Yes, it is indeed green!

It is green, I can assure you not because of the Irish connection (that will become evident shortly) but rather, because it is built from a locally quarried green diorite porphyrite igneous stone. It is finished with a Marulan sandstone dressing (I make it sound rather like a salad!). The deep purple roof slates are from Bangor in Wales.

This active Roman Catholic church, no longer a cathedral because the Catholic bishopric moved to Canberra, replaces an earlier 1845 brick church on the same site.

In 1864 Goulburn became a Catholic diocese and its first bishop, Geoghan, was appointed in Ireland where, unfortunately, he died before taking up the post in Goulburn. Bishop Lanigan, also originally from Ireland, was consecrated in the original church of St Peter and St Paul and became the second Bishop of Goulburn.

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Bishop Lanigan

On the back of significant pastoral (of the agricultural kind) expansion, based on the high price of Australian wool in overseas markets, a minor gold run and the arrival of the train in 1869 times were good in Goulburn and the population was growing. These factors and the fact that Goulburn was now the seat of the bishop and the diocesan headquarters meant that a larger church (cathedral) was needed.

In 1871 Bishop Lanigan appointed Andrea Stombucco as architect and, somewhat strangely, the Victorian Gothic Revival styled cathedral we see today was built around/on top of the old church which continued, in so much as it could, to be used for worship through much of the build. Many of foundations and footings of the old church were incorporated into the new cathedral. As the walls of the old church were demolished a lot of the rubble was retained as infill in the cathedral with the excess carted out through the main doors and dumped elsewhere. This building on top of the former church building, at least to some degree, accounted for the serious rising damp and mould problems that scourged the Cathedral until 2020 when the problem was finally declared fixed after millions of dollars of structural work carried out over a number of years. It remains to be seen if the damp comes back.

The Cathedral was completed and opened in 1890.

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Continuing with the Irish connection, the cathedral bell was founded in Dublin, shipped to Goulburn, and installed in the tower, which has yet to have the spire shown in the original plans added. Not many visitors get to see the bell, but when I visited the interior of the church a few years back I was able to see it– not in the tower (which was undergoing a major restoration) but rather inside the church beside the baptismal font.

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Bell founded in Dublin, Ireland. Note the Irish Harp and Crown

The organ, a world-renowned Hill & Son of London organ (and baby sister of the Sydney Town Hall Organ), with some 1688 pipes was installed in 1890 as was the intricate and colourful John Hardman stained glass window, above the marble altar.

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The Cathedral underwent its first extensive renovations in 1927 and seems to have been under repair ever since. While, as noted above, major structural repairs were completed in early 2020 substantial work still remains to be done to the interior of the building.

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The transfer of the diocesan centre and the bishop to Canberra, in 1969, resulted in Saints Peter and Paul’s becoming a parish church and no longer a cathedral, hence the inclusion of the word ‘Old’ in the name.

Moving outside, if you will?

Having come to terms with the green hue of the building, apparently the only green church in the world, the first things worth noting are the statues of Saints Peter and Paul which adorn the Bourke Street gable of the church.

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Returning to the spire, my astute reader will have noticed that notwithstanding my comment above that the church awaits its spire, there is indeed a spire on it. It is just not on the tower. What can be seen (in my main picture and just above) is technically called a fleche – a slender wooden spire – which was added for purely cosmetic purposes, to disguise the fact that the roof lines differ between two sections of the Cathedral. The fleche brings them together nicely and unless I told you, you wouldn’t have noticed, or would you?

Looking up above the Verner Street entrance one is immediately taken by a striking mosaic – the Caroline Chisholm Mosaic.

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As part of the ongoing restoration of the church, the parish of Goulburn has honoured Caroline Chisholm through the installation of this beautiful mosaic depicting her contribution to immigrants arriving in Australia, mainly from the United Kingdom, penniless and friendless in the 1840s.

77Chisholm was, herself, an immigrant to Australia from Northamptonshire, England. She arrived in Australia in 1838 and on witnessing the deplorable living conditions of vulnerable immigrant women and children in the young colony, determined to improve their lots. Chisholm became known as the emigrants’ friend in London and is one of Australia’s earliest humanitarians. She had previously carried out similar work in India where her husband, Captain Archibald Chisholm, served in the Indian army. Unlike contemporaries such as Florence Nightingale, Chisholm was not of independent means and her work exerted a considerable financial and personal toll on her and on her family life.

In 1841 she established the Female Immigrants’ Home on Sydney’s Bent Street so that young women would not be forced to turn to prostitution in order to eat and survive. In her first year in operation she helped more than 1,400 young women and many thousands more in later years.

Caroline Chisholm, a devout Roman Catholic though not a member of any Order, went on to establish the only free employment registry in Australia and on numerous occasions in the 1840s she made the journey to Goulburn (among other places in the interior) on her white horse, both to raise money and to escort young immigrant girls to their new workplaces as domestic servants, on local country farms.

While helping actual immigrants on arrival, she also worked on improving conditions on the ships on which they arrived and arranged for the families of convict women to be transported to Australia, free of charge, so that they could be reunited.

The mosaic is the creation of Sydney based mosaic artist Nola Diamantopoulos and consists of three, 4m by 0.8m, panels relating the good works of Chisholm. It consists of some 875,000 individual pieces of numerous materials from around the world including West Australian Jasper (Mookaite) in its uncut state for the tree, Smalti from Italy, marble, petrified wood, semi precious stones and more.

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The mosaic is installed on the exterior of the concreted-in window behind the organ on the northern transept of the former Cathedral. It was unveiled by HE Ms. Quentin Bryce, Governor General of Australia on the 29th June, 2011, the feast of St. Peter and St. Paul. It was blessed by His Grace, Archbishop Mark Coleridge. Apparently no-one had forewarned His Eminence that he would be strapped to a cherry picker (little crane) and raised aloft so that he could sprinkle holy water on the mosaic as part of his blessing.

“When I was invited to do the blessing there was no mention of the cherry picker.”

By all accounts it was quite a sight on the day.

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The Archbishop en-route to blessing the mosaic (picture from church website)

To the east of the church, on Verner Street, is the former Bishop’s House.

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The four room centre section was built in 1841 as the original church’s first presbytery. By the time Bishop Lanigan arrived in 1864 two turrets had been added and on his arrival a second floor and verandah were added and the presbytery became the ‘Bishop’s House’. In 1908 the eastern section was added along with additional rooms to the rear. In 1969 the home was ‘downgraded’ to a presbytery when the bishopric and diocesan headquarters moved to Canberra.

Location: Intersection of Bourke and Verner Streets, Goulburn


My next Goulburn review– HERE

Return to the beginning of my Goulburn reviews –HERE


4 thoughts on “It’s Green! – St Peter and St Paul’s Old Cathedral

  1. I had never heard of Caroline Chisholm – she sounds like quite an impressive woman and I’m pleased she has such an attractive mosaic to honour her 🙂 I like the green of the church too! And it’s always interesting to get close to a church bell and appreciate its size like this.

    Liked by 1 person

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