HERITAGE TREASURES

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HERITAGE TREASURES

By Brian Andrews, Archdiocese of Hobart Heritage Officer.

Vestments are perhaps the most vulnerable items of our Catholic heritage, simply because they wear out, are damaged by improper storage, or just go out of fashion. All the more remarkable therefore are a number of quite stunning embroidered copes, chasubles, stoles and chalice veils, survivors from the first years of the Archdiocese of Hobart. In the Gothic style, they were designed by Bishop Willson’s friend Pugin, the great English architect and designer, and were amongst a cargo for the new diocese which accompanied Willson on his 1844 journey to Hobart Town aboard the 564-ton barque Bella Marina. All were of silk with woven silk braids and were embellished with raised silk and metal thread embroidery on silk velvet in the bright heraldic colours typical of Pugin’s work. It is a tribute to the quality of our Tasmanian environment that after over 170 years these textiles have remained as brilliantly coloured as the day they were manufactured, generally faring better than their English counterparts.

After Willson’s time as Bishop, taste swung away from the Gothic and back to the Roman form of vestment. This in itself spelt the death-knell for most of the early textiles. However, some were so exquisite that instead of being discarded they were re-cut in the Roman style. One such survival is of particular interest, having been owned by Archdeacon George Hunter (1825–68) who, as a student for the priesthood, had accompanied Bishop Willson to Tasmania in 1844. His brother was the great Tasmanian architect Henry Hunter who designed so many of our wonderful Catholic churches.

After George Hunter’s early death his brother distributed his effects amongst several Hobart churches. The gift of this particular chasuble was recorded in Henry Hunter’s own hand on a white patch sewn inside the vestment, asking that whosoever wore it would offer a prayer for the repose of George’s soul.