Catholic cathedral exists in name only

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Some of the early Holy Name Cathedral brick work has remained at Cathedral Place in Fortitude Valley. Photo: Robert Shakespeare The foundation of the Holy Name Cathedral in Brisbane was constructed. Some of it remains to this day. City Hall and St John’s Cathedral can be seen in the background. Photo: Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane

Cathedral Place still with the original sandstone fence where a cathedral was to be built. Photo: Robert Shakespeare

If the late Brisbane Catholic Archbishop James Duhig’s vision had been realised the northern entrance to the CBD would be a whole lot more holy.

And imposing.

The Holy Name Cathedral, which would have been large enough to accommodate 4000 worshippers, was to have been the single biggest cathedral to be attempted in any part of the world for 300 years.

An 82-metre cupola would have towered over the imposing building, which Duhig championed during his 48-year tenure as Archbishop between 1917 and 1965, and would have dominated the northern end of the inner city.

But in 2015 the only reminder of the grand plans was the apartment block that bears just a hint of its name – Cathedral Place on the corner of Wickham and Gotha streets at the city edge of Fortitude Valley.

Catholic archdiocese of Brisbane archivist Father Denis Martin said world events put paid to Duhig’s grand plans.

“In one sentence, the Great Depression came in 1929 and the foundation stone for the cathedral had been laid in 1928,” he said.

“Like a good businessman, Duhig had put money in other investments, for example the Roma oil field, but once the Depression hit all his investments collapsed and the money just wasn’t there to proceed with it.

“He always hoped it would go ahead … but at the time it was a no-goer and everything more or less collapsed.

“After the Great Depression, it took a while before money was flowing again – it wasn’t until about 1935 that things started to get moving again.”

But then came World War II.

“So there was always some reason to postpone it, to put it off,” Father Martin said.

The scale of the Holy Name Cathedral would have surpassed anything seen in Brisbane at that time.

“The style of architecture was striking and, if you want to see an example of what it would have looked like, on a smaller scale, you only have to look at the Nundah Corpus Christi Church,” Father Martin said.

“The same architect did that and people have said it was kind of a prototype.

“You see a very imposing dome there, what they call ‘renaissance architecture’, and the Holy Name Cathedral would have looked something like that; certainly not in brick, but in concrete stone and on a much larger scale.”

Eventually, the Catholic Church sold the site in 1982 for $6 million after it became less ideal as a location for its flagship Queensland cathedral.

“The traffic swirling around that whole part of the Valley perhaps made it less attractive too than it was in 1926, when the Holy Name Cathedral was being spoken about,” Father Martin said.

“There were great plans by Brisbane businessmen T.C. Beirne and James McWhirter to revamp the whole of the Valley and make it a commercial hub of the city and access to the Holy Name Cathedral would have been somewhat simple if you didn’t have to cross all those lanes of traffic.

“But after the Story Bridge opened, it was entirely different.”

The foundations had been built, and the crypts became a notorious hang-out for drunks and junkies, until Cathedral Place was completed in 1999.

And the Catholic Church settled with the existing Cathedral of St Stephen, which was dedicated in 1874, as its primary facility.

“It’s proved itself very viable because the trend now is that a lot of Catholics don’t go into the city to go to Mass and it’s proving quite adequate for people who do get into the city,” Father Martin said.

“People don’t go into Mass there in the numbers they did once.”

One of Cathedral Place’s eight apartment buildings, the one that was severely damaged by fire in 2013, bears Duhig’s name.

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