Steeple centrepiece of cathedral makeover

Father Dennis Carroll outside St Carthages Cathedral in Lismore, which is getting a major makeover to mark its centenary year, including a new steeple atop the bell tower.

An eight-metre steeple atop the bell tower at St Carthages Cathedral in Lismore is the pice de rsistance of a multi-million dollar makeover to mark the churchs centenary year.

Sydney architects Conybeare Morrison International have designed the plans for the new steeple, which will increase the height of the bell tower by one third, and will be made from glazed copper in accordance with Heritage Office recommendations.

The entire facelift, estimated at more than $2 million, is likely to take up to three years to complete, with the steeple the finishing touch in a long list of improvements.

Other aspects of the refurbishment include replacing the wooden altar with a free-standing marble altar, installing a new sound system and special lighting to enhance the ambience of the worship area. The roof will also undergo a major upgrade to meet current OH&S standards, and there are plans for a museum in the ground floor of the bell tower, which would feature information, photographs and artifacts detailing the history of the church.

Father Dennis Carroll from the Lismore Catholic Diocese has suggested it could also house the former Bishops throne, which was burnt in the near-disastrous fire of 2001, which caused around $75,000 worth of damage to the cathedral.

Father Carroll said like all churches around the world, St Carthages will always need ongoing maintenance, and he said the cathedral at Cologne in Germany has had a master builder on-site since 1248.

All major buildings are organic and it has to stand up to sun, storms and the movement of the earth over time, he said. Its like any living structure it needs to be maintained and nurtured and cared for so it can remain safe and functional.

Father Carroll described the cathedral as a statement of faith and said the makeover had a far deeper meaning than simply repairing bricks and mortar.

The building is not just a building its a sermon about who we are and what we believe, he said. St Carthages is our sacred space, in much the same way that Aboriginal people have sacred places. All architecture has a symbolic meaning and the steeple pointing towards the heavens is a traditional way for Christians to point to the eternal and transcendent aspects of their faith. The steeple is a tangible expression of our aspirations to the divine.

Father Carroll said while there has been a quiet groundswell of support for the refurbishment, there have also been a few negative comments, with some people suggesting the money earmarked for the cathedral could have been used to keep the St Vincents Hospital rehabilitation unit open.

Even if we didnt spend anything on the cathedral in the next 10 years none of that money could of been used for the rehabilitation unit, he said. They are totally unrelated funding pools.

Construction work is likely to disrupt a number of events during 2007, and Father Carroll said hes had to placate a few miffed brides over the phone already. While he cant say at this stage when the cathedral will be out of action, he wanted to assure the congregation and wider community that alternative Catholic venues would be made available for all weddings and liturgical events.

Father Carroll says work will begin on the cathedral before Easter.

The Lismore Catholic Diocese will be holding cultural and religious events later this year to mark the churchs 100th anniversary in August. Stay tuned for further details.

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