VIEWS 684 SEPTEMBER 2014
Taken with Olympus E-PL1
William Wardell produced plans for a magnificent Cathedral of immense proportions. It was, in fact, greater than anything attempted by English and Irish Catholics in their home countries and it is also the largest church to be built anywhere in the world, as a single entity, entirely within the 19th century. In the U.S.A., only the Cathedral of New York, it too dedicated to St Patrick and commenced at much the same time but brought to completion only in this century, comes close to rivalling it.
The construction of St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne was to occupy Wardell, by now also appointed inspector General of Public Works for the Government of Victoria, with the right of private practice, for the rest of his life. He was present at its consecration in 1897 and was working on plans for areas of the building not quite completed when he died two years later. In summing up his career, the writer of the obituary in the London Tablet compares him to Pugin and suggests that he excelled perhaps even more at adapting the architectural style of England’s Catholic past to meeting the requirements of modern times. Perhaps more than in anything else, this is where Wardell’s genius is most apparent. The Melbourne Cathedral, whilst fulfilling all the requirements of medieval church architecture, as interpreted by the masters of the Gothic Revival, presents a timeless quality, such as befits a building intended for all time.
The fact that Wardell produced the plans for St Patrick’s Cathedral almost immediately is all the more remarkable when it is considered that he seems to have been his own draughtsman. There would have been no doubt that it would be a building in the “Gothic” or “Christian” style of architecture, but the scale of the project must have occasioned comment and concern in the small and poor community for which it was intended. The only requirement imposed upon the architect was that it should incorporate as much as possible of the existing George and Schneider church building.
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