St. James’ Old Cathedral looks out of place and out of
It is both.
It looks out of time because it is one of the only major
buildings in Melbourne that dates from before the 1850s gold rush. The
church with its fortress mentality would look quite at home sitting amongst
companions of its own age and attitude in The Rocks in Sydney. But it looks
more like a lonely ancient relic in 'modern' (i.e. 1880s) Melbourne.
It is out of place because in 1914 it was moved several city
blocks from its original location, rotated through 90 degrees and
reconstructed stone-by-stone on its present site. It now sits next to a busy
arterial traffic route well away from the peopled heart of Melbourne's CBD -
exiled outside Robert Hoddle's mile by half-mile grid and opposite Burial
Wandering around inside St. James', you will be reminded of
Melbourne's European pioneers. At pew No 10 you can almost hear the wheezing
of the good councillor who rented the pew and had it redesigned to
accommodate his corpulent frame. Look up at the galleries and you can sense
the presence of Governor Latrobe and the Chief Justice, and Bishop Perry
himself on the impressive Bishop's Throne.
If many of the grander of the buildings around Melbourne
have the aura of a grand Victorian lady, St. James is more of a
colonial wife and mother doing her best to maintain some dignity into a
rather distant outpost.
It was designed by Robert Russell and originally stood near
the corner of William and Little Collins Streets. A modern building on that
site is now called the St. James Building. St James' opened in 1842, was
completed in in 1847, and was consecrated as a cathedral in 1853. When
St. Paul's Cathedral
opened in 1891 it returned to its more humble status as a parish church.
In Melbourne's early days, William Street was in effect the
main street, but with the building of Princes Bridge, the city's centre of
gravity shifted towards Swanston Street. Congregations dwindled at St.
James until it was decided to move it to its present site at the corner
of King and Batman Streets.
The church is open most days, and the eight bells in the
tower can usually be heard before the 10am service on a Sunday, or during
bellringers practice at about 8pm on a Friday.
Selected forthcoming events at St. James’ Old Cathedral: