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  • Writer's pictureHelen Avaient

Monsignor Hawes Heritage Centre and Cathedral, Geraldton Western Australia

Cathedral of St. Francis Xavier

I had the pleasure of taking a tour of the Cathedral in Geraldton, Western Australia with volunteer tour guide Linda. Eight years ago the Cathedral precinct was built. This is not just an area for religious observation. It is a community area, with a sense of community belonging.

The Labyrinth is an ancient form of meditation. It is hard to see the lines in the design, but that is the purpose. As you concentrate your thoughts on the design, you relax.

John Cyril Hawes (1876 – 1956) was an architect and a Catholic priest. Born in England, he came to Geraldton after his ordination in Rome in 1915. In 1937 he became Monsignor and in 1939 left for the Bahamas where he lived as a Franciscan hermit until he died in 1956. As an architect he designed 44 buildings in the area, 29 of these were constructed. He also physically worked on five of these. There are 23 Hawes Heritage Sites in the Mid-West and Gascoyne area.

The Cathedral was built in 3 stages. Starting in 1916 it was completed and formally opened in 1939. The Cathedral was consecrated in 1988. This can only be done when it is fully paid for.

The Cathedral is very different from other churches I have visited. For example, the striping of the interior walls was based on churches and cathedrals in Europe. It gives the impression that the Cathedral is larger than it actually is. This is done in a Byzantine style. These original colours were specified by Monsignor Hawes. He wanted the austere simplicity to give character to the building.

Pastoral Station owners made donations to the church in order to have their station name engraved on the large pillar columns.

The baptistery has been restored to its original design. In 2017 a new Baptismal Font and Immersion Pool were installed. The mosaic artwork in the Immersion Pool symbolises dark to light, as sins are washed away.

Bishop William Kelly’s remains have been exhumed and placed under the floor of the church. Bishop Kelly (1898 – 1921) was the first Bishop of Geraldton. Hawes designed his bronze effigy and both this and the ossuary containing his remains are visible through glass viewing panels in the floor.

The Jubilee windows depict the four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The Cathedral is situated so that the windows correspond to the cardinal points: north, south, east and west.

The Nativity was made by Monsignor Hawes. He wanted it to be embedded in the church and opened during Christmas and tours. It was designed in such a way that the natural light from outside shines upon the figures here. Built behind the manger scene is a town upon a hill that completes the special light effects.

The statue of St Peter is based on the one in St Peters Basilica in Rome. The statue is concrete by Hawes made the foot brass as people would have worn off the concrete with their frequent rubbing.

The Crypt

My tour guide lead us down a flight of stairs to the Crypt under the Cathedral. This is where the chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows, dedicated to the soldiers who died in WWI, is located. Families paid ten shillings to the church to have their loved ones names recorded.

An amazingly beautiful Aboriginal painting graces the wall here. Painted by a woman, the leaf design is from a healing plant, not the normal dot paintings. This symbolised the healing that needs to take place between races and cultures.

Monsignor Hawes himself build the boat here. He liked the boat as it symbolised the people who came to Australia on ships.

Heritage Centre

The John Cyril Hawes story is one of Devotion and Design. At the Heritage Centre there is a great deal of information about the man. From his beginnings and early years in England, his architectural training, his religious pursuits, building designs and programs to his last days as a monk in the Bahamas his journey is well documented.

His plans for various buildings are also available for viewing in special drawers here.

Monsignor Hawes loved dogs and even had a little door cut into two of the residences he lived in, so that the dog could come and go freely. His statue in the courtyard outside has his beloved and faithful fur friend, Dominie, with him.

The Geraldton Bells

- These are the largest carillon of church bells in Australia (27 in total)

- Eight ancient bells from the Church of St Peter and St Paul, Godalming, Surrey, England are at its heart

- Is a unique mix of ancient, 12th century and new bells

- The heaviest bell weighs 1059kg (named Big Peter after the original bell here)

- The lightest bell weighs 37kg

- It is IT controlled

- Can be played from anywhere in the world or via the Cathedral’s pipe organ

- It can be pre-programmed for a whole year in advance

- Ring the “Angelus” daily at midday and 6pm

- Strike the hours of the day between 8am and 6pm

- Plays the National Anthem of Countries of the world on their respective National Days

- Tune requests can be made

- The bells can ring for you on special occasions such as baptisms, weddings and funerals (for a small fee)

If you read most of the information in the heritage centre and go on the tour, set aside around two hours to fully experience it all. I enjoyed learning about this gorgeous building and the work of a very dedicated man. I also had an enjoyable chat with volunteers Graham and Pat who manned the heritage centre, as well as my tour guide Pat. The people of Geraldton and surrounding areas have a magnificent centre here.

Happy Travels!

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