St Mary's Cathedral is located in Harrington Street, Hobart, between Patrick and Brisbane Streets and was consecrated and partially opened in 1866. Designed by William Wardell, one of Australia's greatest nineteenth-century architects, it was completed except for its steeple between 1876 and 1898 to a modified design by Henry Hunter.
Henry Hunter, Tasmania's best known and most prolific architect, designed a great many landmarks across the State. His buildings included over forty Catholic, Anglican and other churches, from Devonport to Southport and Swansea to Waratah, Hobart Town Hall, the Tasmanian Museum, many schools, convents and commercial buildings, and a large number of houses.
St Mary's Cathedral has served the Tasmanian community for 140 years, touching the lives of thousands. The nobility of the architecture and the quality of the fabric is a testament to the aspiration and generosity of generations of Tasmanian Catholics and other kind benefactors.
The imposing pillars and stonework, exquisite stained glass and the magnificent pipe organ are work of leading artisans from Australia and overseas.
This outstanding Gothic building plays a central role in the Catholic Church of Tasmania as it serves the city of Hobart and the people of Tasmania.
St Mary's Cathedral is the central church for over 70,000 Catholics in Tasmania. It is also a focal point for community celebrations and a place of comfort and consolation for those who suffer grief and loss.
The Cathedra, the Chair of the Archbishop of Hobart, is located in the Cathedral. St Mary's is the most significant place for people from all parts of Tasmania to meet and worship with the chief Shepherd of the Tasmanian Church.
Since its opening, Christians have faithfully gathered every Sunday in the sacred building to pray for the needs of the world and give God thanks for his many blessings. The natural light and noble interior create a prayerful environment for those who attend liturgical gatherings. Interstate and overseas visitors have been struck by the intimacy of the surroundings and the peacefulness that emanate from the within its walls.
The Cathedral registers are filled with the names of thousands of couples who have sealed their marriages vows in the presence of family, friends, the community and the Church. These Cathedral marriage celebrations have become integral parts of the family histories of many Tasmanian families. Many have returned to this special place to present their children for baptism.
For more than 100 years the Cathedral has been a refuge and comfort for those mourning the loss of a family member or friend. St Mary's Cathedral opens its doors to all Christians who seek the Church's consolation and hope when a love ones has died. The beauty of the Cathedral adds dignity to the rites of Christian burial.
During times of tragedy, St Mary's Cathedral has been an important place where the Tasmanian community can come together and come to terms with natural and human disasters. The Cathedral is a haven where people may find solace in times of upheaval and trauma. A place of quiet and a place of prayer, it is also place for spiritual growth and healing.
Bishop Robert William Willson
St Mary's Cathedral was the vision of the first Bishop of Hobart Town, Robert William Willson. Bishop Willson chose the design and spent years raising the funds. He was particularly inspired by his friend Augustus Welby Pugin, designer of the entire interiors of the British Houses of Parliament and father of the modern English Gothic Revival movement.
Robert William Willson was a man of huge significance in the history of the Catholic Church in Tasmania. Here is an assessment of the man by one of his contemporaries, Archbishop William Bernard Ullathorne OSB, a key figure in the early Australian Church and later Archbishop of Birmingham:
"Among the distinguished ecclesiastics whom England has produced in recent times, there is one whose name is held in benediction at both extremities of the world and whose memory ought not to be left in the shadows of a vanishing tradition. Robert William Willson, a man of singular humanity and benevolence, was the founder of the Catholic Church in Tasmania, the effectual reformer of the management of deported criminals in our penal settlements, a most influential reformer of lunatic asylums and their management, as well in England as in Australia, and a man who, through his influence with the imperial and colonial Governments, caused the breaking up of the most horrible penal settlement of Norfolk Island."
Origins of the Cathedral
The Cathedral's origins can be traced back to 1822 when the first permanent Tasmanian priest Fr Philip Conolly constructed a temporary wooden chapel near the present Cathedral site.
It took three attempts before the first section of the Cathedral was finally built between 1860 and 1866. A donation of 10,000 pounds from philanthropist Roderick O'Connor finally secured the project.
This first section of the Cathedral was consecrated on July 14, 1866.
Structural problems caused by faulty building resulted in the Cathedral being largely dismantled and re-constructed to a modified design between 1876 and 1881. The East window containing the Hardman stained glass window was recovered from the original Cathedral and reinstalled. The first stained glass window installed in the Cathedral, the Hardiman window is a memorial to Bishop Willson and his Vicar General, William Hall. These pioneers, in spite of their hard work, did not live to see the completed Cathedral.