1885 Cyril Blacket, Chapter House addition
1885 John Loughborough Pearson, supervision of alabaster reredos
Governor Macquarie laid the first foundation stone of a cathedral on the St Andrew’s Cathedral site in 1819. But the design, by his Civil Architect Francis Greenway, would be abandoned almost immediately, as Macquarie came under increasing pressure for overspending.
In 1837, a more modest plan by architect James Hume was championed by newly consecrated Anglican Bishop Broughton, but it was halted by drought and depression.
London architect Edmund Blacket arrived in Sydney in 1842. Well versed in the Gothic and classical styles, he soon found favour for his plan of a rather more English-style cathedral, to a layout based on York Minster. In the interim, he erected a temporary timber church, which would serve until 1867.
In 1868, St Andrew’s was consecrated and officially opened. Blacket gave his cathedral an imposing presence with repetition of forms, twin towers and strong vertical lines. It was built from Sydney sandstone, with a Welsh slate roof, and was highly praised for its decorative carvings, delicate filigree and stone pinnacles, among other embellishments.
The interiors were also impressive, with a painted hammerbeam roof, carved stone ribbons around its supporting pillars, a 21-piece stained-glass window collection and an intricate tessellated tile floor. As the heart of St Andrew’s would be its choir, Blacket fashioned the choir stalls from English oak, and installed in the south transept a pipe organ made in England by Hill and Son.
A second organ, by John Whitely, would be placed opposite in the north transept in 1932, and the two were amalgamated in the 1950s, to be played from a single console; it was then believed to be the largest church organ in Australia.
In 1998, a further rationalisation of the organs was completed and the Whitely organ removed. The current organ, as reconstituted by Letourneau, now comprises the rebuilt Hill and Son organ, together with the best of the Whitely pipework.
While the city grew around St Andrew’s, building modifications would be a constant feature, including a Chapter House by Cyril Blacket (Edmund Blacket’s son), built in 1885; an alabaster reredos (altarpiece) by sculptor Thomas Earp in 1888; and a side chapel addition in 1936. The grounds were also altered, with graveyards relocated and lawns levelled to make way for city transport and Sydney Square.
A single bell had hung alone in St Andrew’s northwest tower from 1891, and a further ten were added to the southwest tower in 1965. Having begun to crack, the original bell was recast in 1985 to form a new treble bell; it was joined three years later by a 12th bell, added as a Bicentennial project.
In a major restoration project during 1999–2000, Blacket’s original interior was restored, reversing ad-hoc prior alterations. Most notable was the reinstatement of the main altar to the traditional east nave. The altar was moved to the Cathedral’s west end in 1941, due to the newly installed electric trams on George Street, which made the main entry less accessible and the holy communion hymns nearly impossible to hear.
As Australia’s oldest cathedral, St Andrew’s is classified by the National Trust and listed on the Register of the National Estate. St Andrew’s Cathedral Choir is the oldest musical institution in the Southern Hemisphere, having been first formed to sing at the foundation ceremony of the Greenway design on St Andrew’s Day in 1819. The St Andrew’s Cathedral School was established in 1885 to teach its choristers, and their musical tradition continues today.
Cathedral Archives Display. Sydney Open visitors will be able to discover some rare, treasured pieces from the Cathedral’s archives not usually on display, including guest books containing the signatures of royal visitors, original architect sketches, historical photographs and programs marking celebrations from as far back as 1895.
Visitors can also view those items of historical interest that are on permanent display, including the Bishop’s chair, early liturgical garments, memorials, the alabaster reredos (completed in 1888) and the Great Bible of 1539.
Talks, tours & more
Music under Blacket concert: Discover the Cathedral’s musical backstory as the world-famous St Andrew’s Cathedral Choir of Boys of Men sing a selection of sacred music that has been received by kings and queens, princes and princesses, presidents and prime ministers, alongside pieces that have marked national occasions as Sydney gathers in her oldest cathedral church to celebrate, acknowledge and mourn. From well-known pieces by Handel through to new music especially commissioned for the Choir, highlights will include music sung to their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on their visit on Easter Day in 2014. The concert will also feature compositions by former cathedral organists. Ross Cobb, Director of Music and President of the Royal School of Church Music Australia, will give a brief explanation of each piece, its musical provenance and its place in the Choir’s illustrious 199-year history. The Choir first sang at the laying of the Cathedral’s Foundation Stone in 1819, making it the oldest continuous musical group in the southern hemisphere.
The Cathedral welcomes everyone to the regular Sunday morning services – 8am and 10.30am.
Food & drink available
A ‘cream tea’ catered for by the choir families will be available for purchase. Proceeds will go to support the St Andrew’s Cathedral Choir.