St Stephen’s is one of the few rare pre-separation buildings still surviving in Brisbane and is the oldest church in Queensland. The Archdiocese prepared a brief for the restoration to liturgical use of St Stephen’s Chapel as part of the Cathedral Precinct. Major elements in the restoration of the external fabric were the belfry, tracery windows, chimney and roofing. Emphasis was placed on repairs to stonework rather than on the replacement of stone. Internal work included the removal of layers of paintwork to expose the original stonework. New stained glass panels were designed and installed in the stone tracery of the rose window and the west window. New lighting and air conditioning services were installed. The space of the nave and the chancel have been separated by a transparent timber rood screen located in the proscenium arch. The nave accommodates a raised moveable sanctuary and congregational seating and the chancel has been dedicated to a devotional shrine in honour of Blessed Mary McKillop.
St Stephen’s Chapel is a small sandstone church adjacent to St Stephen’s Cathedral and was built 1848-1850. It is probably the work of the English architect A.W. Pugin and, as the oldest church in Queensland, is a key element in Brisbane’s Catholic Cathedral Precinct as well as a valuable heritage item. Prior to its conservation the external stone fabric of the Chapel was in an advanced state of deterioration, and movement and delamination of stone was evident, though internally the building fabric was generally sound. The extent of repair work was extensive and included a chemical damp course under the plinth, clearly distinguishable repairs to stone and replacement of stone (anastylosis), and the replacement of asbestos cement shingles with new hardwood shingles. Copper rainwater guttering was also installed below the shingle overhang. Internally, original timber roof trusses, ceiling lining and cornice mouldings were repaired or replaced where necessary. The meticulous restoration now allows the Chapel nave to be used for small-scale liturgical events (such as masses and weddings) while its chancel is a devotional shrine for Blessed Mary MacKillop. New internal fittings are understated, a simple timber screen separates nave and chancel, and narrative artworks and a timber sculpture of Mary MacKillop by artist John Elliott have a striking presence in the shrine.
Images: Richard Stringer