The story behind the story: A conversation with researcher Paola Colleoni

Thursday 12 March 2020

Communications Office
When Paola Colleoni visited St Patrick’s Cathedral for the first time, the first thing she noticed was the amber stained glass windows. “I love the windows; they’re amazing. But did you know that Archbishop Goold was actually not happy about them at the start?”
It’s a discovery she made while completing her dissertation on the creative partnership between James Alipius Goold, appointed Melbourne’s first archbishop in 1847, and his architect William Wardell, whom he commissioned in 1858 to build St Patrick’s Cathedral. 
Paola’s dissertation formed part of the research project entitled, “The Invention of Melbourne”, led by Jaynie Anderson, Shane Carmody and Max Vodola who, together with a team of researchers (including Paola) and archivist Rachel Naughton at the Melbourne Diocesan Historical Commission, set out to capture the architectural ambitions and ongoing legacy of Goold and Wardell on the built city of Melbourne. 
The project included an exhibition held at the Old Treasury Building (August 2019 - March 2020) entitled “Invention of Melbourne: A Baroque Archbishop and a Gothic Architect”, a catalogue of bishop Goold’s library, an international conference and the production of the book, The Invention of Melbourne (MUP)—now in its second print run. Melbourne Catholic caught up with Paola in the final weeks of the exhibition to find out what she uncovered while studying one of Melbourne’s most enduring creative partnerships.

Melbourne Catholic (MC): How did you get involved in this project?

Paola Colleoni (PC): 
When Jaynie Anderson and the team began the project on Bishop Goold, they needed someone who knew basic Latin and Italian, because the bishop’s library had different volumes in different languages, so that’s how I got involved in the project at the very early stages. I completed the report on the Bishop’s library and they used part of the research in their grant application to the Australian Research Council (ARC). When they got the grant they opened a PHD position and I learned about it and said, “Well, why not?” It was such interesting work that I did on the library so I just wanted to continue with it.
I always loved gothic architecture since I was a child; I used to visit Catholic cathedrals in France and Germany and I was always astonished by these huge buildings. I studied as a linguist; this passion for gothic architecture was just a personal hobby but when I came to Melbourne and I was involved with the project we had to study Bishop Goold’s books and many of them were in Italian and about gothic architecture so it was the first time my two passions came together.
I’ve learned so much from this project that I couldn’t pursue because my field was so different. I think it was fortuitous and I got lucky. I don’t think I will go back to linguistic studies after this!
MC: Do you remember the first time you visited St Patrick’s Cathedral?
PC: The first time I visited St Patrick’s Cathedral was when I was visiting Melbourne with my father and my little niece. It was 2015; that was the first time I was in Melbourne. I came to visit the Cathedral and I thought, “Oh, that’s very gothic” I loved it. It reminded me of the trips I was doing as holidays in Northern France.
MC: How does it compare to other cathedrals you’ve been to in Europe?
PC: I’ll be honest, the first time I visited St Patrick’s Cathedral I thought it was “fake” Gothic—that was before I studied the Gothic Revival. My favourite cathedral is Notre Dame in Paris, so I was very conscious of the lack of historicity in the building but it grew on me while I was studying it. I wanted to see how the Gothic tradition had to be transposed to this 19th-century building and it is very impressive. So much symbolic meaning, so much knowledge from the artisans, craftsmen, and engineers who built it. They had to study the Gothic architecture (12th – 16th centuries) because it was the kind of knowledge that was lost with the passing of time.
MC: Apart from the gothic look and feel of the architecture, what else drew you into our Cathedral?
PC: I love the colour! The amber light that you have in the nave is really welcoming. It’s very warm. I love the feeling when entering the building. It’s a very peaceful place, even if it’s basically in the middle of such a busy city. I love the windows; they’re amazing. So beautiful.
But did you know that Goold was actually not super happy about the windows? When Goold commissioned it (the windows), he was very happy with the design but he later visited Mayer’s workshop in Munich (Franz Mayer & Co), who had become very popular and was doing several commissions for churches in Rome. Goold visited this workshop in the 1870s and began regretting that he had commissioned the window to (John) Hardman. But Hardman was the favourite workshop of William Wardell. I think it was a discussion between the bishop and the architect.
MC: There are so many things that Melbournians are learning about their own Cathedral thanks to this ‘Invention of Melbourne’ project. There’s a sense that we come to this place for various liturgies and Masses and perhaps take for granted that this is a world-class Cathedral. 
PC: I remember the very first time I visited the Cathedral, I was looking up articles on my phone to get more information and I could find things on the diocesan historical commission website but it was not quite enough. Now that I have studied it a lot, I know where the windows came from, how the project developed and I enjoy my visits to the Cathedral much more because I can go around saying, “I know about this, I know about this, I know about this.” I think a big part of the exhibition was to put out this knowledge that we have discovered about all the commissions and the Bishop’s patronage and the ambition for the Diocese of Melbourne.
It is very rewarding now that it’s out there and the people are seeing the plans and learning about the history of the Cathedral. Of course you have the spiritual vision of the Cathedral but having these little anecdotes about the parts of the Cathedral helps to give you a connection and a feeling that you have learned something. It’s very precious.
On either side of the nave of the Cathedral stand white marble Holy Water fonts designed in the neo-classical style. Beautiful though the fonts are, Paola says they’re a reminder of the robust working relationship between Archbishop Goold and his architect William Wardell.
PC: The bishop and the architect got along very well. I think because they had the same vision. Goold appreciated beauty—that was the first concern for him: beauty. So when he saw these were in the neo-classical style, he wrote a letter to his Dean (Dr John Fitzpatrick, Vicar General of Melbourne) telling him to put them in the Cathedral, despite knowing Wardell would not have been pleased!
MC: It’s amazing how these two artists were able to collaborate and produce such a masterpiece.
PC: It was, I think, for a Catholic architect like Wardell who had a very deep faith, a realisation of his dream to design such a grand Cathedral. He was a very young architect when he did so, just in his thirties. He saw it to completion, which is amazing, because it used to take generations for a Cathedral to be built. I cannot even imagine how important it was to him as a person.
Wardell moved to Sydney in 1878. He came back to visit Melbourne and check on the progress of the Cathedral. He maintained a very frequent correspondence to see that everything was carried on according to his plan. There was once somebody who asked if it was necessary to use a stained glass for one of the windows in the back of the building, since it wouldn’t be seen by anyone, to which Wardell said, “We are not building for the public. We are building for God, and God will know that we didn’t put glass there.”
Wardell was very concerned about every detail. He ordered, for instance, the amber glass for the nave of the cathedral from Hardman in Birmingham, with whom he had already worked and who was probably the most renowned glass artist at the time, in England at least. Hardman sent over the glass but Wardell said he didn’t like the colour; it was not strong enough. Wardell was concerned about the heat that would enter the building so they actually changed the glass to make it more colourful and now you have these beautiful glass windows. He was concerned that the light would be very different here in Australia from that in England. He also wanted to create a sombre environment that would be fitting for the celebration of Mass.
MC: It also speaks to the Bishop and Wardell’s vision for designing something that would be seen for generations after.
PC: The scale of the project was criticised at the beginning as an extravagance of Bishop Goold. But when St Patrick’s was rising and the nave was completed very quickly by 1868, people of different confessions came together to donate to the realisation of the building—not because it was a Catholic Church but because it was an ornament to the City of Melbourne. It became a symbol of what the colony could achieve.
MC: What else did you discover about the local faith community from your research?

PC: The majority of funds to build St Patrick’s Cathedral came from donations from the Catholic Community and the government who supplied some grants. They had to create more ways to fund the building though, so the pillars, for example, are from a donation from local communities. Every pillar has a plaque with the names of those who donated the funds for the cathedral.

Buildings encapsulate so much of the community’s feelings—people’s faith. When you think about how the Catholic community in England and Ireland were not able to practice their faith publicly until 1928, I think we see in St Patrick’s proof of what they would have done if they were allowed to practice their faith back home. I think it was a to show their presence in the colony and in part of the grandeur of St Patrick’s is a sign of how they were now free to show their faith and devotion in public. So from a humane perspective, it really tells you what they went through and how they reacted to it.
MC: What’s something that surprised you about working on this project? 
PC: I started writing the thesis focusing on Goold and Wardell and their fruitful relationship in building such a big Cathedral. If you consider that the City of Melbourne was founded in the 1830s and that the building of the Cathedral (to Wardell’s design) was commenced in 1858, it tells you a lot about how the city was growing and how the bishop and the architect had that shared vision and mission for the Catholics here in Victoria.

That was one of the things that struck me at the beginning, but after writing about St Patrick’s I looked at other Catholic church commissions as well. What comes out of the diaries of Bishop Goold is that he was travelling all the time. He was away for 3-4 months every year visiting all the districts of Victoria. The diocese was huge and with the gold rush, there were lots of Catholic migrants coming, especially from Ireland. Goold travelled to meet these growing communities to make sure that they had access to spiritual exercises and retreats. He also travelled to make sure that they were building churches.
While I was writing my thesis what really surprised me was to see this very active bishop—a real missionary bishop travelling around, bringing church plans with him and being there for these communities that wanted to build churches. He was also there to raise funds for the Cathedral and to lay the foundation stones and see the progress of the local church buildings.

Sometimes he noted in his diaries how they were building the churches; he was very attentive to church architecture. He knew something about church buildings and engineering work so he would comment on the materials and then at the end when a church was completed—even if it was just one stage of the building—he was there to open it and celebrate with the community. That’s really impressive.
When he was travelling in South America in the 1850s he wrote in his diary that many priests were far too old to travel around and visit the scattered communities. What impressed me about Goold was that he was still travelling around the diocese even towards the end of his life. Two weeks before his death he travelled more than 30 miles to visit a community for communion. It really gives a sense of the man and his passions and his real mission for the people. He was a true missionary. 
  • About Paola Colleoni
    Paola Colleoni holds a BA in foreign languages and cultures from the University of Bologna and an MA in linguistics from the University of Helsinki. Fluent in Italian, English and Finnish, Paola’s role as a research assistant on the project involved meticulously cataloguing Goold’s library at the Melbourne diocesan archives and her doctoral dissertation, focused on the bishop’s architectural patronage of William Wardell.

  • Missed the exhibition? You can learn more about The Invention of Melbourne: A Baroque Archbishop and a Gothic Architect in this catalogue produced by the Melbourne Diocesan Historical Commission. 
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