Back to our travels and our day in Geraldton…..
After we collected the ute, we headed off to take part in a guided tour of the Catholic Cathedral.
We are lucky to have gone for the tour now, as in 2017-2018 the Cathedral underwent a complete restoration, inside and out, as well as the development of a lovely piazza, cafe and museum dedicated to Monsignor John Hawes.
The Cathedral of St Francis Xavier is another of Monsignor Hawes’ building. Just to recap, John Hawes was born in the UK and trained as an architect. He then became an Anglican minister before converting to Catholicism in the Franciscan order. He is depicted in bronze with his little fox terrier Dominic.
This was actually his first building in the area, as he had been brought to the diocese by Bishop Kelly. The building commenced in 1916, with the Cathedral being opened in 1918, despite not being completed to the original design at that time.
Our guide was Linda, assisted by Peter, who is in training as a guide. They are both long term members of the congregation of the Cathedral.
In front of the entrance there is a labyrinth, which people regularly follow for meditation. This was part of the new works in the last few years.
Father Hawes, as he was at the time, was very hands on with the building, as well as the design, having made the decorative mouldings on the pillars at the front door, as well as others throughout the Cathdral, himself.
It is quite a surprise when you walk inside. For a cathedral it is quite small and intimate, which was the wish of Bishop Kelly.
The stripes are not what you expect. They reminded me of the marble stripes in European cathedrals. This was apparently intentional. During his training as an architect, John Hawes travelled extensively in Europe and the inspiration for this building is from the Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba in Spain. It has very similar striping, columns and arches. It was built as an Islamic Mosque and was converted to a Catholic Cathedral in 1236 following the city’s capture by Christian forces.
During the 1970s there was an attempt to “modernise” the building, with many of the painted features painted over in white. After extensive research and paint scrapings, it has been returned to the original colours.
Bishop Kelly is buried in the building. No one was quite sure where, as the crypt had not been built. His coffin was located during the restoration, under the floor and his remains have been transferred to a new casket, which is visible below the floor. The likeness of him is nearby.
The bishop that succeeded Bishop Kelly did not like the style of the building at all, so no further work was carried out during his time. The next bishop, Bishop O’Brien wasn more enthusiastic, so the next stage was completed.
The design included a crypt, which is accessed down stone spiral stairs. You feel that you are descending underground, but you are actually still above ground, with the design taking advantage of the natural slope of the ground the Cathedral was built on. The floor has been replaced in the restoration. The boards next to this altar list all those men from the district that served during World War 1. Congregation members made a donation to the church to have the names added and they were prayed for during services.
The receptacles set into the wall originally held religious relics, provided by the Vatican. Sadly, some years ago they were stolen.
Our guide turned off the lights and a cross was illuminated by thin windows in the walls. The lines of light are on the points of the compass and where they intersect is directly below the dome of the building. Father Hawes, obviously had quite some architectural talent.
Back upstairs, we looked up at the dome. No Michelangelo was available to paint it. The original plans had the exterior clad in either copper or zinc, but due to the lack of suitable tradesmen and budgetary constraints, it was clad in asbestos. As part of the restoration, the exterior is now clad in zinc.
The Latin text around the base of the dome had been replaced with the English translation in the 1970s, but has now been returned to the original.
Another little detail is the nativity scene. It is only revealed during the Christmas season and on the tours.
Father Hawes created the little grotto and some subtle directional natural lighting, including the star. The figurines are also from that time.
The lead light windows were donated by various families. They are unique in Australia, as they are opening sash windows. Rather useful in such a hot climate. Behind them, the columns are each named after pastoral stations in the area, a clever way to gain funding for the building of the Cathedral.
I forgot to take a photo of the organ, which is fairly modern, but there are two sets of organ pipes. They do not have an organist at the moment, but the organ has been set up to play by Bluetooth. There is also now a full carillon of bells, each donated by a family. For a fee, you can have the bells played for special occasions. They are also played by Bluetooth.
The baptismal font had been removed from its original position, but has now been returned. The ceiling of stars was an original feature. The original flooring had been covered, but has now been revealed. This font is no longer used.
There is now a newer font, as well as an immersion font for those baptised at an older age.
This painting beside the original font, completed by Father Hawes, had been painted over. However, at that time they had one of the parishioners trace it and make a copy. That copy was an invaluable assistance in uncovering and restoring the original painting.
We thoroughly enjoyed our tour. Who’d have thought that a small regional town could have such a beautiful building.
Imagine what a wonderful sight it would have been for the congregation when they enter the space for the first time after it being closed for two years, while undergoing the restoration.