December 6th, 2016
St. Mary’s Cathedral
This was my favourite day in Sydney. (There’s another word that has a ‘u’ in it – thanks spellcheck). I spent the morning at the American consulate and successfully got my new passport! The real fun stuff started after that.
In the last post I mention St. Mary’s Cathedral which can be seen behind the Archibald Fountain. I was walking to the art gallery and, on a whim, decided to go in. Being an atheist myself, seeing the inside of a church would have been interesting, but a towering cathedral, stained glass windows and crypt was breathtaking.
The website of St. Mary’s Cathedral has this to say about the beautiful building:
This Cathedral represents the spiritual origins of the Catholic Church in Australia. It is one of Sydney’s most treasured historic buildings and one of the finest examples of English-style gothic churches in the world. William Wilkinson Wardell, the 19th century architect, dreamed of a gothic structure shaped from the local yellow-block sandstone on which this city is built. The building was finally completed 100 years after the architect’s death. The Cathedral is dedicated to Mary Help of Christians.
It was dark inside and I only had my phone for photos so they aren’t great, but they exist.
It was quiet inside and a little chilly after walking around in summer. The only hushed voice was a tour guide showing thirty-ish school children around. A series of stained glass windows presented stories I’d never heard or couldn’t remember. A row of paintings showed how Jesus carried the cross, fell again and again and persevered through his famous trial. A few knelt in front of benches, resting their knees on little padded strips as they prayed or took the time to think. Tourists roamed the cathedral, trying to find the perfect place for a photograph, or wishing their parents would hurry on to something more interesting.
Entry into the crypt is $5 and totally worth it. In a back corner of the cathedral is an iron gate. Stone stairs work their way down in a square to the expansive room below. Along the wall, a timeline shows how Catholicism came to Australia and the history of the cathedral itself, which involves a lot of fires.
The crypt was beautiful. The elderly man I purchased a ticket from in the cathedral store pointed out that it was in the shape of a celtic cross and gave me a map. It was undergoing some light restoration when I visited but most of it was left untouched. I had it to myself for quite some time and took the opportunity to explore the carvings on the side of the altars and the beautiful artwork that was the floor. Weaving patterns decorated most of it and set like gems throughout were circular pictures, the story of how the earth was created.
When the school tour arrived and started to unpack their lunches (what an awesome excursion) I took my exit and explored the rest of the main part of the cathedral. Golden gates lead to a pedestal I didn’t know the purpose of. Statues were placed throughout and I noticed many of them held their hands up in the same gesture, seen below. The internet tells me it is a sign of benediction, or blessing. I’ve lived in predominately Christian and Catholic countries all my life and I’m only just learning this bit of culture.
The front wall of St. Mary’s Cathedral is an amazing thing to see. The stained glass windows detail Adam and Eve’s banishment from the Garden of Eden. Many sit on benches across from it, contemplating.
Art Gallery of New South Wales
I did not get to see as much of the art gallery as I would have liked. It was afternoon by this time and I was exhausted from the day’s exploring and knew I needed a nap before the night’s activity.
This is one of a pair of Sphinxes that sit across the road from the museum. A plaque on the base reads ‘These sphinxes, a gift from the Friends of the Royal Botanic Gardens, were unveiled by Mrs Gordon Samuels, wife of the Governor of NSW and Patron of the Friends, on 6th of April 1997’.
Below are a few of my favourite pieces in the gallery. My favourite room was full of paintings of Ancient Greece painted in the 19th c. by Frederic Leighton.
Sydney Opera House
This was the thing I looked forward to most in Sydney. After a nap I put on my nicest dress and took the ferry across the river to Circular Quay. From there it would have been an easy walk along the water to the opera house but I had a bit of time and had spotted a worn stone staircase.
I took it up and across the street I wandered the edge of the Royal Botanic Garden as sunset turned to dusk. Eventually I came down another staircase to the front of the most famous opera house in the world. It’s a proud treasure of Australia but was designed by a young architect from Denmark by the name of, Jørn Utzon. The architect died in 2008, aged 90. The graceful building was clearly designed to make use of its position and is absolutely astounding in its place in Sydney Harbour.
I saw Coppélia in the Sydney Opera House. A beautiful and funny tale of a magician, his clockwork daughter and two young lovers. The seats were filled with all ages, the youngest I saw about eight who read on her kindle during the two breaks and the woman who had to be over 90 seated beside me laughing at the young lovers.
For the first break I took in the view from a balcony. After a ‘just to say you’ve done it’ from my mother I was convinced to buy an obscenely small glass of red wine for $10, but hey, I’ve drunk wine in the Sydney Opera House.
After the ballet, my head full of dancing and the joy of fulfilling a life-goal, I strolled down the river looking for dinner. It turns out if you want dinner after a show near the Sydney Opera House you should be richer than a university student. I spotted a Baskin and Robins at the end of the walk near the ferry terminal and finished my ice cream just as it began to rain. A relaxing train ride back to my accommodation ended a wonderful night in Sydney.