St Benedict's Catholic church Broadway

2008
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St Benedict's Catholic church Broadway

St Benedict's Catholic church was constructed between 1845 and 1856, to a design by British architect AW Pugin for Archbishop Polding. The site had been prepared from 1841 and the foundation stone for the church was laid by Archbishop Polding on 21 July 1845. A school house, where lessons began in 1838, stood adjacent to the church.

Pugin was one of England's most influential nineteenth-century architects, designing over 100 buildings in his short career, as well as thousands of decorative metalwork pieces, jewellery, furniture and wallpaper. [1] An advocate of the Gothic Revival style, Pugin was also responsible for much of the ornamentation and internal fitting of the British Houses of Parliament, as well as numerous churches throughout the United Kingdom. St Benedict's is one of only six Pugin designs (five of which were completed) in New South Wales and is the largest example of his work.

When opened, St Benedict's was a large church positioned in a prominent position on the corner of George Street West (Broadway) and Abercrombie Street. It was the second major Catholic church finished in colonial New South Wales. The new church included an eight-bay nave and a chancel with two and a half bays flanked by eastern chapels. A peal of bells was added in the 1850s and remains as one of the oldest in Australia.

In 1892 Sydney organ maker Frederick Baker installed the organ in St Benedict's: it is considered one of the most significant church organs in Sydney. Baker had arrived in Sydney from England with his wife in 1877, having worked in London for the organ builder Alfred Hunter. Although Baker worked for 35 years in Sydney building and installing organs, much of this was as an employee or sub-contractor to others. The organ at St Benedict's is thought to be the sole, positively identified example of Baker's work remaining in Sydney. Despite its installation date of 1892, Baker had in fact built the organ in 1882 (as per the date plate) from parts of an organ dating back to the mid-1870s. The installation at St Benedict's was supervised by the City Organist, Auguste Weigand, who gave the opening recital in October 1892. [2]

St Benedict's remained unchanged until the late 1930s when, as part of the widening of George Street West, the church was shortened through demolition and reconstruction. The widening of the road had been proposed in the mid-1920s, with work continuing through the 1930s as the economic depression, administrative hurdles and owner reluctance to demolish slowed the process. St Benedict's was one of the last properties to be completed. Negotiations over whether to completely demolish the church and rebuild elsewhere, or demolish part of the church, were long and involved, after which compensation was also negotiated. The final solution was to demolish part of the church and presbytery next door, and to rebuild it in the exact design, so as future generations would not notice the difference from the original. [3] The rebuild was completed in 1941, five years after negotiations had started.

By the 1980s the church site was again under pressure. The school, which had been greatly expanded in the early 1900s and included a convent and girls' school, closed in 1981. Parishioner numbers were also declining and the church needed ongoing repair and maintenance. In 2006 the school and convent site was taken over by Notre Dame University's Sydney Campus. Although the university contributed money to the church restoration, some in the community felt that it had been forced upon them. Nevertheless St Benedict's survives as one of the oldest churches in Sydney with an active congregation.

References

Shirley Fitzgerald, Chippendale: Beneath the Factory Wall, Halstead Press, Sydney, 2007

Organ Music Society of Sydney website, "St Benedict's Catholic Church', www.sydneyorgan.com/StBenedictsBroadway.html, viewed 20 February 2009

Notes

[1] 'Creating a Gothic Paradise: Pugin at the Antipodes', NLA News, May 2003, vol XIII No 8

[2] Organ Music Society of Sydney website, "St Benedict's Catholic Church', www.sydneyorgan.com/StBenedictsBroadway.html, viewed 20 February 2009

[3] Shirley Fitzgerald, Chippendale: Beneath the Factory Wall, Halstead Press, Sydney, 2007, pp 104–105

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