Archbishop to Bless Cathedral's Eight New Statues of Female Saints

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
29 May 2015

The Archbishop will bless the statues of eight female saints in the reredos above the altar of the Lady Chapel this Sunday

Hand-crafted meticulously sculpted statues of eight female saints installed in the reredos above the altar in the Lady Chapel of St Mary's Cathedral will be blessed by Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP this Sunday, 31 May.

The ceremony will take place after the 10.30 am Mass on Sunday which celebrates the Feast of the Holy Trinity.

Commissioned in early 2013 by the then Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, the eight female saints realise the original vision of architect William Wardell's for Sydney's iconic Cathedral.

The statue of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta

The statues were created by Spain's Talleres de Arte Granda, the world's unique 150-year-old company of artisan creators of sacred and religious art. The commission for the eight statues of female saints in the Lady Chapel followed the 16 specially-sculpted statues of the Apostles, St Paul, St John the Baptist and the prophets, Elijah and Moses which were created by the Madrid-based company and are now installed in the ornate marble reredos behind the Cathedral's main altar.

When architect William Wardell designed the reredos for the main altar as well as the one in the Lady Chapel more than 135 years ago, he left niches to hold replicas of the Apostles and Saints.

Above the main altar were 17 niches each designed to hold statue replica of the 12 Apostles, together with St Paul and St John the Baptist, the prophets and with a centre niche for a statue of Our Lady Help of Christians, patron saint of Australia.

The statue of Our Lady Help of Christians was installed almost immediately but for almost one and a half centuries' the other 16 niches together with the eight niches in the Lady Chapel remained empty.

Thanks to the foresight of Cardinal Pell, and the generosity of the Friends of the Cathedral and individuals this has now been corrected and Wardell's plans for the Cathedral realised.

Unlike the statues of St Paul, St John the Baptist, Elijah, Moses and the 12 Apostles, sculpting the eight female saints for the Lady Chapel proved a new challenge for the artisans at the 120-year-old Talleres de Arte Granda.

Australia's first saint St Mary of the Cross MacKillop

The results though are remarkable and the result of expert carvers, painters and ecclesiastical experts who poured over paintings of the female saints. To depict the more recently canonised saints, they also studied any existing photographs they could find to their interpretations of each of the saints was as accurate and as true a likeness as possible.

The eight female saints to be blessed by Archbishop Anthony on Sunday include St Mary of the Cross MacKillop and the-as-yet-to-be-canonised Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, or Mother Teresa as she is still popularly known. The four great Doctors of the Church are also represented: St Catherine of Siena, St Hildegarde of Bingen, St Teresa of Avila and St Therese of Lisieux.

The female saints on display in the reredos are perhaps less well known but no less important. These statues are of St Monica of Hippo, the fourth century mother of St Augustine and patron saint of married women, housewives, mothers, widows, victims of domestic abuse and victims of adultery and unfaithfulness; St Maria Goretti, the nineteenth century's Italian 11-year-old virgin-martyr and now patron saint of chastity, rape victims, youth, teenage girls, purity and forgiveness; and the Jewish-born Catholic convert and religious, St Teresia Benedicta of the Cross who died at Auschwitz in 1942. Canonised by Blessed John Paul II in 1998 she is now one of the six patron saints of Europe.

St Catherine of Siena is one of the four great females doctors of the Church

Born Edith Stein, the daughter of a Jewish family in Breslau, Germany, St Teresia Benedicta was an exceptionally gifted as child with a love of learning and by her teenage years after much study she decided to repudiate Judaism and declare herself an atheist. Awarded a doctor of philosophy at just 25, her life changed forever five years later after spending part of the summer in 1921 reading St Teresa of Avila's autobiography. The impact was instant and profound, and the young woman not only rediscovered her belief in God but made the decision to become a Roman Catholic.

Baptised into the faith on 1 January, 1922, St Teresia resigned from her research role at Freiburg University and became a teacher at the Dominican nuns' school in Speyer, Germany. During her time there she translated Thomas Aquinas' De Veritate into German and developed a deep knowledge of Roman Catholic teachings and philosophy.

By 1933 the Nazis' increasing power and anti-Semitic legislation had forced her to give up her position with Germany's Institute of Pedagogy. The legislation and rise of Hitler appalled her and in a letter to His Holiness Pope Pius XI she asked him to publicly denounce the Nazi regime and "put a stop to this abuse of Christ's name."

A short time later that same year, she entered the Discalced Carmelite Monastery in Cologne and after taking her vows, took the name Teresia Benedicta of the Cross.

Although St Teresia did not receive an answer to her letter, and it is not known if the Pontiff even saw it, by 1937 Pope Pius XI had issued an encyclical written in German in which he harshly criticised Nazism, listed breaches of the concord signed between Germany and the Church and condemned anti-Semitism.

Germany took no notice and the Nazi threat against Jews continued to escalate with hundreds of  thousands across Europe rounded up and sent to concentration camps.

Statues of eight female saints in the Lady Chapel realise William Wardell's original vision for St Mary'sCathedral

In a bid to keep St Teresia safe, the Discalced Carmelites arranged for her to be transferred to a monastery in the Netherlands. But by then nowhere in Europe was safe either for Jews or for those who had converted to other faiths.

In July 1942 St Teresia and her sister Rosa, who was also a convert to Catholicism, were arrested and deported to Auschwitz. Less than a month later, St Teresia and her sister were herded into the gas chambers where they died on 9 August 1942.

St Teresia was just 50 years old.

The blessing of these beautifully handcrafted statues by Archbishop Anthony will take place in St Mary's Cathedral's Lady Chapel at noon on Sunday, May 31. The public are most welcome.