St Francis’ Church, Melbourne

As part of my local history Professional Historians Association reading group ‘readings’ I headed to St Francis’ Church on the corner of Elizabeth Street and Lonsdale Street. Originally built over five years between 1841-45 its the oldest Catholic church in Victoria. The Ladye Chapel is so very beautiful, breathtaking actually when you suddenly come upon it. Would loved to have photographed but was in use when we visited. The cedar ceiling is also magnificent.

The reason we were looking at it for the reading group, however, was to explore the layers of history visible in the architecture. The main building was constructed in 1841-45 but during the height of the gold rushes in the mid-1850s the Ladye Chapel was constructed, then a rectangular sanctuary was built in the 1870s and a rather unfortunate and very ugly front porch in 1955-56.

Our discussions at our reading group explored how the significance of buildings is constrained by how tightly tied it is to the built fabric of the building. The statement of significance for this site is particularly dry with plenty of references to architects but very little that tells you how important this church has been in people’s lives. We much preferred the one written for the eMelbourne website. We also talked about nostalgia and the difference between social significance and nostalgia. I do wonder whether nostalgia is important. It is something which passes, yes, but place is important to people and leaving a little space for nostalgia to pass, a bit of breathing space, not such a bad thing.

Visited: 12 May 2018

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