A decades-long project to restore Goulburn's Saints Peter and Paul's Old Cathedral is embarking on its next phase.
It's part of a quest to transform the 1871 structure into one of just six Catholic 'minor basilicas' in Australia. The status, conferred by the Roman Congregation, would be a significant development and recognise the Old Cathedral's architectural and religious importance, Canberra/Goulburn Archdiocese Vicar General, Father Tony Percy said.
"The diocese wants to make it into a basilica where people can come on pilgrimage," he told The Post.
"It is good for us, Goulburn and the country especially given that it's Australia's only greenstone cathedral. The archbishop is happy to support the project with funding."
Last year, the Archdiocese allocated $5 million for the restoration's next stage. It came courtesy of land sales from the Joseph's Gate residential subdivision on Taralga Road, developed by the Church, and other funding.
It added to some $6 million already spent on conservation work, including a copper-plated spire, building stabilisation, external sandstone repairs, addressing rising damp, undercroft excavation and stained glass window rejuvenation.
Now the next phase is beginning, focusing on structural, interior restoration and external grounds' improvement.
On Wednesday, restoration committee members met to decide the scope of works and their priority. They included parish priest, Father Joshy Kurien, chair Dr Ursula Stephens, structural engineer Edmund O'Donovan, project manager Stuart Cunningham, interior and exterior designer Pamela Pappin, parishioners Trish Groves and Di Green, Brian Watchirs and diocesan archivist, Denis Connor.
Mrs Groves said drainage and plumbing repairs and completion of tower sandstone repairs were among the top priorities. The latter is currently underway. Underpinning of the cathedral's northern and southern walls could also occur in this stage.
"The interior cosmetic work such as painting is lower on the priority list. It is the structural aspects that we need to address," Mrs Groves said.
Nevertheless, peeling paint on walls, sandstone arch repairs and further stained glass window restoration are firmly on the agenda. Mrs Groves said a yet to be finalised colour scheme was aimed at lightening the interior, while window repairs and cleaning would also allow more light.
Likewise, Clark rubber placed over hardwood parquetry flooring throughout the cathedral in 1957 would be removed as part of a "labour intensive" exercise. Father Kurien said this and other work could necessitate closure for at least some time.
The project is close to Mrs Groves' heart. The long-term parishioner's grandfather, George Stanley Wyles, and father, George Frederick Wyles, painted the gold-leaf lettering on the sanctuary walls.
Similarly, parish property supervisor Brian Watchirs assisted civil engineer, Claudio Bagnara, some 15 years ago when tonnes of earth were excavated from underneath the sanctuary and the floor raised to address drainage and damp.
That part of the project also saw the disturbance and relocation of Bishops Lanigan (1867-1900) and Gallagher's (1900-1923) graves within the sanctuary. Bishop John Barry's (1924-38) grave was also moved from Saint Patrick's catholic cemetery, Kenmore, to the Old Cathedral at the same time.
ALSO READ: Historic Kenmore Hotel sold
The church's original section was completed in 1847. However in 1867, Bishop Lanigan commissioned architect Andrea Stombucco to design a cathedral around the structure. The new cathedral was opened and blessed in 1872. Its distinctive green porphyry came from a Goulburn district quarry and much of its sandstone from Marulan.
Father Percy said the restoration started more than 30 years ago under Father Laurie Blake and had been continued by Father Dermid McDermott and now Father Kurien, who arrived in 2019.
"We need to get the Cathedral to where it should be (in terms of its condition)," he said.
"...There is a program of works and now we have the money to act on it."
Father Kurien hoped the current phase could be completed within the next few years.