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16 Magnificent New Statues Installed in Cathedral Reredos

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
5 Mar 2013

Statues of St Thomas, St Andrew, St Philip and St Peter and the Apostles

A team of heritage stone masons have spent the past six days installing 16 specially-commissioned hand-carved painted statues in the reredos, the ornate stone screen, behind the high altar at St Mary's Cathedral.

The 17 niches in the elaborately carved stone reredos were always meant to be filled with depictions of the Apostles, St Paul, John the Baptist and the two Biblical prophets, Elijah and Moses, and were  part of architect, William Wardell's original vision for the Cathedral.

But for 133 years the niches in the reredos remained empty except for the central niche where Wardell and Bishop John Bede Polding had installed an exquisite statue of Our Lady Help of Christians, patron saint of Australia.

No one is sure why the niches in the reredos were never filled and one of the legends has it that they were ordered from European ecclesiastical sculptors but went down in the ship carrying them to Australia.

One of the stone masons prepares a statue for installation in the reredos

Now after almost a century and a half, Wardell's dream for the Cathedral is about to be realised with the final statue, one of Elijah set to be installed later today.

Commissioned by the Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell and made possible by donations from the Friends of the Cathedral, the Australian Catholic University (ACU) and Damian Fogarty, the statues were created by sculptors, carvers, painters and leading ecclesiastical artisans at Spain's famous Talleres de Arte Grandas workshop.

Each one is a work of art in its own right. Arriving from Spain in late December the statues were carefully unpacked and six weeks ago went on display in the Lady Chapel  to enable Sydneysiders to have a close up view of these latest treasures prior to their installation in the ornate reredos behind the high altar.

Since  his arrival in Sydney in 2001, the Cardinal has done much to complete Wardell and Bishop Polding's original vision for the Cathedral as well as instigating the conservation, repair, cleaning and restoration of the Cathedral's paintings, artefacts and sculptures. His Eminence also began an ongoing conservation, cleaning and restoration program for St Mary's magnificent sandstone interior and exterior walls.

Installation of the statues in the Cathedral reredos needed special care

In addition, Cardinal Pell has commissioned and overseen several important new works at the Cathedral including the altar triptych by British master sculptor Nigel Boonham and the superb statue of Australia's first saint, St Mary of the Cross MacKillop by Melbourne-based sculptor Louis Laumen which stands on the steps of the Cathedral's Western Transept in College Street.

Of the new wooden handpainted statues, two of the Biblical prophets are larger than the others and are designed to stand in the taller niches which flank each side of the reredos.

The team of stone masons have been hard at work on the installation of the 16 statues since Thursday last week.

"Moses, the Apostles, John the Baptist and St Paul are now in place and being secured. Then later today the final statue among the 16, one of the prophet Elijah will be installed," says Dieter Koch, Property Officer for the Archdiocese of Sydney.

The Cathedral's main altar and reredos with its empty niches

Tomorrow will be spent on clean up and final touches and by Thursday, William Wardell's dream will be realised at last.