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  • The Very Reverend Rod MacDonald

“Just a moment” – with Father Rod 19 February 2023

The word Cathedral comes from the name of the Bishop’s seat, or ‘cathedra’ (originally Latin). It is therefore the building where the Bishop’s seat resides.

Hence the building concerned is not automatically large (the Cathedral of the Diocese of the Murray holds 80 at a squeeze) but by tradition, a town could not be declared a ‘city’ until it had a Cathedral, so getting your own Bishop and putting his seat or ‘cathedra’ at least somewhere, even if the ‘large building’ was just a hope for the future, often became a pressure from the local residents, and not just from Church authorities. In Grafton’s case, it shared a Bishop with Armidale till 1904 so both centers could become cities, and in due course, both centers then ended up with large, well-designed buildings thanks to Horbury Hunt (architect) and the financial contributions of many townsfolk. But some landowners and wealthier citizens, then sometimes felt they therefore had ‘ownership’, even though it is very much, first and foremost, an ecclesiastical building.

The first Bishop of Australia, who had been Archdeacon of New South Wales under the Bishop of Calcutta up till then, William Grant Broughton, went back to England to be consecrated in February 1836. He returned to Sydney and was ‘enthroned’ (ie installed in his cathedra or seat) by the Colony’s Chaplain Rev. Samuel Marsden in St James’ Church in King Street. Later, he shifted his ‘cathedra’ to the new St Andrew’s pro-Cathedral, much to the pleasure of the Colony’s pseudo-aristocracy, the wealthy traders and ‘squatocracy’ of Sydney. However, Broughton was not only a loyal churchman, but also a man of principle, and after some of the St Andrews elite had decided that they ran the new Cathedral, a dispute occurred. Legend has it that Bishop Broughton was seen one Sunday morning, in spite of his need for a walking stick, carrying his ‘cathedra’ on his shoulders and heading back to the little church of St James’. The ‘good’ folk of St Andrew’s changed their tune quickly and invited him back on his terms, and St Andrew’s Sydney has remained a Cathedral ever since. The size and opulence of the Chapter House at St Andrew’s, where the governance group of the time met, certainly indicates that the said ‘good folk’ then had not just a few ‘tickets’ on ‘who’ they were!

Bishop Broughton is also attributed with helping to ‘dis-establish’ pew rents, where the wealthy could ‘rent’ their pews on an annual basis. And the fancier the pew and its location, the higher the rent! And the greater your personal status! The poor crammed into the ‘paupers stalls’. Broughton helped bring in the ‘free-will’ offering and the way the ‘collection’ is taken up now, which was felt to be more appropriate in Australia, with its sense of ‘all equal under God’.

Perhaps we have much to thank our first “Bishop of Australia’ for, whom our Prayer Book remembers annually on February 20th.

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