Geraldton church a tourist attraction - Madonna Magazine

Geraldton church a tourist attraction

Rosie Hoban 07 May 2019

More than 60 years ago Robert Cross was baptised into the Church at Geraldton’s St Francis Xavier Cathedral. And maybe when he dies, he might end up in the cathedral’s columbarium – one of the new developments Fr Cross project managed as director of heritage of the Geraldton Diocese.

‘So many significant moments of my life have occurred at the cathedral, including most of the sacraments I have received. It’s my place and it’s where I want to remain,’ he said.

Fr Cross was asked to speak at the Symposium to showcase the stunning restoration of the Geraldton Cathedral. In many ways, Fr Cross and the Cathedral Precinct Project team ‘finished off’ some of the work begun in 1916 by world-renowned architect Monsignor John Hawes. Monsignor Hawes began building the Cathedral in 1916 and the restoration work began almost a century later.

Several planned features in the 1916-1938 build could not be done to specification because of the effects of World War I and the Depression. While the region in mid-west Western Australia suffers a decline in population, generous parishioners, philanthropists and state and federal government grants of around $5m made some of the finishing touches, and some new developments, possible, including the 1000-niche columbarium.

Works included general upgrades and painting, Spanish style terracotta tiles on the nave and sanctuary roofs and zinc on the dome, building of a new Monsignor Hawes Heritage Centre and café and landscaping of the site. In a nod to Monsignor’s Hawes great love of the Arts and Crafts Movement, Fr Cross and his team commissioned works by Australian artists including a stunning 30,000-piece mosaic baptismal pond by WA’s Dawn Meader and a carved marble lectern frontal by Mehdi Rasulle.

Fr Cross has a deep love of the Cathedral, which has garnered much local affection and has become a tourist attraction, rating a mention on Trip Advisor Australia and requiring around 15 tour guides to take people through the Cathedral each week. But he has great hopes for the Cathedral beyond the ‘hatch, match and dispatch’ events of a Catholic’s life. He wants to see the Cathedral become a vibrant part of the secular community as well; a place where significant social and community events are marked, mourned and celebrated.

‘At a time when attendances at Church are decreasing, it is imperative that we respond to the deep need in everyone for ritual. We need to immerse ourselves in the wider community,’ Fr Cross said.

The community has embraced the restored cathedral, a building Fr Cross believes is one of the most beautiful churches in Australia with its grand central dome and new organ featuring 1300 pipes and new stained glass windows.

‘I hope that we have shifted the cultural cringe a bit through this restoration. We hear all the time that in Australia, compared with Europe, “we have nothing of heritage value”. That’s not true. We have a great heritage to talk about. We should get out and shout our Christian message through the steeples and domes of our churches,’ Fr Cross said.

Images: Geraldton's St Francis Xavier Cathedral at night; the Cathedral's dramatic interior. By Fr Robert Cross

See also: Liturgical treasuresin the winter 2019 edition of Madonna magazine.