of St Mary’s Cathedral will enable the Church to preserve and maintain its heritage and Catholic identity, while enhancing the beauty of the existing building. It is hoped that Stage 1 of the restoration works will commence in 2020 pending any necessary regulatory approval.

Restoration Project Stage 1

Revised sanctuary

  • Restoring the liturgical space in line with the building’s original design and mindful of developments in the liturgy with a particular focus on increasing the building’s seating capacity.
Sidney Roffe Architect.

Heating, lighting and electrical works

  • Redesign and upgrade of the lighting, electrical circuitry and climate control measures including draft seals to bring the building up to acceptable energy efficient standards.

Organ gallery and choir loft

  • Refurbishment and design of the organ gallery and choir loft, located above the existing narthex at the western end of the cathedral.
Sidney Roffe Architect.

Flooring and accessibility

  • Restoration and replacement of floor coverings including the exhumation and reinterment of four of the early bishops (Daniel Murphy, Patrick Delany, William Barry and William Hayden, and pioneer priest Fr Philip Connolly), whose mortal remains are currently located beneath the floor in the north transept, to the newly established crypt.
  • Measures to increase provision of access for people living with disability, via a new ramp and landing at the north transept entrance.

Estimated cost: $4 million

Sidney Roffe Architect.

Please support the St Mary’s Cathedral Restoration Appeal

“St Mary’s Cathedral is the mother church of the Archdiocese of Hobart, and while it may not be located in your local parish, it stands as the cathedral for all Tasmanian Catholics.

It provides a rich testimony and witness to our Catholic faith and tradition which is beautifully expressed through its architecture and the art contained within its walls.

The natural light and noble interior create a prayerful environment for those who attend liturgical gatherings. The nobility of the architecture and the quality of the fabric is a testament to the aspirations and generosity of generations of kind benefactors.

This outstanding gothic building is undergoing significant restoration so that it may continue to play a central role in the Catholic Church in Tasmania and serve the city of Hobart and the people of Tasmania. The restoration of the Cathedral will enable the Church to meet your needs in the future, while preserving, and maintaining its heritage and identity.

With the help of your donation, gift or bequest we can bring the cathedral to its completion while deeply respecting the original design and the way it was intended to operate.

On behalf of the Catholic Church in Tasmania, please accept my sincere thanks for your generous support.”

Yours in Christ

Julian Porteous DD

Archbishop of Hobart

How can I donate to the Appeal?

There are many ways you can support the St Mary’s Cathedral Restoration Appeal:

  • You may wish to make a donation using your credit card.
    Please contact the Church Office on (03) 6208 6222
  • You can send a cheque to:
    The St Mary’s Cathedral Restoration Appeal, Inc.
    Archdiocese of Hobart, 35 Tower Road, New Town 7008
  • Leave a bequest:
    A wonderful way you can make a contribution to the mission of the Church is to leave your own legacy of faith for generations to come.

To find out more about leaving a bequest to the St Mary’s Cathedral Restoration Appeal, please contact the Church Office on (03) 6208 6222

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