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By Brian Andrews, Archdiocese of Hobart Heritage Officer

From 1844 to 1865 during Bishop Willson’s years in Tasmania, taste in church furnishings, liturgical vessels and vestments was exclusively English, reflecting his own background as well as that of his close friend and collaborator the great English architect and designer Pugin.

For the remainder of the nineteenth century, apart from a few objects ordered by Willson’s protégé architect Henry Hunter, English taste was effectively eclipsed by a predominantly Irish clergy who had no affinity with it, preferring to be guided more by costs.

This period exactly coincided with the rise of French commercial establishments mass-producing religious requisites at relatively low cost in Lyons and around the St Sulpice area of Paris. As a result, well over two-thirds of such objects acquired by the Archdiocese of Hobart during the period were French, and in a characteristic early thirteenth-century Gothic style.

Indeed, so brisk was the Australian trade in French ecclesiastical wares that one firm, Louis Gille of Lyons, maintained very successful branches in Sydney and Melbourne during the early decades of the twentieth century. Their illustrated Australian catalogue of 1905 ran to a massive 428 pages.

A particularly charming example of these Tasmanian acquisitions, although not in the Gothic style, is a pair of brass candelabra designed as vases of artificial flowers, a specialty of French ecclesiastical décor at the time. The whole arrangement is replete with Eucharistic symbolism, reflecting popular piety of the age. Arranged in naturalistic fashion, the blooms consist of passion flowers and fruiting vines, with the seven candles nestling in cups of leaves. The top of the vase is formed by the Sacred Heart, unfortunately missing its original piercing lance, whilst the base has a symbol of the Blessed Trinity and bears the figures of two angels kneeling in adoration.

What a wonderful source of prayerful reflection the candelabra must have been when arranged on the altar for Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.