Isolation offers unique opportunities for seeing things with fresh eyes. In this series on St Patrick’s Cathedral, we’ll focus on a different element of the cathedral that might normally go overlooked by the casual visitor. Sometime in the indefinite future, when we emerge from lockdown and our lives return to normal, we encourage everyone to consider these locations with new appreciation.
The cathedral is home to seven chapels surrounding the sanctuary. The largest of these is the Ladye Chapel, of the chapel of Our Lady, used for weekday Mass. Those of you watching Mass online will recognise the sage green tones of the chapel interior. It is located directly behind the high altar indicating the unique place of Mary, the Mother of God, in Catholic theology and devotion.
Consistent with the rest of the cathedral, it was designed and built by celebrated architect William Wardell, a convert to Catholicism, who dedicated his entire life to the design and construction of the cathedral. Wardell was so devoted to Mary that he made sure that the Ladye Chapel was fully completed before he moved to Sydney in 1878. It was the first of the cathedral chapels to be completed.
The chapel is particularly eye-catching, being more richly adorned than the others, designed in the medieval tradition, with the focal point of the space being a marble statue of Mary, Queen of Heaven.
The front of the altar has three ornamented panels. In the centre is a mosaic of the monogram of Our Lady. On the panels on either side are smaller mosaics of Star of the Sea and of the Tower of David, both titles given to Our Lady. Carved above the reredos are the words: ‘Mater Salvatoris, ora pro nobis’ (Mother of the Savour pray for us).
Stencilled on the walls of the chapel is the monogram of Our Lady, ‘VM’, and a cross motif.
And the space is illuminated by five stained glass windows. The main panels of the stained glass windows in this chapel highlight scenes from the life of Mary including: the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity, the Presentation in the Temple and the Adoration of the Magi.
Smaller panels in the windows show the Immaculate Conception, the Madonna, the Assumption and the Coronation. The tops of the windows have angels with other titles from the Litany.
The lower portions of the windows recall the Old Testament women who might show some Marian qualities; women whose stories are in some way reflected in Mary’s story: Eve and Sara, Miriam and Deborah, Judith and Esther, the Queen of Sheba and Ruth, the daughter of Jeptha and the mother of the Maccabees. The text of the Ave Maria runs across the windows.
It was only in 1970 that a wooden altar was placed in front of the chapel to allow Mass facing the congregation.
The inscription across the front arch is a text from Luke 1:26, ‘Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum’ (Hail Mary full of Grace the Lord is with thee).
Melbourne Catholic23 February 2021
Caritas Australia16 February 2021