Over the coming days 15 and 18 August we, as a Diocese, celebrate two important anniversaries of St Carthage’s Cathedral in Lismore – its Consecration (1919) and Dedication (1907) respectively. Why is this important? The word Cathedral comes from a Latin word “cathedra” meaning “seat” or “chair”. It is the seat/chair of the bishop who is leader of a group of churches (parishes) in a Diocese. The bishop’s seat is both a metaphor for the cathedral as the bishop’s “seat of power” and his actual chair, in the inside the cathedral. Originally a cathedral was called a “cathedral church,” with cathedral as an adjective, but it is now a noun.
St Carthage’s Cathedral is named after the Cathedral in Lismore, County Waterford, Dublin, Ireland and is Lismore’s most notable building. It was designed in the Gothic Revival style of the nineteenth century, a church style which remained popular well into the twentieth century. The architect was Herbert Wardell, son of William Wilkinson Wardell (1823-1899) and he was commissioned as the architect of many secular and ecclesiastical buildings including St Mary’s Cathedral, Hobart, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne, and the rebuilt St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney.
In March 1892 Bishop Doyle commissioned architects, Wardell and Denning. The foundation stone was laid in October 1892 by Cardinal Moran, Archbishop of Sydney. Despite a financial crisis in 1904 and a fire in 1905, the first brick was laid on 31 May 1905 by Bishop Doyle. The dedication of St Carthage’s Cathedral by Cardinal Moran happened on 18 August 1907. On 10 June 1911, the Tower was completed and the Bells consecrated, with the official blessing and opening the following day. The total cost was forty thousand pounds.
On 20 June 1937, the mosaic shrine in honour of St Patrick was dedicated by Bishop Carroll. In 1977 modifications began under Bishop John Satterthwaite to better accommodate renewed liturgical reforms following the Second Vatican Council.
In 2007 the Cathedral was seriously damaged by hail. In the subsequent restoration, it was hoped to also construct the spire initially designed by Wardell. However, the completion of the stone steeple was ruled out due to cost.
In late 2003 Bishop Geoffrey Jarrett commissioned Australian architectural historian Brian Andrews to survey the Cathedral interior and develop a renovation plan, respecting the integrity of the Wardell building, in continuity with the vision and achievement of Bishop Doyle, and to provide more permanently for the celebration of the renewed liturgy. The Andrews report formed the basis for the work completed in December 2015.
Along with St Francis Xavier’s Cathedral, Adelaide and Sacred Heart Cathedral, Bendigo, by virtue of the quality of its design, composition and intactness, St Carthage’s Cathedral is held to be one of the six finest Catholic Cathedrals in Australia.
It is interesting to note that the Lismore Diocese, was originally known as the Diocese of Grafton established in 1887 after being ‘cut off’ from the Armidale Diocese. The Cathedral Church was in Grafton. After a brief stay in Grafton, the new bishop, Jeremiah Doyle, was convinced that the centre of his See (Diocese) would best be in Lismore because of its position and larger Catholic population. While the foundation stone of the new Cathedral in Lismore was laid in 1892, the financial recession of the time delayed its construction for 12 years. It was finally dedicated in 1907.