St Joseph’s restoration efforts bring light to faith

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Home > Media > News > St Joseph’s restoration efforts bring light to faith
St Joseph’s restoration efforts bring light to faith

Restoration works at one of Tasmania’s oldest churches has helped to not only preserve history, but to recognise that the faith of current Catholics is built on the faith of those who have come before, says parish priest and Passionist Fr Peter Addicoat CP.

Holding Masses since Christmas 1841, the history of St Joseph’s Church in Hobart, the former pro-Cathedral of the Archdiocese of Hobart, reveals some of the unfolding of the Catholic faith in Tasmania.

Now after years of work, the restoration of some of the major features of the interior of the historic church is complete.

The current parish priest Fr Peter, was serving in Tasmania in 2004 when a conservation plan for the whole St Joseph’s complex – including the monastery – was created.

The first action was to clean and restore the large paintings of Mary with the child Jesus and St Joseph which involved removing them from the wall and sending them to Melbourne.

Fr Peter says removing the paintings was a risk, but one that had to be taken.

“When the paintings were put in, they were just canvas nailed onto the wall with gold beading, and that’s all it was. So we didn’t know when we took the beading away whether the canvas would collapse and disintegrate. It didn’t, fortunately.”

He said that the cleaning revealed previously concealed details.

“If you look at Mary’s sandal, it’s got a heart on it. Now no-one would ever have seen that because it was so dirty and dark.”

The painting of the Resurrection above the altar was also removed for cleaning and work was done to uncover small examples of the many different layers of colour the interior of the church has seen over the years.

As part of the restoration work, a special cabinet was acquired to preserve and display vestments belonging to the church which were designed by the Gothic Revival architect Augustus Pugin.

A large part of the restoration work involved the church’s stained glass windows – one of them being Pugin-designed, with others detailing the life of St Joseph, as well as images of St John the Baptist and the Sacred Heart.

Several of the windows were removed and sent to Brisbane for cleaning, others were taken to the workshop of eminent stained glass conservator Gavin Merrington in South Hobart while the final windows in the process were cleaned in situ.

Protective glass has now replaced wire mesh on the outside of the windows, allowing more light through the windows, which Fr Peter says is noticeable in the mornings.

“We notice the sun and the colour go across the sanctuary. The sunlight catches the windows and you can almost see the characters on the floor.”

The stained glass windows – particularly the St Joseph windows which tell the story of St Joseph, Mary and Jesus – have an important catechetical role in forming people’s faith and Fr Peter says he occasionally sees parents pointing out the story to their children.

“People come, they appreciate it, [and it] gives them a new insight into their faith. A lot of visitors come through and they take their time looking,” he said, noting that the Stations of the Cross are often reverently observed by overseas visitors who aren’t Christian but walk around and look.

“It’s the preservation not just of history, but it’s recognising that our faith is built on others’ faith.”