This is one of the, if not the, most beautiful Gothic Revival churches in Australia. It is the Cathedral Church of the Anglican Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn, named after Jesus, in his role as Saviour. It may come as a surprise to some readers that the Anglican Cathedral and the Bishop for Canberra (Australia’s capital city) are located in this small city of around 20,000 people, nearly 100 kilometres from the capital.
Queen Victoria, via Letters Patent, established the then Goulburn Diocese in 1863 and Mesac Thomas became the first bishop of an area that covered most of the state of New South Wales, outside Sydney and Newcastle.
As the seat of a Bishop, the town of Goulburn, by default, became a city – Australia’s First Inland City (a nomenclature it still wears with pride). Neither Canberra nor the Australia Capital Territory had been thought of in 1863. When Canberra celebrated its centenary in 2013, Goulburn celebrated the 150th anniversary of its proclamation as a city by Queen Victoria.
When Bishop Mesac (Thomas) took his seat (as bishops do) the current cathedral didn’t exist. It took 20 years for local craftsmen to construct, in part, St Saviour’s to the design of colonial ecclesiastical architect Edmund Blacket, perhaps better known for his work at the University of Sydney. To make way for the Cathedral the earlier ‘Old’ St Saviour’s church was demolished in the mid 1870s and church services and Sunday school moved to nearby buildings for the duration. These buildings still stand within the cathedral precinct, to the west of the cathedral. The present rectory, also located in this area, was built in 1916 though the Bishop now lives in Canberra.
While the majority of the cathedral was completed by 1884, certain aspects of Blacket’s design were added much later. Over the next century, numerous attempts were made to add the tower and spire as envisaged in Blacket’s design. The first of these came in 1909 and is remembered today by the corner stone then laid by Lord Chelmsford – Governor of New South Wales. This can be seen in the cathedral’s vestibule and is as far as the tower got in this attempt.
It was not until 1984 and a grant of $1 million from the Australian Bicentennial commemorative program that a final attempt was made to add a tower and a spire. While the tower was completed in 1988, by local stonemasons using local materials, a spire was not added, and now will not be added, due to concerns over the inadequacy of the ground to support a tower, a spire and the cathedral’s bells.
St Saviour’s has twelve main bells. Eight of these (dedicated by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Runcie) were sourced from St Mark’s Church in Leicester, England and were named after the ships of the First Fleet. In order of increasing size, they are called Supply, Friendship, Lady Penrhyn, Prince of Wales, Charlotte, Scarborough, Alexander and the Tenor bell, Sirius, the largest bell at just over a tonne. There were installed in the new tower in 1988.
In 1993 two more bells, Golden Grove and Fishburn were added with the last two regular bells, Endeavour and Borrowdale, added in May 2005. A ‘6th Flat’ bell named Arthur Phillip (the first Governor of New South Wales and the man who led the British settlement and colonisation of Australia) was also added in 2005. This bell was dedicated to all who sailed with the First Fleet.
For those who know what it means, and I don’t, St Saviour’s, Goulburn has the only 12 bell and flat 6th country peal in the Southern Hemisphere.
The tower’s complement of bells is rounded out with a Service Bell, named Mesac after the first bishop. This is the original bell from Old St Saviour’s Church (1839) and was cast in the famous Whitechapel Bell Foundry, in London. Sadly the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, which dates from 1570, ceased operations in 2017, before I managed to visit it.
The cathedral’s on-site cemetery contains the remains of less than fifty people, including those of the first and second Bishops of Goulburn. The grave on the left in picture below is that of the first Bishop (Mesac Thomas). St Saviour’s main cemetery is located on the outskirts of the city and is the subject of a separate entry in this blog.
St Saviour’s Cathedral – Interior
Internally the cathedral is on a grand scale. Cruciform in plan, it has a central nave, side aisles, chancel and transepts and as with the exterior, it exhibits some of architect Edmund Blacket’s finest work.
As with many churches of this era the first thing to attract most people will be the stained glass windows. The cathedral has a number of stunning stained glass windows which, in addition to the glass, exhibit elaborate stone tracery (the concrete that holds the stained glass in).
The Great East window, above the intricately carved altar with it amazing carving of the Last Supper by William Priestly MacIntosh, is especially beautiful. This window was created by Heaton, Butler and Bayne, of London in 1885 and is in the early sixteenth century Flemish style which can also be seen in King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, if that is closer for you to visit!
While admiring the windows, look up into the west balcony (Ascension Chapel). You could be forgiven for thinking that you are looking at another stained glass window. You are indeed looking at the ‘Rose Window’ but it is a quilted “window”, produced by local quilters. In addition to admiring the quality of the rose itself note the quilted brickwork which makes it blend into the surrounding wall, further adding to the illusion of this being a real window.
The quilted window is not the only softer and warmth inducing touch in St Saviour’s. For many years local women have been active embroiders for the cathedral. Some of their work can be seen in the beautiful hand made prayer kneeling pads, each one unique.
Mentioning things personal, perhaps the most personal thing in the cathedral and one very easily missed is the crucifix hanging above the pulpit. This crucifix was hand carved by Edmund Blacket in 1842 and later donated to the cathedral. As crucifixes tend to be more closely associated with Roman Catholicism or the very High Anglican Church its initial display was contested and it lay in storage for many years before being finally displayed in the cathedral. This, I imagine, at the time must have caused more than a tad of embarrassment given Blacket’s intimate involvement in the construction of the cathedral.
The cathedral was again the setting for a bit of controversy in 2012 when Genieve Blackwell became the first female to be concentrated as an Anglican Bishop in the State of New South Wales. The consecration of Bishop Blackwell was performed here in St Saviour’s by the Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn, Bishop Robinson, in the absence of the Archbishop of Sydney who was unable to officiate “for reasons of conscience.” Bishops are normally consecrated by Archbishops.
The cathedral’s furnishings, many designed by the cathedral’s architect Edmund Blacket, are certainly worthy close inspection. The most notable of these furnishings, from my perspective, are mentioned below.
The organ, dating back to 1884 and manufactured by Foster and Andrews, Hull, England is especially noteworthy and not least so for its very ornate pipes. The organ, which cost around GBP 1,340, was originally located in the west gallery but was moved to its present location in 1902.
The oak Bishop’s throne is one of the most elaborate pieces of Australian Victorian architecture still existing today – you really do need to get up close to see how detailed and fine the carving is on this.
This fine carving is carried though to the oak altar (pictured earlier) and to the Gothic inspired canopy on the baptismal font. The canopy was made by Sydney woodcarver Frederick Tod and is of Queensland maple.
The baptismal font (above) and pulpit were carved by John Roddis of Birmingham, England. They are both of white Caen stone, from the same quarries used for the great French and English cathedrals. While there are a number of stone carvings on the font, one to look out for is that depicting the baptism of Jesus, in the river Jordan, by John the Baptist.
Continuing the stonework theme and rounding out this review (though there are many other things of interest to explore and admire within the cathedral), if you look upwards you will see a series of circular stone medallions/carvings running around the nave of the cathedral. You can vaguely see a number of these in my main interior view picture above. Below is a more detailed look at one of the medallions.
There are fourteen of these medallions depicting the life of Jesus. This 1883 work was the first professional commission for William Priestly MacIntosh who had trained as a stone carver in Edinburgh before migrating to Australia and studying under Lucien Henry at the Sydney Mechanics School of Arts. As noted earlier MacIntosh also carved the Last Supper sculpture above the main altar.
Cathedral Opening Hours
Daily 10 am and 4 pm – outside services. Guides are available (donation appreciated) or you are welcome to self-guide using an information sheet made available for this purpose. Bell Tower Tours are held at 10.30am & 2.30pm on the 1st Saturday of each month.
Address:170 Bourke Street
Directions: Hard to miss!
My next Goulburn review– HERE
Return to the beginning of my Goulburn reviews –HERE