St Mary's Cathedral. Church in Sydney, New South Wales

St Mary's Cathedral

Church in Sydney, New South Wales

St Mary's Cathedral from Hyde Park Photo © Jason James

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St Mary's Cathedral

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One of Sydney’s most treasured historic buildings, St Mary’s Cathedral represents the spiritual origins of the Catholic Church in Australia.

St Mary’s Cathedral (formally known as “The Cathedral Church and Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Mother of God, Help of Christians”) is the cathedral church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney, and is the seat of the Archbishop of Sydney. It is dedicated to "Mary Help of Christians”, Patroness of Australia.

Hyde Park - St Mary's
Hyde Park - St Mary's Cathedral. Photo by Kyle Horner


Sydney was first colonized in 1788 as a penal settlement, with prisoners transported from Britain. In addition to prisoners, many military personnel and free settlers also arrived at this time. After a lack of religious staff in the new colony, it wasn’t until 1820 that two priests, Father Conolly and Father John Therry, arrived to officially minister to Roman Catholics in Australia. Therry claimed that on the day of his arrival, he had a vision of a mighty church of golden stone dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, raising its twin spires above Sydney. This vision came to pass, after 180 years and three intermediate buildings.

Governor Macquarie laid the foundation stone for the first St Mary’s on 29 October 1821. A simple Gothic style structure was built, before it was destroyed by fire in 1865. A temporary wooden church was constructed, but in 1869 this structure also succumbed to fire.

Archbishop Polding laid the foundation stone for the present cathedral in 1868. It was intended to be an enormous, ambitious structure with a wide nave and aisle, and three towers. The cathedral’s initial builder was John Young. The foundation stone for the nave was laid in 1913, and work continued under the architects Hennessy, Hennessy and Co. The decoration and enrichment of the cathedral continued, and it wasn’t until the year 2000 that the spires on the cathedral were finally completed.

In 2008, St Mary’s Cathedral was the focus of World Youth Day 2008, a celebration that included the visit of Pope Benedict XVI (Wikipedia Article).


St Mary’s Cathedral is particularly unusual for its orientation: it runs north-south rather than the usual east-west. This orientation means that in the early morning and late afternoon the cathedral is filled with rich, warm light. It follows a conventional English cathedral plan, with a cruciform shape; a tower over the crossing of the nave and transepts, and the twin towers at the West Front (in this case, the south). There are three processional doors in the south, with additional entrances in the transept facades, leading from Hyde Park.

The architecture is typical of the Gothic Revival of the 19th century, inspired by the journals of the Cambridge Camden Society, the writings of John Ruskin (Wikipedia Article) (the leading art critic of the Victorian era) and the architecture of Augustus Welby Pugin. The style of the cathedral is Geometric Decorated Gothic, inspired by the ecclesiastical architecture of late 13th century England. It is based on the style of the Lincoln Cathedral (Wikipedia Article) in England, with the tracery of the huge chancel window being almost a replica of that at Lincoln. The cathedral features Gothic windows with pointed arches and simple tracery.

The side of the cathedral facing Hyde Park has richly decorated doors, with details carved by local craftsmen in the Gothic style. The carvings include Australian native plants such as the waratah, which is the floral emblem of the state of New South Wales. The entrance façade is based on Notre Dame de Paris, with three huge portals and a central rose window. The building is constructed of golden-colored sandstone, which has weathered on the outside to a golden-brown. The roof is made of red cedar.

The cathedral’s beautiful stained glass is arguably its most famous feature. Hardman & Co. constructed the windows over a period of 50 years. Around 40 pictorial windows represent several themes, culminating in the chancel window, which shows the Downfall of Humanity and Mary, crowned and enthroned beside her Son as He sits in Judgment, pleading Jesus’ mercy upon Christians. Around the walls of the aisles are the Stations of the Cross, painted in oils by L. Chovet of Paris, and selected for St Mary’s by Cardinal Moran in 1885.

	Port Campbell National Park
Port Campbell National Park. Photo by Best HD Wallpapers


The cathedral is open 8:30am to 5pm Monday to Friday. Masses are held Monday to Friday at 6:45am, 1:10pm and 5:30pm; Saturdays 9am and 12pm (and vigil at 6pm); and Sundays 7am, 9am, 10:30am and 6pm; and 12 noon on public holidays.

Getting there

St Mary’s is located on College Street opposite Hyde Park, in the heart of the city of Sydney. The imposing structure of the church and its twin spires can be spotted even among the high-rise buildings of the Sydney central business district.

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Author: Amanda. Last updated: Jan 08, 2016

Pictures of St Mary's Cathedral

St Mary's Cathedral - St Mary's Cathedral
St Mary's Cathedral - Photo by Mal Booth

St Mary's Cathedral - St Mary's Cathedral
St Mary's Cathedral - Photo by Jason James

St Mary's Cathedral - St Mary's Cathedral
St Mary's Cathedral - Photo by Norman Z


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