SQUATTING high on top of what is presumably the Red Hill that gave the suburb its name, St Brigid’s Catholic Church is like a grand old lady commanding attention from far and wide.
It doesn’t really matter which direction you come from, there’s no missing that imposing red church on its hilltop perch.
I can only wonder if it was these bricks that put the red into Red Hill, as I failed to check the soil colour.
Having had this high fortress-like structure demand my attention enough times to make me curious, I stopped in and checked out the exterior of the building.
And close-up it is even more impressive, especially the sheer height of those walls.
A lifesize statue of St Brigid of Kildare presides over the church from her alcove high above the church’s entrance porch. Look closely and you’ll see she’s holding a model of the church.
At the time the red fortress was well secured and I didn’t manage to get a look inside, however Christmas solved that problem and I took myself off to midnight Mass.
The interior is somewhat austere, particularly when compared with the Catholic churches throughout Europe that are packed to the rafters with complex carved icons, ancient paintings, elaborate stained glass and ornate furnishings.
But then again, St Brigid herself, one of Ireland’s patron saints along with Patrick and Columba, would probably approve as she specialized in healing and domestic tasks during her lifetime around 1500 years ago.
The design though has nothing to do with its namesake’s Irish heritage. Rather, it was inspired by St Cecile’s Cathedral at Albi, in southern France, with elements of Gothic and Romanesque styles.
It is hailed a fine example of the work of its designer, Robin S. Dods, a New Zealand born architect whose Scottish parents returned home not long after his birth.
He paid a lot of attention to materials, light and scale, landscape and siting. There’s no question he was successful with the latter.
The north-south orientation was unconventional in its day but like other aspects, such as the height, windows, balconies and arches, French doors and an open chancel, it was built for the climate.
Certainly, it was catching the breeze and provided a cool retreat on a steamy Christmas Eve.
The church took two years to build from 1912 and replaced an earlier stone church built on the site in 1877.
It had become too small for its parish which, after the turn of the century, was one of the largest in Brisbane.
The congregation was made up mostly of poor Irish immigrants and the church became a focal point for the Irish Catholic cause in Queensland.
Although seriously grand in its dimensions, the interior is simple yet elegant; the high brick walls and heavy timber ceiling are remarkable and the altar the only vague nod to grandeur.
It is said that the opening ceremony in 1915 was a big day for the Brisbane Catholic community as St Brigid’s represented something of a coming of age for the Catholics in a city that, by its very colonization, was owned by the Anglicans.