St James’ Old Cathedral in Melbourne

This old Church was preceded in Victoria by a small wooden hut built with the help of contributions from various denominations and initially used also by them. The new St James’ Church was built on a crown grant site near the corner of William and Little Collins Streets, where the foundation stone was laid by His Honour Charles La Trobe, Superintendent of the District of Port Phillip on 9th November 1839.
Mr Robert Russel, a London Architect and a surveyor, designed the building in Colonial Georgian style. The foundations are of bluestone and the main walls of a sandstone found in various quarries nearby. The unfinished building was opened for worship on 2nd October 1842 and completed in 1847.
St James’ Old Cathedral
The Diocese of Melbourne was founded in 1847 and on 29th June, St Peter’s day, Charles Perry was consecrated in Westminster Abbey as Melbourne’s first Bishop. On arrival in the colony, he was enthroned in St. James’ on 28th January 1848 and St James’ became the first Cathedral Church of the new diocese, though not consecrated until 1853. Two other Bishops, Bishop Moorhouse and Goe were later installed in St James’ while retained its Cathedral status. The new St Paul’s Cathedral was opened for worship on 22nd January 1891 and St James reverted to the status of parish church. Its congregation was very small, it occupied valuable city land maintenance was very costly so that in the years that followed, the building narrowly escaped demolition. However, it was eventually decided to move the Old Cathedral to its present site, where it was re-consecrated by Archbishop Lowther Clarke and reopened for worship on 19th April 1914. The church was carefully reconstructed stone by stone and is substantially in its original form. The tower was shortened by one stage and its entrances moved to face King Street. The main ceiling was lowered a little for structural reasons and the sanctuary unfortunately shortened by a few inches. The shape of the later was further marred by later reinforcements. The space beneath the main gallery was remodelled to form a lobby and two vestries with passages and gallery stairs behind them. Two side entrances were constructed to serve the new passage.

Some interesting features of the Church

The Galleries

The unusual side galleries or Vice regal boxes were originally for the use of Governor Latrobe and the Chief Justice respectively, and have since been occupied by Governors, royalty and other notables. The main Gallery was added in 1853 in order to increase the capacity of the Cathedral.

The Baptismal Font

The white marble bowl, probably of the 17th Century, came from St Katherine’s Abbey on the banks of the Thames. That building was demolished in 1837. Friends of Governor Latrobe acquired the front and it was necessary to have Queen Victoria’s permission before it could have brought to Victoria. The fine canopy and pedestal were designed in Melbourne and presented by parishioners.

The Bishop’s Throne

The most historically valuable item is the Victorian Chair in which Bishop Perry was enthroned in 1848

Address of St James’ Old Cathedral

Cnr King & Batman Sts
West Melbourne 3003
Telephone:  03 9329 0903
For Church Worship Timings please visit St James’ Old Cathedral website

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