A Religious Experience at St. Mary’s CathedralPosted: March 19, 2011
It has been raining all day. When I woke up this morning, I could hear the splashy sounds of cars driving down the wet road. This evening, as I write this, a cool rain-soaked breeze is drifting in through the window and occasionally manifesting itself on my left arm.
As a result of this and some other things, I spent most of the day at my college. In the evening, though, I went to Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney. It was still raining occasionally when I got off my bus at the Queen Victoria Building and walked through Hyde Park to the cathedral. Along the way, I marvelled at how well Sydney’s beauty holds up even in the rain. It rains rather frequently here–though not as much as London, and rarely for hours on end. Most cities just look drab and depressing in the rain, but not Sydney. I can’t explain it, but the rain seems to somehow invigorate the city, making the sidewalks shine and the lights sparkle.
Anyway, you’re not here to read about the rain. You’re here to read about the cathedral.
St. Mary’s Cathedral has somewhat of an interesting history. The original Catholic church on the site was built in 1821 to serve the city’s large population of Irish convicts. In 1865, the original church was destroyed by fire. So they started building a new one in 1868, but it wasn’t really finished until 2000, when its two spires were hurriedly completed in time for the Olympics. Pope John Paul II visited the Cathedral twice, and Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Mass at the Cathedral to celebrate World Youth Day in 2008.
The cathedral is designed in Gothic Revival style (I didn’t just know that, I looked it up), and the outside is pretty darn impressive.
It was the interior, though, that really grabbed me. Every surface is dark wood and intricate designs. It’s not a mind-boggling, neck-cramping collection of mosaics like the New Cathedral in St. Louis, and it’s not bright and flooded with light like the Old Cathedral. It reminded me of an old European church. The original (as in pre-Vatican II) altar is still intact and like most of them from that era, it’s gorgeous. The pews are dark and wooden and have a large amount of space between them. (My theory is that it’s because ladies wore larger dresses in the 1800s.) Beautiful painted depictions of the Stations of the Cross hang along the walls. The best view of the worship space is from behind the last pew, near the doors. The church is long and narrow, so the aisle seems to go on forever, ending in a grand and dramatic fashion at an intricately designed altar with a massive stained glass window behind it. Remember in “The Sound of Music,” when the Captain and Maria are married and there’s a shot of Maria walking down that long, dramatic aisle? Yeah, this cathedral reminded me of that.
I wanted to photograph every part of the church’s interior, but there was a “no pictures” sign and a security guard, and thought getting kicked out of a Catholic church wouldn’t get me any points with God. So I put my camera away and found some pictures from people braver, or sneakier, than I.
Here’s the altar. I have no idea who those people are.
Mass was just as beautiful as I expected for such a awe-inspiring church. I have just one complaint: the tourist wandering around the side pews for several minutes during the service. Really, sir? Reeeaaally? I know it’s architecturally significant and all, but it’s also a place of worship, and there are plenty of non-Mass times the church is open for admiration. Just…don’t be that guy.
Anyway, the organ music was loud and dramatic, as organ music is prone to be. Besides that, it was your basic everyday Mass. That’s one nice, comforting thing about being Catholic: Sunday Mass is basically the same everywhere you go. America, Australia, doesn’t matter. The magnificence of the space, though, elevated this one from an ordinary service to an incredible religious experience. The church was less than half full for this Saturday vigil, but I bet Easter will be an entirely different story.
I’d love to go to Mass there on Easter, but, God willing, I’ll be away exploring the rest of Australia. Maybe I’ll go to Stations of the Cross sometime, or try the Solemn Sung Mass on Sunday morning. Either way, I’ll definitely be back–hopefully when it’s sunny, so I can see what the windows look like with light pouring through them. A cathedral like this is too magnificent to only experience once.
This post is very lovingly dedicated to my grandma, who passed away March 17th. She was a remarkable woman and the kind of Catholic the rest of us only try to be. This is the first time in five weeks that I’ve honestly wished I could be back home. I extend all my love and sympathy to my–and her–family during this difficult time.