29 October 2021

Bell tower rings in start of new life for Goulburn's old cathedral

| Sally Hopman
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Scaffolding around cathedral

After years of being shrouded in scaffolding, the bell tower of Goulburn’s historic Catholic Cathedral was uncovered this week after the first phase of restoration was completed. Photo: Ursula Stephens.

Joy rang out in Goulburn this week as the bell tower of the city’s beloved cathedral returned to its familiar place in the skyline.

After almost 10 years of being covered by scaffolding, the sight of St Peter and St Paul’s bell tower provided a spiritual lift for locals, many of whom have been following the progress of the cathedral’s restoration from the start more than 30 years ago.

Designed in 1871 by Italian-born stonemason and architect Andrea Stombuco, it is the only greenstone cathedral of its kind in the world – the second cathedral to be built in NSW and the mother church of the Diocese of Goulburn for a century.

It was also falling apart. Rising and falling damp, structural decay, broken roof tiles and deteriorating parquetry floors were destroying the historic cathedral. Although piecemeal restoration work had been carried out over the years, this did little more than stop further deterioration.

With the support of the Goulburn community, the Repair, Restore and Renew project began, designed to raise $10 million to not only restore the cathedral, but ensure its survival.

Restoration work has been organised into four stages – the first was completed this week with the protection of the bell tower and repair of exterior walls. The next phase continues with restoration of the exterior walls including replacement of roof tiles and improved drainage and plumbing. Completion of this work will allow for the all-important internal restoration to begin. This is scheduled to include repairing the walls, stained glass windows, wiring, flooring, parquetry, improving heating and installing a sound system.

The final phase of the project will be improvements to the precinct around the cathedral. Highlights include transforming the adjacent St Brigid’s school building into a heritage centre, restoring the former Bishop’s House and the creation of a contemplative garden and a statue to honour Mary MacKillop – Australia’s first Saint.

READ ALSO How a traditional restorer is saving Goulburn’s historic St Clair

For Dr Ursula Stephens, chair of the Archdiocesan Committee overseeing the St Peter and St Paul’s Old Cathedral Restoration Project, seeing the bell tower rise out of the scaffolding is cause for great celebration.

“It’s an important signal for all of us,” she said

“It is also something people can actually see. Much of the work that has already been done in what is a 40-year process, has been done behind the scenes – important work that has been done to underpin the cathedral, like all the digging underneath that had to be done like drainage works.

“It’s such an exciting time now with all this preparation work done, we can start on the inside.”

Scaffolding around building

Scaffolding has hidden most of the cathedral while vital restoration work has been carried out to save the Goulburn landmark. Photo: Ursula Stephens.

Dr Stephens said restoring such an important heritage building was not without its problems, adding that the committee had been working closely with the National Trust and other heritage groups to ensure all restoration work remained faithful to the original structure.

“What we are seeing here is something really important,” she said.

“We’re seeing the revitalisation of the church itself.

“The cathedral was very tired. The parish really wanted this project to go ahead – and the parishioners have been very patient. These things take a lot of time.”

Dr Stephens said as chair of the restoration committee for two years, but a parishioner for 40 years, she was very proud to have reached this stage of the project.

“It is wonderful to see all the prep work that has gone into play to reach this point,” she said.

The Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn has pledged $5 million for the restoration project with hopes the same amount will be raised by the community.

Dr Stephens said the project’s completion was scheduled for November 2022 which would mark the cathedral’s 150th anniversary.

Once all the restoration work is completed, it is hoped that the cathedral will receive Papal blessing as a Minor Basilica – only the sixth of its kind in Australia – because of its architectural, historic and religious significance.

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Sr Lorraine Cupitt8:58 pm 29 Oct 21

I was delighted to read this article. Having been raised in Goulburn I have a keen interest in the restoration of this beautiful Cathedral. I look forward to visiting Goulburn and hearing those beautiful bells toll … very soon.

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