A closer look at St Patrick’s Cathedral: Part three

Wednesday 9 September 2020

Communications Office
During lockdown, we’re continuing to adapt to life without simple pleasures like going to cafés, or restaurants, or bookshops. But also, one of the things we miss is being in and around those beautiful sacred spaces that we frequent each week for Mass. That’s why we’re running a series on spaces around the Archdiocese – particularly St Patrick’s Cathedral – that reminds people of the beauty around us in the Archdiocese, but also to inspire hope that we’ll come to these places with new appreciation once the lockdown ends. Let us pray for the triumph of Christ as we continue during lockdown and we welcome you tune in to celebrate Mass this Sunday at 11am.  

The Sanctuary

Much of St Patrick's Cathedral was built to lift your eyes upwards. However, as much of William Wardell’s attention went into the design and craftsmanship beneath your feet. 
In the sanctuary, bluestone steps lead up to an intricate mosaic floor. The sanctuary floor, made from Portuguese Rosa Aurora marble and Spanish Alicante marble, is covered in Minton tiles, with the Minton firm known to be one of the finest manufacturers of church tiles in the 19th century. The tiles themselves have inlaid designs based on Gothic motifs, like quatrefoils and fleur-de-lis.
Wardell originally intended that the walls of the sanctuary also be covered in mosaics. Instead, medallions of St Patrick, St Brigid and St Columba were painted on canvas and attached to the walls above the High Altar. The side walls of the sanctuary feature medallions depicting other saints.

The mosaic designs were chosen by Wardell and similar to the evangelists depicted on the Archbishop’s chair, reflect the four evangelists according to the classic symbols from the Book of Kells: the eagle, the calf, the man and the lion.

Wardell also designed a number of brass items that can still be seen in the Cathedral's Sanctuary. These include a pair of Sanctuary lamps, a Paschal candle stand, the Eagle lectern and a pair of gasoliers.

St Brigid’s Chapel

St Brigid’s Chapel at St Patrick’s Cathedral was initially called the ‘Chapel of the Irish Saints’ but later became known as the Children’s Chapel, since children contributed to the cost of the chapel’s completion.

A marble statue of St Brigid’s is enshrined in a niche at the centre of the reredos over the alabaster altar. Also known as the Mary of the Gael, St Brigid was a monastic woman of the age of St Patrick and her reputation for sanctity is particularly treasured by the Irish. 
Next to St Brigid are four beautiful carvings of Irish saints. The first is an Irish woman born in the 7th century named St Dympna, whose sanctity took her to continental Europe (landing in present-day Belgium). The second Irish saint is St Reyna, mother of St Colman, patron of Carr’s former diocese of Kilmadaugh. The third is St Bees (or Begha), who helped spread Celtic Christianity in Northumbria and the fourth saint is St Ita, an early Irish nun who exercised great influence in her region.

The stencilled motifs on the walls depict the cloverleaf, an Irish symbol of the Blessed Trinity.

The altar frontal depicts St Patrick and St Columban, one of the great leaders of the Irish in the early history of our Church. The combination was appropriate for the Irish expatriates of Melbourne and their children at the time.
On the archway over the chapel is inscribed a text from the 44th Psalm: Omnis Gloria eius filiae regis ab intus. (All the glory of the King’s daughter is within).

The High Altar

The original High Altar from 1868 was made of wood and was adorned with paintings of the Blessed Virgin, St Joseph, St Patrick and St Brigid, with a pelican motif in the centre panel. It was transferred to a church in Carlton.

The current High Altar and was designed by Wardell and arrived in 1896.
Weighing in at two-and-a-half tons, the high altar was made from Spanish Emperor red marble, the rarest Spanish marble.
In keeping with the Irish theme, the front is divided by eight complex columns of green Irish marble. With alabaster cups and bases divided into three compartments, three Venetian mosaics are housed on gold ground presenting the heads of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
The reredos is made of the same red Spanish marble as the altar. An alabaster frame, richly carved in a Gothic design, surrounds the tabernacle. Its pinnacle rises to a height of 7.62m from the floor of the sanctuary.
If you missed previous entries in our series on a closer look at St Patrick's Cathedral, read part one here and part two here.    
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