St Thomas’ Church at Lewisham is about as close as you can get to a place where heaven and earth meet.
One of the oldest in the Archdiocese, it has undergone a stunning renovation, painstakingly restored to its former glory and equally-as-important beauty.
The three-year restoration on the Pugin-inspired neo-gothic building erected in 1851 enlisted modern technology to bring it more in line with its original look.
Structurally, it boasts a new roof and the facade has been replaced. Internally the floors have been paved with magnificent geometric tiles, the gold-leafed Stations of the Cross – which were donated in 1898 by parishioners – restored, the original colour scheme re-introduced and the altar re-stencilled in magnificent terracotta red and gold paint.
With the new look comes a “new” congregation, with requests for weddings and baptisms in the “new” Church tripling since its re-opening.
At the heart of the project, parish priest Fr Sam Lynch said, a Church is “an embassy of God” and most importantly a reminder that He is with us.
He said that while it was an exhaustive process of tenders, plans, designs and physical work – there was an equal amount of “divine providence” involved. “God is beautiful and we should reflect that beauty where we can here on earth to remind us he is with us,” Fr Sam said.
“Walking in here should make you feel like you are in heaven, a place of real beauty.
“And for me, part of that beauty was the incredible stencil-work that existed on the altar which over the years was erased, painted over and hidden. So when it was decided the Church would be restored I was keen to reveal its original beauty.
“The restoration is just beautiful and the stencilling is the icing on the cake. Entering a Church should make you gasp in awe and say ‘wow’ at its beauty that you forget about everything else – and I truly hope that’s what we have achieved.”
And make you go ‘wow’ it does. The extensive project began about three years ago and despite Masses being temporarily celebrated in a nearby school hall, parishioners say it was well worth every cent. The work was funded following the sale of parish assets and conducted by heritage experts from a liturgical perspective.
Built more than 160 years ago, the site housed the first Catholic cemetery in Sydney and contained the remains of around 4000 early pioneers.
Australia’s first Catholic bishop, John Bede Polding OSB, was laid to rest there before being reinterred in St Mary’s Cathedral.
Today the Church attracts people from all over Sydney to wonder at its incredible beauty.
The Church is also home to the Portuguese chaplaincy, who hold weekly Masses and help with the upkeep of the Church.
Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP will celebrate Mass at St Thomas’ Lewisham on 22 July.