ALL good tourists tend to make a beeline for the world’s magnificent churches but while I have long since moved on from the days of homing in on museums and cathedrals as compulsory viewing wherever I may be, it’s hard not to be taken in by the awe-inspiring architecture of centuries past.
Think St Peter’s in the Vatican, Westminster Cathedral in London and Notre Dame in Paris just to get started – oh and add to that list St John’s Cathedral in Brisbane.
As it stands, it is the last neo-Gothic building to be completed in the world – the finishing touches went on in 2009 – and is recognised as the finest stone building in Australia.
It’s right up there with the best in the world, with superb stained glass, lofty ceilings, stone arches and columns and detailed woodwork. It is said to resemble the great Cistercian abbeys of 12th and 13th century Europe and officially, is in a mixture of French and English Victorian Gothic Revival style.
Brisbane was proclaimed a municipality in 1859, and it was a former London vicar and the third bishop of the diocese of Brisbane, Bishop William Webber, who envisioned an Anglican cathedral. He engaged the British architect John Loughborough Pearson (who had designed the Truro Cathedral in Cornwall) for the job despite some protest about using an Englishman.
The foundation stone was laid in 1901 and construction started in 1906. Over the next four years the main chancel, sanctuary, the Lady Chapel, double aisles and nave were built using sandstone from Pyrmont in NSW. Two world wars came and went and in 1947, Viscount Montgomery of Alamein laid a foundation stone for the next two bays of the nave. And that’s where it stopped until 1964, when, over another four years the nave was extended and a temporary west wall was removed.
The third stage started in 1989 and over the next 20 years the building was finally completed with north and south towers, central tower, the final bay of the nave and the porch. It was overseen by the Master Mason of Exeter Cathedral in England.
All internal walls and ceilings are built of sandstone from Helidon in the Lockyer Valley west of Brisbane. Each piece of stone was cut and finished and trucked to the site in Ann Street. The Helidon quarry was purchased for the diocese with the assistance of a benefactor to make sure there would be enough stone.
As I don’t wish to become a tourist guide to all the details of its construction – and there are plenty of fascinating facts – suffice to say it is very English, very interesting and very beautiful and the sort of cathedral that could well save you a trip to Old Blighty.
I am looking forward to the next post. Brisbane is way more interesting than I imagined.
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