These days St Patrick’s Cathedral – known as the “Cathedral of Light” – is regarded as one of the most important and imposing landmarks in Toowoomba.
It is renowned as a fine example of the Victorian Gothic architectural style, the distinguishing elements of which include steeply pitched roofs, buttresses, pinnacles, tracery and pointed arches. Additionally the Cathedral showcases the most expansive set of traditional leadlight windows ever commissioned in Australia.
Constructed of handcrafted Murphy’s Creek bluestone (basalt) and Helidon sandstone, the Cathedral also has the distinction of being Queensland’s largest bluestone building. These and other distinctive features, such as its Presbytery, led to St Patrick’s being added to the National Trust of Queensland’s register of architecturally and historically worthy buildings for preservation in August of 1983.
Along the way, the Cathedral has become one of the state’s most sought after wedding venues, yet all this has come from quite humble beginnings.
Erected in 1863, the first church under the name of St Patrick’s was a small, modest, wooden structure. With an ever-growing congregation, a second church bearing the name of St Patrick’s was constructed in 1880 only to be, dramatically, burnt down the day after completion. Not to be denied a place of worship, a dedicated and enthusiastic band of parishioners gathered together to have another church, also of wood, built in a little over two weeks.
The beginnings of what is now St Patrick’s Cathedral followed on from the laying of a foundation stone on May 10, 1883. The architect chosen was James Marks, whose works including St Matthew’s Church of England at Drayton, St Stephen’s Presbyterian Church and the grandstand at Clifford Park racecourse, figure prominently in the area. However, a shortage of labour and materials delayed the completion of the Cathedral and stage one of the construction – costing 8500 pounds – was not opened until 1889.
Since its consecration, before some 2000 people on March 17 of that year, St Patrick’s Cathedral has served as the symbolic and spiritual centre of Catholicism in the Toowoomba region. A foundation stone for extensions was laid in April of 1932 and the transepts and apse at the southern end of the Cathedral were opened in March 1935.
As the 1970s unfolded, restoration was deemed necessary and Father Patrick Doyle, as administrator of St Patrick’s, was charged with overseeing the task. It was during this period that a hall was built behind the Cathedral and the St Patrick’s Parish Centre was constructed as a convention centre at the rear of the Presbytery.
In 1989, to commemorate the centenary of the opening of St Patrick’s, a new bell tower was installed.
Since that time, restoration has been continually carried out, including the stabilisation of the leadlight windows. As the 21st Century commenced, a new multi-million dollar Cathedral Centre was opened. Aimed at meeting the growing demands of the parish, the location has become one of Toowoomba’s premier function centres for conventions, conferences and wedding receptions.
Words Graeme Kelly Photos courtesy of Catholic Diocese of Toowoomba, taken by Ingrid McTaggard Photographer