St Mary's Cathedral | State Library of New South Wales

St Mary's Cathedral

John Joseph Therry garnered the support of some leading Protestants for the construction of a Catholic chapel. John Piper, Robert Jenkins, Francis Williams and Provost-General J. T. Campell, who was treasurer for the building fund. In October 1821 the foundation stone was laid for the first Roman Catholic chapel in New South Wales: St Mary’s, on the edge of Hyde Park, deemed at the time as being well out of the city in an area of uncleared bushland and close to the convict barracks. Governor Macquarie laid the foundation stone, utilising a silver engraved trowel, now held in the State Library’s collection.

Silver trowel used by Lachlan Macquarie at the ceremony of laying the first stone of the first Catholic chapel in Sydney, 29 October 1821. Realia. R 328. 

During the ceremony, Governor Macquarie spoke generously about the Roman Catholic population in New South Wales:

Sydney Gazette, 21 November 1821, p. 2. Printed. RB/F 450.

'It has been a great gratification to me to witness and assist at the ceremony now performed; and I have every hope, that the consideration of the British Government, in supplying the Roman Catholics of this Colony with established clergymen, will be the means of strengthening and augmenting ... the attachment of the Catholics of New South Wales to the British Government, and will prove an inducement to them to continue, as I have ever found them to be, loyal and faithful subjects to the Crown.'

Beset by funding problems, the cathedral took longer to build than expected. Promised government funding was withdrawn in 1827 and it was not until December 1833 that the first Mass was celebrated there.

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Sydney building firm Brodie and Craig built the Cathedral using dark varnished cedar. The interior was filled with large cedar columns and the ceilings decorated with elaborate gothic style carvings and tracery with coloured glass. The High Altar was filled with paintings and ornaments, illustrated by Prout’s lithograph of the early 1840s.

In 1851 work on extensions to the Cathedral commenced, according to designs by English architect A. W. N. Pugin, to bring the cathedral into a more correct gothic style. However, old St Mary’s was destroyed by fire on 29 June 1865. A new structure in the style of gothic revival architecture was designed by William Wilkinson Wardell. The foundation stone of the new cathedral was blessed by Archbishop Polding in 1868 and by 1928 the nave was completed. Since then, embellishments and artworks have been added to the cathedral, including the stunning terrazzo mosaic flooring of the crypt by Peter Melocco of the Melocco Brothers. The works of the Melocco Brothers can still be seen in many notable Sydney buildings, including their Tasman Map mosaic in the vestibule of the Mitchell Library.

It was not until 2000 that the twin stone spires, that had been originally intended by Wardell, were added to the façade of St Mary's Cathedral.