The most distinctive thing about St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral is its sign welcoming refugees, an unusual sight in an unwelcoming Australia. This does something to minimise my discomfort with church riches.
This discomfort doesn’t stop me enjoying beauty, any more than pollution and coal stopped me enjoying Puffing Billy. I enter the church through a spectacular stained glass doorway. Inside, a friendly volunteer explains the images: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and their animal symbols, and a sunburst representing the conversion of St Paul.
But that’s not the only stained glass.
A storyteller lurks beneath one window, and retells the story of the widow’s son brought back to life by Jesus. Her retelling sends shivers up my spine, not so much because of the miracle as because of the reminder of Sunday School days in my youth.
Another reminder of my youth, this time of primary school social studies lesson, is a bas-relief of Edith Cavell, a nursing heroine and martyr in World War 1, the reason why we dropped into the cathedral in the first place. She helped both German and Allied soldiers, motivated by strong Anglican beliefs. The Church of England commemorates her in their Calendar of Saints on 12 October, which goes part-way to explain her presence here.
There is poetry in the list of materials used in this Gothic Transitional (whatever that is) building: a lot of them from Victoria. Sandstone from Barrabool for the outside. Pyrmont sandstone for the spires. Inside, cream Waurn Ponds limestone banded with Malmsbury bluestone, both from Victoria. The floor materials are imported: marble, granite, alabaster, and patterned tiles. The ceiling is New Zealand kauri.
Then there are mosaics, light catching on the gold tiles.
Details are a bit more manageable than all this grandeur: the painted pattern on the organ pipes; the decorations on a stone arch; the carved timber; the rich design of the tiles; the golden eagle overlooking a vase of flowers; and a lovingly cross-stitched kneeling cushion.
There is an Aboriginal presence, a painting by Gloria Petyarre from the Anmatyerre community near Alice Springs and winner of the 1999 Wynne prize. It’s called “Bush medicine leaves” and shows fallen leaves from each season, offering different healing properties.