Historic Stations of the Cross given new life

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Specialist restorers examine one of the Stations of the Cross. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Specialist restorers examine one of the Stations of the Cross. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

For the past 133 years, the magnificent Stations of the Cross hanging in St Mary’s Cathedral have provided a devotional focus for Sydney’s Catholics to meditate on the passion of Christ.

Now, the 14 Stations, each standing over two metres high and weighing approximately 200kg, are being lovingly and painstakingly cleaned and restored for the first time in 80 years.

Sydney art restorers, David Stein & Co, have undertaken the mammoth project and to date have cleaned and restored six of the Stations.

They’re not pretty pictures that hang in a gallery, these are devotional

Director of the company, David Stein said the project is “extremely worthwhile and necessary.”

“They’re not pretty pictures that hang in a gallery, these are devotional. They are an intricate part of the Cathedral’s fixtures,” Mr Stein told The Catholic Weekly.

“From the historic perspective, the Stations of the Cross are a really important thing to look at for conservation and restoration.”

Art restorer David Stein oversees workmen remove a Station of the Cross from St Mary’s Cathedral. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Art restorer David Stein oversees workmen remove a Station of the Cross from St Mary’s Cathedral. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Mr Stein said that as a non-Catholic, he hadn’t realised the significance of the Stations until he visited the Cathedral and witnessed how people interact with them.

“I had no idea how much devotion and how much interest there was in the Stations. I see people walking around, looking at them, going from work to work … They’re way more important than I ever thought they were.”

The Stations were produced by a Parisian arthouse after being commissioned by Cardinal Moran — Australia’s first cardinal — in 1886.

They’re way more important than I ever thought they were

Restoring the Stations has been one of the hardest projects for David Stein & Co, Mr Stein said, from a logistical perspective.

Just removing them from the Cathedral required a specialist hoist which only made it through the doors of the Cathedral by 3cm.

One of the restorers examines one of the Stations of the Cross. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
One of the restorers examines one of the Stations of the Cross. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Originally it was thought the 133 year-old paintings would need a simple clean.

However upon closer inspection it was found the works were in dire need of restoration.

Over the last 80 years, the Stations have sustained water damage and stains, insect damage, tears and rips to the canvases, build-up of dust and grime and over-painted areas from previous restorations.

It was determined that it would not be possible to complete the necessary work on the Stations without first removing them from the Cathedral and transporting them to Stein & Co’s art restoration studio.

As a result the process has become far more involved than originally intended and the Sydney Archdiocese is seeking donations in order to complete restoration of the remaining eight Stations.

The commemoration of the Passion of Christ is arguably the largest presentation of Stations anywhere in Sydney

Each requires around 50 to 100 hours of cleaning and restoration work, costing $25,000 to $50,000.

“Each painting and oak frame is extremely vulnerable, having seen decades since their last reconditioning,” the Dean of St Mary’s Cathedral, Fr Don Richardson, said.

“The links to the walls need to be reinforced, the paint requires corrections due to ageing, the canvases need repairs to rips and insect damage and the frames demand a high-grade clean from layers of dust and grime.”

One of the restorers in her studio with one of the Stations of the Cross. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
One of the restorers in her studio with one of the Stations of the Cross. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

“However, before any of that can take place, the 200 kilogram paintings need to be dismantled using a special hoist, of which there are only two in Sydney.”

“As you can imagine, to have each painting attended to has been a feat so far.”
David Stein said he and his colleagues were keen to complete the important work of restoring the artworks.

These magnificent works of religious art will now be improved and secured for future generations of Sydney’s Catholics

“It is an absolutely wonderful project for our company… we’ve been doing this [kind of restoration] for 30 years,” he said. “I’ve seen the great devotional aspect of them in St Mary’s Cathedral, and now the importance of these paintings have become of interest to me.”

Fr Richardson said the Stations help sustain the faith of thousands, including visitors from all around the world who draw inspiration from the devotional works.

“The commemoration of the Passion of Christ is arguably the largest presentation of Stations anywhere in Sydney. These magnificent works of religious art will now be improved and secured for future generations of Sydney’s Catholics.”

If you would like to donate to help restore St Mary’s Stations of the Cross please call 1800 753 959 or visit www.donatesydneycatholic.org

Related stories: