27 March 2024

Old Cathedral a religious gem, equal to any in the world

| John Thistleton
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International Conservation Services restored the Old Cathedral’s 14 stations of the cross, removing a layer of ivory paint to reveal the original colour. Originating from France in 1890, the stations are the most popular of all the church’s attractions, says senior guide Trish Groves. Photo: John Thistleton.

Archeological students, pilgrims, architecture aficionados and the plain curious are studying, enjoying and donating money to Saints Peter and Paul’s Old Cathedral in Goulburn.

Parish volunteers are keen to sustain the high-level of interest to keep the imposing old building in its pristine condition, following a multi-million dollar restoration.

Senior tour guide Trish Groves says volunteers like herself are learning more about the Old Cathedral from visitors coming to Goulburn out of historical and architectural interest, and their Catholic faith.

Visitors like the Southern Highlands Embroiders Guild, including an author of a book about fine lacework, seeing the priests’ vestments, noted a priceless piece of antique Irish lace.

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“She will be invited to return and appraise the remaining vestments and give advice on what can be done to preserve and store them,” Trish said.

Associate Professor at the Australian National University’s School of Archaeology and Anthropology Duncan Wright, researchers and students studying 19th century artefacts came to inspect brass items, stained glass windows, stations of the cross, and the internationally significant William Hill organ.

They wanted to know about the 1962 school strike which led to state aid for independent schools, and look through the grounds.

Trish cannot say why a group of Japanese turned up one day, due to the language barrier, but suspects they were referred by a tourism organisation.

“We have now associated ourselves with the [Goulburn] Visitors Information Centre and they take bookings for us. They have city tours and within those tours we are allocated half an hour in their bus time around the city,” she said.

Over decades of volunteering for the parish Trish was unaware of her father’s work on the Old Cathedral a generation ago. He was painter and decorator George Wyles who did the gold leaf around the sanctuary. That came to light when engineer Claude Bagnara was working on the foundations and saw a signature with G W on it. Restoration project manager Brian Watchirs had told him they were George Wyles’ initials.

More recently 150 tradesmen and women from around the world worked on the greenstone church’s restoration that finished in 2022. One young tradie from Campbelltown was so proud of being involved, when his first child arrived he and his wife and their family returned to the Old Cathedral for their new arrival’s baptism.

A group from a Sydney parish organised to call in late last year at the start of the cherry-picking season. On their return from Young where the cherry harvest was underway, they stopped off in Goulburn and spent $500 buying craft items in readiness for Christmas, thinking the items were from a piety (religious) shop.

“It wasn’t a piety shop, it was a fundraiser for East Timor,” Trish said. “But how good that we could do something as a church for a country less fortunate than us?”

A parishioner, Jan McKinnon, had been making the craft items all year, and what she had not sold at another stall was taken up to the Old Cathedral, in time for the tourists returning from Young.

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“We set it up and these people just spent,” Trish said. “Then they left a box of cherries and a few other things. People are most gracious and it is never where you would expect them to take an interest in the cathedral.”

The parish is hosting public tours every second Saturday of the month at 11 am.

Trish said that during the restoration work a woman came with her mother from Eastern Europe, attended mass and returned to Sydney.

“Her daughter rang later and said her mother was quite taken by the church and wanted to make a $6000 donation,” she said.

A group of Italians who made a substantial donation will be coming later in the year. Donations are gratefully received and will go towards maintaining the magnificent old cathedral. The interest shows the parish’s 50-year maintenance program with milestones every five years is on track.

If you wish to become a parish volunteer, call 0403 631 797.

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