St John's Cathedral, Brisbane

St John's Cathedral, Brisbane

St John's Cathedral is the Anglican cathedral of Brisbane, situated on the outskirts of the city centre, and the metropolitan cathedral of the ecclesiastical province of Queensland, Australia. It is the successor to an earlier pro-cathedral on William Street in the heart of the central business district, and is predated by All Saints Anglican Church (1862) on Wickham Terrace, the oldest Anglican Church in Brisbane.

There is a traditional choir of men and boys that sings the traditional Anglican repertoire as well as more adventurous fare, which is currently directed by Rupert Jeffcoat, a Scot who is also an Anglican clergyman. The Cathedral also possesses a superb 4 manual organ that hosts many recitalists from across the world: Pearson's design (and stone-vaulting) makes for a 5-second reverberation making organ-music particularly resonant. St John's Cathedral is unique in Australia as completion of the building design was achieved through collaboration between clergy, stonemasons and architects over a period of almost one hundred years, as with Romanesque and gothic cathedrals in the Middle Ages and more recently such 20th century cathedrals as Liverpool Cathedral in England, St John the Divine in New York and Washington National Cathedral in Washington DC. It is also the only Victorian Gothic Cathedral under construction in Australia. [Cleary, p.1]

Design of the cathedral

. [Cleary, p.4]

) reflects liturgical arrangements favoured by the Oxford movement from the 1840s. [ Cleary, p.1] The design of the Central nave toward the east end was reworked by Frank Pearson (1898–1904). He lengthened the nave, exchanged the lancet windows in the north transept for a wheel window, simplified the details of the east end and omitted much of the Cathedral’s internal decoration to meet financial constraints. [Cleary, p.3] The north and south aisles, representing a bird’s folded wings, are separated from the nave, or body, by Pearson’s slender piers. The nave terminates at the crossing. The central tower rests on four massive piers and is directly above. The north and south transepts (the transverse part of a cruciform church, crossing the nave at right angles) representing outstretched arms are to the left and right and the most sacred part of the Cathedral is ahead. [ Cleary, p.3]

According to Cleary,

Pearson’s elevated choir symbolically marks the passage from the secular nave into the higher and more holy choir. Here the clergy are also accommodated in their “elaborately carved” stalls and the Archbishop’s throne cathedra (symbolising his authority and pastoral responsibilities) – designed by Pearson resides. Beyond the choir is the Presbytery and then the high altar and its surrounding sanctuary. The high altar is a free standing structure with a great Byzantine style stone baldachino (a permanent ornamental canopy, as above a freestanding altar or throne), rather than a reredos, (a screen or a decorated part of the wall behind an altar in a church) supported on columns rising high above it. Beneath the high altar lie the remains of Bishop Webber. [Sayer et al, p.13]

However, as yet the baldachino has not been constructed. In front of the altar in the sanctuary floor are two pieces of mosaic from ancient churches in Palestine, brought back after being found during the First World War. One of these is part of a larger mosaic now housed in the Australian War memorial in Canberra. [Sayer et al, p.13] Beyond the high altar the Cathedral ends in a semi-circular apse and ambulatory (processional aisle), a link to the architecture's French-Norman past. [Cleary, p.3]

Everything beyond the crossing including the altar, cross, candle sticks, pulpit, canopy, clergy stalls, pendant lights and litany desk was designed by Frank Pearson. He also designed the carved organ case and the wheel window in the north transept. [Cleary, p.3]

Many Brisbane architects were commissioned to design liturgical furniture for the Cathedral’s three chapels, the Lady Chapel, the Chapel of the Holy Spirit and the Chapel of the Holy Sacrament. [Cleary, p.3]

The original Cathedral’s bells were a peal of eight Warner bells which have since had an additional two newer, treble bells added to create a diatonic run of ten bells. [Cleary, p.5]

The initial design called for a galvanised iron roof; this was changed to terracotta roof tiles in 1907. [Cleary, p.4] The resolution of unfinished design elements continues to pose challenges. [Cleary, p.1]

Latest Construction

The copper clad western spires were lifted into position on Saturday March 1, 2008. All was successful and were blessed by the Bishop John Parkes.

History of construction

William Webber – the third Bishop of Brisbane and previously a vicar in London – was instrumental in initiating the Brisbane Cathedral project. [Cleary, p.1] In 1885-86, he commissioned John Loughborough Pearson to make sketch plans for Brisbane cathedral. [Cleary, p.2] The Brisbane cathedral movement began in earnest in 1887 as a celebration of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee – St John’s was to be paid for by public subscription [Cleary, p.2] but the construction of the Cathedral in one campaign was found to be financially impossible. As a result, the building has been executed in three stages over two centuries [Cleary, p.1] and it is anticipated that the building (excluding the three towers) will be completed in 2007. In April 1889, Pearson’s plans for the Cathedral were approved for the original site bounded by George, Elizabeth and William Streets.

It was a cruciform church with a wide nave, double aisles, apse and ambulatory, short transepts about halfway along the length of the building and an apsidal side chapel on the north. The west front had towers close to the end of the nave. The upper part of the west wall was supported by a relieving arch, which continued the line of the interior cross arches. The towers had massive buttresses. Their strong vertical lines carried on into corner turrets set before pyramidal spires. [Cleary, p.2]

John Pearson died in November 1887, two weeks before Webber presented fresh plans to the Cathedral Chapter. In 1898, Frank Loughborough Pearson (John’s son and partner) was entrusted to carry out his father's design [Cleary, p.2] In 1899, the cathedral chapter approved Pearson’s revised plans only to be forced to reconsider the entire cathedral when the government bought the original intended site. The Ann Street site was purchased in late 1899 because it was “…central commodious and had the natural advantage of being able to make the building erected on it a landmark for miles around.” [Cleary, p.2] Frank Loughborough Pearson spent a year reworking his father’s design and on the 22nd of May 1901, HRH the Duke of Cornwall and York (later King George V) laid the foundation stone of the cathedral. [Sayer et al, p.12] In 1903, Bishop William Webber died and in 1904 Frank Pearson submitted his final plans to Cathedral Chapter. [ [Cleary, p.2]

money was raised in the hope of completing the Cathedral as a war memorial. In 1947, Field-Marshal Viscount Montgomery laid a foundation stone for a further two bays of the nave, [Cleary, p.5] but construction ceased after the laying of the foundations until 1965 when the second stage was commenced. [Sayer et al, p.13] Work on the second stage proceeded for a further four years and comprised the laying of foundations for the extensions, a two bay extension to the nave and demolition and removal of the temporary west wall. [Cleary, p.1]

The third stage of construction commenced in 1989 and has continued to the present. This stage comprises the construction of the south west porch, the final bay of the nave and completion of the west front. [Cleary, p.1] More contributions are necessary to complete the Central Tower, the North and South towers, the north and south aisles, the triforiums (idiosyncratic of this style of architecture, these are used as a passage from one end of the building to the other) and the vaulting. [Cleary, p.1]

Other buildings of the cathedral compound

Buildings associated with St John’s include Webber House, Church House, The Deanery (formerly Adelaide house) and St Martin’s House. These buildings provide the traditional experience of only getting the full view of the Cathedral when quite close (after having wound one’s way through narrow medieval city streets) thus adding to the impact and feeling of grandeur. [Hogan, p.39]

Webber House and Church House were built in 1904 and 1909 respectively. These buildings were designed by Robin Dods (1868-1920) and were designed to conform to Pearson’s concept of St John's Cathedral and its traditional cathedral setting. (The heart design found in many of Dods’ buildings can be seen on the iron gates. [Sayer et al, p.13] ) Both are gothic in overall form and design, having details mainly in the style of Art Nouveau. They have been placed to conceal a view of the cathedral from a northerly approach. [Hogan, p.38] The stone used in the Webber house came from the old St John’s Pro-Cathedral in William Street. Webber house was known as school house and housed St John's Primary school until 1941. [Sayer et al, p.13]

The oldest building in the precinct is the Deanery, formerly called Adelaide house, built in 1853. From the verandah of this house the first governor, Sir George Bowen, read the proclamation which made Queensland a separate colony on 10 December 1859. The house then became Queensland’s first government house. [Sayer et al, p.13]

The other more eclectic building with gothic touches found in the precinct is St Martin’s House, formerly St Martin’s Hospital. It was built as a war memorial after the First World War and is dedicated to St Martin of Tours, as 11 November (Remembrance Day) is his feast day. [Sayer et al, p.14] Designed by Lang Powell the design was strongly influenced by the Cathedral and adjacent buildings. This is evident through the choice of building materials, roof forms and architectural motifs. St Martin’s is sited to protect St John’s from noise and visual intrusion from the city and forms a quiet courtyard beside the Cathedral. St Martin's shows similarities to the “Red Brick House” designed by Philip Webb for William Morris. [Hogan, p.39]



*Cleary, Tania (2001) "Cathedral Church of St John the Evangelist". Cleary Kennedy Pty Ltd and The Cathedral Chapter; Brisbane Queensland.
*Hogan, Janet (1978) "Building Queensland’s Heritage". Richmond Hill Press; Richmond Victoria.
*Sayer, P; Jenner, M and Cory, P (1994) "Brisbane City Churches: Heritage Tour". Brisbane History Group Incorporated; Kelvin Grove Australia

External links

* [ Official website]

* [ St John's Cathedral, 1948 film ] - made for raising funds for the Cathedral; 4 minutes. Digitised and held by the State Library of Queensland. (Windows Media Player, RealPlayer).

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