The History of Melbourne’s St Patrick's Cathedral

St. Patrick’s Cathedral (also the Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Patrick) is a cathedral church belonging to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne. At the moment, Peter Comensoli is at the seat of its archbishop.

Located on Eastern Hill in the heart of bustling Melbourne, St. Patrick’s is surrounded by Albert Street, Lansdowne Street, Gisborne Street, and Cathedral Place. Just across the road from the cathedral, you can also find St. Peter’s Church, which was completed in 1848 and remains the Anglican parish church of Melbourne.

The cathedral itself boasts a traditional format, featuring an east-west axis and an altar that lies at the far eastern end. This is to symbolise the belief of Christ and his resurrection. The rest of the plan takes on the shape of a Latin cross, with a nave and wide aisles that are characteristic of these kinds of churches. Inside, there is a sanctuary with no less than seven chapels.

The cathedral is built out of sandstone and bluestone, a very common building material that you’ll find across Melbourne from that era. Officially, the cathedral was completed in 1939 when the tall spires were added to the chapel. The style of the cathedral falls into the category of Gothic-revival, with construction being halted during the mid to late 1850s as most of the labourers had run off to the goldfields in search of fortune in the shape of a large, gold nugget.

Perhaps the most striking thing about St. Patrick’s, though, is its height. It might be shorter in length than St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney, but it is the tallest and overall largest church edifice in the whole of Australia.

Look Up!

An interesting and lesser-known fact about the cathedral is that it boasts a very unusual looking gargoyle high on its ledge. This gargoyle has been carved to look like Victoria’s 43rd premier Jeff Kennett as the previous gargoyle apparently had striking similarities.

St Patrick's Cathedral

The History of St Patrick’s Cathedral

Back in 1848, the Augustinian friar James Goold became the very first bishop of Melbourne (the fourth bishop in the whole of Australia).

After his appointment, he began negotiations with the colonial government to gain access to five acres of land on the Eastern Hill on which to build a church. Three years later, in 1851, the Colonial Secretary of Victoria finally granted the site to the Roman Catholic Church.

At that time, the Catholic community in Melbourne was predominantly Irish, hence why the cathedral was dedicated to St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland.

More recently, Pope Paul VI named the cathedral a minor basilica in 1974 and later, in 1986, Pope John Paul II visited to address the clergy.

Since its opening, St. Patrick’s has suffered some wear and tear so, to celebrate the centenary of its consecration in 1997, the cathedral was shut completely in 1994 in order to be restored to its former glory. Nothing was added, but a significant amount of conservation work was carried out, including fixing up the stained glass windows. Overall, the restoration process lasted between 1992 and 1997, and involved teams of experienced stonemasons and stained-glass craftsman who handled traditional materials no longer used in the building trade.

Things to do around St. Patricks Cathedral

Visit the Parliament House & Gardens

Just a short walk away you’ll discover the illustrious Parliament House building. The building is open on weekdays throughout the year where you’ll be able to see the Parliament when the House is sitting. You’ll be able to see what a day in Parliament is like when the Legislative Council have their public showings. If that doesn’t strike your fancy, take a stroll through the Parliament Gardens Reserve, a favourite amongst wedding photographers for its greenery. It’s a small reprieve located in the heart of the business district and features a bronze statue of two significant leaders in the Indigenous community; Pastor Sir Douglas and Lady Gladys.

Princes Theatre

The lavish Princes Theatre is one of the most popular theatres in Melbourne. It’s been the stage for iconic musicals such as Les Miserables and Cats and is well known to locals for its flamboyant façade. The theatre is said to be haunted by a ghost named Federici, a former opera singer who died after a performance at the theatre in the late 1800s. If you do catch sight of him, don’t worry as he is said to be quite friendly! The staff at the theatre save an empty seat for him in the dress circle on show nights, hoping that he will bring some good luck to the performers on stage.

Melbourne Museum

This museum is located in the Carlton Gardens, only 15 minutes away from St. Patrick’s Cathedral if you’re walking. It’s a natural history museum that has some unique displays such as Australia’s most famous racehorse Phar Lap, and a gallery called Bugs Alive!- a collection of insects and spiders that will surely make your skin crawl. The museum is the largest in the southern hemisphere and also boasts it’s own IMAX cinema. This is also the place if you want to learn more about Indigenous Australian culture and history by taking a guided tour through the First Peoples exhibition.

Tasma Terrace

This 19th-century house is a perfect example of a terrace house, one of the best in Australia. It was built in 1879 as a family home but took on the form of a lodging house and other private residences since it’s construction. In the 1970s there were talks of it being demolished for new high rise apartments but it was saved by the National Trust of Australia, who now use it as their head office. The terrace house is open to the public as a gallery and function space amongst the many antiquely decorated rooms in the house. Many use this house for wedding functions.

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