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St Mary's Cathedral


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.  Opened in 1866, St Mary’s Cathedral is located in Harrington Street, Hobart, between Patrick and Brisbane Streets. 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 aspirations 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 works of leading artisans from Australia and overseas.This outstanding Gothic building is undergoing significant restoration so that it may continue to play a central role in the Catholic Church of Tasmania and serve the city of Hobart and the people of Tasmania.


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 from philanthropist Roderick O’Connor finally secured the project.

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 Hardman 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.


St Mary’s Cathedral has many unique and well loved features.

The baptismal font is of international significance. Studies have revealed that it is likely a font from the Norman period (1066-1200) which was brought by Bishop Willson to Hobart and stored until its installation in the Cathedral in the 1890s. Its cylindrical form and elaborate arches and detail are unique. The age and history of this font makes it one of the most important fonts in Australia. Research into its origins is continuing.

The Brian Harradine Memorial Calvary Group

Installed in the Cathedral in 2015, this outstanding piece of 20th century liturgical art is the gift of the Harradine family to the Cathedral in memory of Tasmanian Senator Brian Harradine (1935-2014). The work is a polychrome and gilded carving in English Oak whose near life-size figures depict a crucified Christ at Calvary, his mother and St John attending as described in the Gospels.

Designed for and hung in St Catharine’s Nottingham in 1925 it is providential that this Calvary Group by English architect Frank Howard should now find a home in St Mary’s Cathedral Hobart. The diocese’s first bishop Robert William Willson, was ordained on 16 December 1824 and sent to none other than the Nottingham Mission where he ministered for two decades before departing for Tasmania in 1844.

Rich in symbolism, it is a powerful subject for prayerful meditation upon Christ’s sacrifice. The arms of the cross have new leaf buds sprouting from their edges, signifying the life-giving instrument through which we have been redeemed: ‘for by your Cross and Resurrection you have set us free’.

The cross arms terminate with fleurs-de-lis, symbolic forms of the lily traditionally associated with the Mother of God. At the extremities of the cross arms can be seen the traditional symbols of the four Evangelists: an angel (Matthew), a lion (Mark), a bull (Luke) and an eagle (John) as referred to in the Revelation text (Rev. 4:6–9).

Finally, the cross-piece upon which Our Lady and St John stand is supported by a pair of dolphins. Overall, the cross with its cross-piece has the shape of an anchor - an early Christian symbol found in the catacombs and signifying hope (Heb. 6:17–20). In this configuration the dolphins symbolise the individual Christian and represent our attachment to Christ crucified.

An object of considerable beauty, rich in symbolism which owing to its history and design enjoys a providential synchronicity with our Catholic community here in Hobart.

The exquisite Hardman Studio window, newly restored, floods the building with its beauty and light.  One of the most important nineteenth century windows in Australia, it was designed by the leading English stained glass maker of the period, John Hardman and Co, Birmingham. The window is a memorial to Robert William Willson (1794–1866), the first Bishop of Hobart Town, and his Vicar-General, William Hall (1807–66). It is in the style of a fourteenth century Gothic window; the five lancets depict pivotal scenes from the Gospel and the tracery at the top of the window details heavenly images. A clear glass protector has been installed on the outside of the window to protect it from wind load, water damage, hailstones, and accidental breakage.
In more recent times, three stained glass windows by Sydney stained glass artist Stephen Moor have been installed: The Rose window in the West end of the Cathedral (1981), and in the transepts the memorial to Archbishop Guilford Young, the Pentecost Window (1989), and the Heroic and Saintly Women (1995). The dazzling colours of these windows dance across the walls and add beauty to the Cathedral.

The surviving remains of the original high altar can be seen in the elaborate top of the tabernacle at the rear of the chancel. The original altar was carved by Byron Malloy and installed at the re-opening of the Cathedral in 1881.

The exquisite carved limestone statue of the Virgin and Child, formerly standing in a niche over the entrance to St Mary’s Convent in Harrington Street and placed on permanent loan in the Cathedral by the Presentation Sisters, was designed by Pugin and carved by a craftsman in the employ of George Myers, his favoured builder, probably c.1847 at Myers’ workshops, Ordnance Wharf, Lambeth.  The statue was made for Pugin’s close friend, Robert William Willson, first Bishop of Hobart Town.  Just sixty-six centimetres high, the statue is a perfect, archaeologically correct evocation of an English medieval Virgin and Child, but totally original. Pugin never copied. He only used his unrivalled knowledge of medieval art and architecture as a source of creative inspiration. The modelling of the features, drapery, hair, etc. and the composition are of the highest order.

The exquisite pipe organ at St Mary’s Cathedral was built in 1893 by Fincham & Hobday. It was first erected in the Hobart Exhibition Building in December 1893 and was widely used for concerts before being installed in its present position in St Mary’s Cathedral in June 1895.

In 1934, the St Mary’s organ was rebuilt by Hill, Norman & Beard (Australia) Pty Ltd, in 1957 by Keith Davis, Launceston, Tasmania and in 1966 by George Fincham & Sons Pty Ltd. A major rebuilding and enlargement was carried out in 1986 by S.J. Laurie Pty Ltd. At this time, a new slider chest was made for the Great Organ, a new detached console with illuminated stopkeys was provided, and major tonal additions were made.

The organ has now received a complete refurbishment by Wakeley Pipe Organs Pty Ltd which was completed in December 2009. The work consisted of fitting new switching and combination actions and new stopkeys to the console, the addition of several softer registers, the removal of the horizontal pipes of the Tromba Pontificalis to inside the organ case, and re-regulation, especially of the 1986 additions, to blend more satisfactorily with the whole. The carpet that previously covered all of the floor surfaces in the Cathedral has now been removed, with a markedly improved acoustic, and the organ benefits greatly from this in terms of its projection.


Information sourced from the Organ Historical Trust of Australia. Read more here:





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