HERITAGE TREASURES

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HERITAGE TREASURES

When William Willson, our first Bishop arrived in Hobart in May 1844 he brought with him a boatload of the most beautiful altar vessels, vestments and other items needed to establish his new diocese, all of them designed by his close friend Pugin, England’s greatest early-Victorian architect, designer and theorist. Pugin is best known for having designed all the interior and exterior detail as well as all the fittings and furnishings for one of the most famous and well-known buildings in the world, the British Houses of Parliament. Also in the cargo of Willson’s ship the Bella Marina were three exquisite models of Pugin-designed churches to be built in Van Diemen’s Land. One of these, St Patrick’s, Colebrook, opened in January 1857, is of international significance being the only one of its type by Pugin in the entire world. Of extreme simplicity, but with beautiful proportions, it was specifically designed with the poverty of the infant Tasmanian Catholic community in mind. Willson’s successor Archbishop Daniel Murphy described it as ‘the most beautiful country church in the southern part of the island’.

Over the ensuing century and a half, St Patrick’s suffered major deterioration, including the fall of its splendid triple bellcote during a violent storm in September 1895, broken windows, water ingress into the fabric, the loss of parts of its glorious rood screen and much more. The primitive electrical wiring was a fire hazard. In 2006 the church was closed and under threat of sale and conversion to a house. Mindful of its unique significance, the Australian Pugin Foundation undertook a ten-year program to restore the building and its furnishings at no cost to the Archdiocese of Hobart, resulting in the return of St Patrick’s to the state envisaged by its designer Pugin in 1843. The bellcote has been re-erected and houses a chime of three bells which chime automatically at noon for the Angelus and at 2pm with one of ten ancient melodies of French provenance. Also noteworthy is the restoration of the rood screen, one of only nine by Pugin to have survived intact worldwide.

Providentially, the transformation of the church has led to a change in its use, from one Mass a month before its brief closure to the present daily conventual Mass of our ten-strong Benedictine monastic community, resident in the Colebrook area. St Patrick’s in its composition and furnishings is the one building in the whole of Tasmania pre-eminently suited for their ritual and liturgy, a jewel amongst our heritage treasures.