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St Andrews Cathedral Sydney

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St Andrew's Cathedral, Sydney is the cathedral church of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney in the Anglican Church of Australia. The cathedral is the seat of the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney and Metropolitan of New South Wales, the Most Reverend Peter Jensen. The Dean of Sydney since 2003 is his brother, the Very Reverend Phillip Jensen.

Located in central Sydney, the cathedral is one of the city's finest examples of Gothic Revival architecture. Designed by Edmund Blacket it was ready for services and consecrated in 1868, making it the oldest cathedral in Australia. Joan Kerr described St Andrew's as "....a perfect example of the colonial desire to reproduce England in Australia in the mid nineteenth century". [1]

Building and architecture

Macquarie and Greenway

The early Governor of New South Wales, Lachlan Macquarie, had grand plans for the city of Sydney. He foresaw that Sydney would grow into a large city requiring a large cathedral. With the architect Francis Greenway, who had been transported to Sydney for forgery, the governor planned a church 200 feet square and probably with the seating and galleries facing inward from three sides. But this was never brought to fruition. Only a few foundations were laid before the plan was abandoned. Macquarie was severely criticised for planning beyond the colony's means.

Broughton and Hume

Bishop William Grant Broughton, consecrated in 1836, had a new foundation stone laid in 1837. The plans, prepared by the architect James Hume, were of much more modest proportions and were for a traditional cruciform church in the Gothic style. The designs, dating from the early phase of Gothic Revival architecture, did not show a great expertise in the handling of the particular architectural vocabulary. Only one notable section was completed, the façade of the south transept. However, the foundations were laid and some of the walls were constructed up to a height of about 15 feet.

Edmund T. Blacket

In 1842 Edmund Thomas Blacket presented himself to the Bishop with a letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury recommending his talent as an architect and having equal facility in both the Classical and the Gothic style. He was eventually to become known as the Wren of Sydney, having designed two universities, three cathedrals and fifty or more parish churches as well as banks, offices, bridges, mansions and countless shops, cottages and terraced houses. Blacket became the official Colonial Architect 1849-1854.

Blacket was an inventive and stylish Gothic Revival architect who utilised the forms of English Medieval prototypes reproduced in the books of his architectural library to produce designs which, although archeologically "correct", are often highly original. This was just as well, because the task that he inherited from James Hume was not an easy one. It took some convincing to get the bishop to accept his deviations from the original design. The problem was how to make a truly splendid and imposing cathedral on foundations which were only the size of a large English parish church. Taking into account what Hume had done and the fact that some of Hume's rather amateurish window tracery was already in place, Blacket designed the cathedral in the style known as Perpendicular Gothic, used extensively at the cathedrals of Canterbury, Winchester and York.

Perpendicular style

With the repetition of forms and the strongly vertical lines characteristic of Perpendicular Gothic, Blacket succeeded in creating a building which, despite its small size, is nevertheless imposing and of harmonious proportions. The western front with its layered decoration is a majestic composition, based loosely of that of York Minster. The strongly projecting rectangular buttresses, which transform by stages into lofty octagonally-sectioned pinnacles, and the complex molding around the portals casts varied shadows in the bright Australian sunlight. Kinsela describes it as “a grand façade with superb towers…Covered with a profusion of ornanament, blind traceries and tiny attached pinnacles, in a light-hearted yet elegant manner.”[2]

Bishop Broughton did not live to consecrate St Andrew's. He died while on a trip to England in 1853 and is buried at Canterbury Cathedral. The second Bishop of Sydney, Frederick Barker, consecrated the completed building on St Andrew's Day, 30 November 1868.


The interior is a harmonious composition in Perpendicular Gothic. Although the building is small, it is given a sense of grandeur by the proportions of the arcade and clerestory, the richness of the moldings, the loftiness of the hammerbeam roof with its blue and vermillion decoration, and the decorative details, which include carved stone ribbons around the nave piers, bearing the names of notables in the early Sydney church. The stone used throughout is Sydney sandstone. The chancel has a newly-restored floor in ornate pattern set with marble and intaglio tiles in the Cosmati style by Fields of London, created under the direction of Gilbert Scott. The rest of the building is paved with encaustic tiles of red and black with small intaglio designs by Mintons of Stoke-on-Trent.

The reredos was commissioned by the third Bishop of Sydney, Bishop Barry, and carved of translucent cream English alabaster by the sculptor Earp, under the supervision of the well-known Gothic Revival architect, J. L. Pearson, in 1886. The subject matter of the three pictorial panels, as originally created, were: at the centre - the Crucifixion, to the left – the Resurrection, to the right – the Ascension. To either side were the figures of Moses and Elijah. In 1887 there was objection at synod to the representational nature of the reredos and in particular to the central Crucifixion on the grounds that it might be seen as idolatorous. The Crucifixion was replaced, at the expense of the objectors, by the present scene of the Transfiguration.

The original furniture of the chancel, of which much remains, is of different dates, but for the most part in the Gothic style. The choir stalls, of dark English oak, are particularly fine, having large poppy heads, each richly carved with a different foliate design.


The lower stained glass windows are one of the earliest complete cycles of glass by Hardman of Birmingham and demonstrate the skilful employment of primary colour, elegant design and narrational intelligence that is typical of the work of John Hardman Powell. They represent the life and the parables of Jesus.

The seven-light and four-tiered east window is a complex composition showing scenes in the life of Christ at which the Apostle Andrew was present, such as the Feeding of the Five Thousand. The west window has tiers of Apostles. There was a dispute with the firm over the inclusion of Mary Magdalene among the male disciples which was resolved by painting a beard on Mary.

Orientation and reorientation

St Andrew's Cathedral is built to the cruciform shape traditional of Christian Churches and symbolic of the faith. The body of the cathedral or nave, with lower aisles on either side, is crossed by the transept, forming a chancel for the seating of clergy and choir at the eastern end. The sides of the choir are traditionally known as Cantoris, the side of the Precentor, or cantor, and Decani, the side of the Dean, the senior clerical appointee within the Cathedral. See Cathedral architecture and Cathedral diagram.

It is customary for cathedrals to be orientated on an East-West axis with the main door to the West and the Sanctuary to the East. St Andrew's conformed to that tradition. But Sydney's main thoroughfare, George Street, ran by the Eastern rather than the Western end. This made the main entrance less accessible and also meant that when an electric tram system was installed in the street, the noise frequently drowned out the service of Holy Communion.

In 1941 the interior was therefore reoriented. A new raised chancel floor was built in the West end, the West door was permanently closed and the Reredos was placed immediately in front of it. All the internal fittings of the Chancel were relocated, the positioning of the reredos right against the wall creating some extra space. There was a claim that the acoustics were improved but this is spurious. While, on one hand, the trams would not have seemed so loud, being more remote, the effect on the internal acoustic was disastrous. A very large number of choristers were employed to make themselves heard.

Between 1999 and 2000 major conservation and restoration work was undertaken to restore the original internal layout, whereby the sanctuary was relocated at the Cathedral's Eastern end. This was achieved under the Very Reverend Boak Jobbins.


In line with the trend in the Anglican Church in Sydney for services of a more contemporary nature, and to avoid its potential confusion with an altar, it was decided that the communion table should be placed in a more forward position in the sanctuary and that it should be easily portable in order that it might be removed when not required for Holy Communion, to clear a space for presentations and musical performances. An new table, of a simple, square, modern design was installed. It was suggested by some traditional Anglicans that the older table, with its ornate carving, should be retained in its usual place in front of the reredos. It is not unusual for cathedrals in England, because of their vast size, to have tables in two positions. But as this was not the case in Sydney it was decided to abandon the old table rather than maintaining it at the risk of it being associated with the "High Altar" of the Roman Catholic Church (The Table in an Anglican Church in Sydney must be of wood and be able to be moved). In addition, a major consideration in not retaining the old table was that it was riddled with termite damage, a perpetual problem in the centre of Sydney.

The reredos is in five sections, parallel with the five inner lights of the large seven-light east window above it. The removal of the communion table that was formally part of this visual and liturgical unit has left a visually empty space. Its place is now occupied by one of the treasures of the cathedral, the Great Bible of 1539 (printed at the date when Henry VIII ordered that every church should have a bible in the English language.) This is in keeping with the Sydney diocese's emphasis on the Bible as providing all that is needed for salvation.

The emphasis of Sydney Anglican theology on an understanding of scripture as against experiential spirituality is confirmed by the apparent precedence of the Book over the Sacrament. The antiquity of the particular bible displayed is such that it needs to be enclosed in a glass case.



In 1866 an organ by the famous English organ builders William Hill & Sons was installed with a case to Edmund Blacket's design and richly decorated organ pipes. It was placed in the South transept. It was joined in 1932 by an instrument by John Whitely which was placed opposite in the North transept. In the 1950s the instruments were amalgamated to be played from a single console, thus constituting the largest church organ in Australia. There has been a further rationalisation of the organs in the recent restoration and the Whitely has gone from the North transept gallery, thus revealing one of the cathedral's finest Hardman windows.

The cathedral's first organist was Montague Younger.

There are regular Friday afternoon recitals involving Australian and International organists commencing at 1.10 pm (usually for 30 or 40 minutes). These recitals have now been going for more than 40 years.


In 1885 St Andrew's Cathedral School was founded by the third Bishop of Sydney, Bishop Barry, for the purpose of providing choristers to sing the daily services at the cathedral. For many years the enrolment stood at 46 boys and the headmaster was also the Master of Choristers and precentor of the cathedral. The school began to expand in 1941 and for many years in the latter part of the 20th century the enrolment stood at 700 and catered for boys from Years 3 to 12. In 1999 girls were admitted to senior years and in 2008 St Andrew's Cathedral School became fully co-educational from Kindergarten.

In 2004 the present dean altered the form of service in the cathedral in keeping with his inclination to rationalise the worship on Evangelical Protestant principles. This has decreased the formal participation of the Cathedral Choir and has been met by some controversy.[3]

Since 2005, the Director of Music is Ross Cobb, previously Director of Music at Christ Church, Clifton in Bristol, England. He is an Associate of Kings College London and holds a Bachelor of Music from the Royal Academy of Music and Kings College, London. Mr Cobb was appointed to the role in 2005.[1]

Since the 1970s the choir has regularly toured abroad. The most recent tour was to Europe in July 2008 and was made to mark the 140th anniversary[2] of the choir. The choir sang in Wells & Bristol Cathedrals (the latter with the world-renowned Black Dyke Colliery Band), Bath Abbey and St Paul's Cathedral London in the presence of the Australian High Commissioner. The choir also sang for the first time in the Basilica of San Marco in Venice, as well as the Anglican churches of Venice and Florence.

The choir sings at the 10.30am Sunday Church[3] service and two weekday services (Wednesday at 7:30am and Thursday at 5:30pm). There is a Cathedral Girls' choir, drawn from the Cathedral school who sing an early morning mattins service on Tuesdays. There is also an independent group of adults called The Cathedral Singers. [4]


St Andrew's has a peal of 10 bells cast by John Taylor and Co. of Loughborough in England and installed in 1965 to the memory of Ernest Samuel Trigg. The tenor weighs 29 1/4 cwt and the lightest 6 1/2 cwt. The bells have since been augmented with three more. They are rung each Sunday at 9.45am.



  • Length (internal) - 48 metres (160 ft)
  • Width - 17.6 metres (58 ft)
  • Width at transept - 33.3 metres 110 ft)
  • Height - 29.7 metres (68 ft)
  • Height of western towers - 39.3 metres (130 ft


  • Building - Sydney sandstone
  • Roof - Welsh slate
  • Roof timber -
  • Lower windows, east and west windows, transept windows, - Hardman of Birmingham, 1861-8
  • Nave clerestory windows - designer, Norman Carter, 1953-4
  • Chancel and transept clerestory windows - various, including Lyon and Cottier, Falconer and Ashwin and English firms.
  • Floor - Minton intaglio tiles
  • Chancel floor - Cosmateque tiles by Fields of London
  • Pulpit and Choir stalls - English Oak
  • Reredos - English Alabaster
  • Pulpit- Otago sandstone and Gabo Island granite

Town Hall Group

The cathedral is part of the Town Hall group, an important group of heritage-listed buildings in that part of Sydney. Apart from the cathedral, the group includes Sydney Town Hall (designed by Wilson and Bond, built 1886-1889), the Queen Victoria Building (designed by George McRae, built 1893-98), the former Gresham Hotel (149 York Street) (designed by J. Kirkpatrick, built circa 1890) and the former Bank of New South Wales (facade only), 485 George Street (designed by Varney Parkes, built 1894). All buildings are listed on the Register of the National Estate.[4]


  1. Joan Kerr, Edmund Thomas Blacket
  2. Joseph Kinsela, St Andrew's Cathedral
  3. "Peter Phillips is conductor of one of the world's most famous choirs, The Tallis Scholars, as well as being a regular columnist for The Spectator. In his most recent column he has launched a blistering attack on the Sydney Anglicans, claiming the Jensen brothers are vandalising Anglican music and culture in Sydney..." The Religion Report ABC Radio National, January 30 2008, accessed October 9 2008
  4. The Heritage of Australia, Macmillan Company, 1981, p.2/100
  • The Venerable S.M.Johnstone, The Book of St Andrew's Cathedral Sydney, revised 1968, Angus and Robertson
  • Joseph Kinsela, St Andrew's Cathedral, a pictorial History and Guide, 1986, Argyle Press, ISBN 0-909625-95-6
  • Joan Kerr, Our Great Victorian Architect, Edmund Thomas Blacket, 1983, National Trust of Australia, ISBN 0-909723-17-6
  • First organist of St Andrew's Cathedral, Sydney, Montague Younger

External links

Return to Churches in New South Wales Index

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