The Cathedral site is roughly trianglular in shape. Significant archaeological material is present on the site. St Mary's Cathedral is built in high style Gothic Revival in sandstone with a slate roof over timber trusses to main aisles and over stone vaults to side aisles. Its plan is cruciform with a bell tower over the crossing. The nave's major axis runs north south. The sanctuary is the heart and visual focus of the cathedral and contains the tabernacle alter, main altar, the cathedral and the choir. The cross section of the cathedral displays the traditional Basilica form, comprising a tall clerestoreyed nave flanked by lower aisles. Two bell towers rise over the main entry at the southern end facing across Cook and Phillip Park to William Street and the Australian Museum.
Great rose windows are found in the west and south facades, with a great geometrically traced window in the northern end. Contains a crypt, vestries, smaller chapels and choir loft. There are many ancillary areas including eight sets of confessionals. Internally there is a sense of spaciousness and grandeur.
The CHAPTER HALL is a rectangular stone building approximately 40 metres east of the Cathedral Sacristy. It has a steeply pitched roof clad with recycled slates. The main hall section is two storeys and measures approximately 20 x 9 metres. There is a single storey stone entrance porch across the northern end of the building which faces St Mary's Road. The stonework of the northern and southern wall carry through to create parapeted gable ends to form of the roof. A narrow stone pediment crowns each gable. The northern pediment contains a recessed sculpture niche and is surmounted by a cross. The southern gable is surmounted by a stone bell cote. It is also finished with a cross. The interior is an open rectangular space with a timber board lined ceiling, decorative timber cornices and exposed dressed stone walls. Flooring is timber, inlaid at corners to the centre of the hall. (State Projects) (RNE)
Physical condition is good.
The "Eora people" was the name given to the coastal Aborigines around Sydney. Central Sydney is therefore often referred to as "Eora Country". Within the City of Sydney local government area, the traditional owners are the Cadigal and Wangal bands of the Eora. There is no written record of the name of the language spoken and currently there are debates as whether the coastal peoples spoke a separate language "Eora" or whether this was actually a dialect of the Dharug language. Remnant bushland in places like Blackwattle Bay retain elements of traditional plant, bird and animal life, including fish and rock oysters.
With the invasion of the Sydney region, the Cadigal and Wangal people were decimated but there are descendants still living in Sydney today. All cities include many immigrants in their population. Aboriginal people from across the state have been attracted to suburbs such as Pyrmont, Balmain, Rozelle, Glebe and Redfern since the 1930s. Changes in government legislation in the 1960s provided freedom of movement enabling more Aboriginal people to choose to live in Sydney (sourced from Anita Heiss, "Aboriginal People and Place", Barani: Indigenous History of Sydney City http://www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/barani ).
St. Mary's Chapel, later Cathedral:
The first St Mary's foundations stone was laid by Governor Macquarie in 1821 and blessed by Father Therry. Sydney's first bishop, John Bede Polding OSB, arrived on 13 September 1835 as Vicar Apostolic of New Holland. St. Mary's Chapel became his Cathedral.
Work on extensions to the cathedral commenced in 1851 to designs by Augustus Welby N. Pugin, the celebrated English architect and promoter of a more correct Gothic style. It was destroyed by fire in 1865. Archbishop Polding, the first Archbishop of Sydney immediately commissioned William Wardell to design a new cathedral. In the meantime a second, temporary building was constructed but burned down in 1869. The third cathedral took more than 20 years to build. Archbishop Polding's replacement Roger Bede Vaughan, Patrick Francis Moran, who would become Australia's first Cardinal in 1885 and Archbishop Michael Kelly would all enthusiastically embrace the project in coming years, realising its importance. Fundraising activities triduum celebrations and an accumulation of small donations would all contribute to funding of the cathedral. Work began on the new cathedral in 1866 and was to be an outstanding example of Gothic Revival architecture. The incomplete northern section of the new cathedral was opened in 1882 and dedicated.
After Wardell's death in 1899 responsibility for directing work was given to architects Hennessy and Hennessey who only slightly modified the Wardell design. A financial crash in the late 19th century saw the decision not to complete the spires originally proposed for the twin southern towers and changes to the ceiling construction of the southern nave. During this time the creation of a separate Catholic education system resulted, in part, in Archbishop Vaughan's desire to have more control over a larger system of Catholic schools. The Catholic School Board met in 1882 and in 1911 a new building to house two schools for the Sisters of Charity and the Christian Brothers was built on the site of the pro cathedral. The need for a symbol of the Catholic church had become inextricably tied up with the fight for religious education. St Mary's came to represent the solidarity of the catholic society as a community within a community.
Cardinal Moran continued Vaughan's efforts to oversee Catholic education and by 1900 the Catholic community had become segregated by the fight for religious education. In 1900 the opened section and central tower are completed and dedicated. The cathedral was freed form debt in 1905 and solemnly consecrated. By 1928 construction of the Nave was complete and Archbishop Kelly opened the almost complete cathedral on September 2nd. (The total cost of construction amounted to approximately (Pounds)700,000 over a period of 60 years.) In 1930 Pope Pius XI bestows on the cathedral the title and dignity of a Minor Basilica. In 1940 Norman Thomas Gilroy, the first Australian-born Archbishop of Sydney succeeded Archbishop Kelly and became Cardinal in 1946. Pope Paul VI visited Sydney in 1970 and celebrated Mass in the cathedral. Pope John Paul II visited St Mary's in 1986 and 1995. During 1998 - 2000 the Spires designed by Wardell were built. In 2001 St Mary's is the location for the celebration of the Ninth World Day of the Sick. The Chapter Hall is the oldest building on the site and may have been designed by Augustus Welby Pugin. It appears to have been commissioned by Archbishop Polding when visiting England in 1841 and was built between 1843 and 1845. Research suggests that the final design of the chapter hall was the result of successive amendments to earlier schemes for a larger structure. Colonial Architect Mortimer Lewis appears to have selected the site for the chapter hall and may have been responsible for overseeing its construction. The building contractor was Jacob Inder. Initially it was used as a catholic school but was converted to a chapter hall in 1910. From 1988 it served for a short period as a museum.(State Projects, 1995)