Centenary Celebration – Chapel of St Mary & St George, Perth

Medievalism has been integral to Australia’s evolution as a nation since Europeans and the English first set foot on Australian shores. Their architectural design styles were re-interpreted, distilled and decanted into something quite unique in Australia, and whether favourable or hostile, their tenets are embedded in the context of the attitudes and philosophies of our contemporary society.

References to the European medieval period are revealed in spectacular ways, articulating the complex discussions and relationship we have had with ourselves about who we are and what our aspirations were meant to be as we forged a distinctive national cultural identity.

Constructed of Donnybrook stone in what is known as the Gothic Perpendicular Revival style, the Chapel of St Mary & St George at Guildford Grammar School at Perth in Western Australia, honours traditions in stone church building, none more important than its picturesque English ‘village green’ style setting.

It was inspired by the King’s College Chapel, Cambridge University, England and is picturesquely sited on ‘a flat expanse of grass’ framed by London plane trees and other buildings. It is culturally significant; of aesthetic, historic, scientific, social and spiritual value for past, present or future generations.

Interior Guildford Grammar Chapel, looking towards the great west end

The significance is embodied in the place itself; its fabric, its setting, its use, its associations, meanings, records, related places and related objects.

Designed by English Gothic revival architect Sir Walter Tapper, the Chapel was a project that was all about people, faith, hope and love.

The west front has two impressive turrets and the six-bay nave has side walls that run sheer all the way to the parapet with the only buttressing at the east end.

There is no doubt it provides a lovely vista of the building as you move toward it, honouring by setting it apart, the faith of all those followers of the way of Jesus who have worshipped within its walls since its consecration.

The Chapel at Guildford Grammar School was built in the Anglican tradition which means there is a strong tradition of singing in the Chapel.

The Chapel of St Mary & St George will be celebrating its Centenary from the 21-26 March, 2014, appropriately through a glorious setting of sacred music.

The ceremony will be all about promoting the ongoing wellbeing, social and spiritual development of the children and their families who attend the school and there are a number of events you can attend.

Some are free, while others are by invitation only and you need to register on their website to attend.

Renowned didgeridoo player William Barton, photo by Douglas Kirkland

The Guildford Grammar School Choirs, The Song Company of Sydney, renowned contemporary instrumentalist improviser of extended technique of the didgeridoo William Barton and Daniel Trocme-Latter, leading organist and Director of Music of the Homerton College Charter Choir at Cambridge will perform together a commissioned setting of the “Ordinary” for the Anglican Eucharist (or Mass) at the Chapel on the 25th March, 2014.

During the day the setting will be performed as part of the traditional Eucharist or Mass in the Chapel.

In the evening it will be presented in Concert form, which is being recorded by the ABC.

Bookings are required because the concert is an aspect of the West Australian Organ Festival

Many people today are confused by much of current church terminology and if the church in Australia is known as the ‘Church of England’ or as an Anglican church?

Today only churches in England are known in that context, while the word Anglican stands for the body of the same church in other places all around the world.

Today the Anglican faith and its assembly reflects the church’s many extremes and compromises to survive.

It was Elizabeth 1 (1533-1603) in England who changed the game plan and signed off on documents that ensured the Protestant religion became the most dominant in England for centuries as it removed itself slowly from the Roman Catholic tradition.

This happened at a time when the Tudor monarchs still had a significant impact on local and world affairs, as well as the evolution of society and its cultural development. While Henry VIII started the ball rolling so to speak, with his divorces, he still died believing he was a Roman Catholic, leaving the many challenges for the conservation of the Christian faith in England to his young daughter to surmount.

Queen Elizabeth 1 greeting Dutch Ambassadors courtesy Kasell National Museum, Germany

The changes didn’t happen overnight, but in degrees, at least until the so-called Oxford Movement of the nineteenth century.

This was about taking the church, in both theory and practice, back to pre-Tudor times when it had been viewed as a jewel in Our Lady’s and the Pope at Rome’s crown. These new ‘Anglicans’ sought a renewal of “catholic,” or Roman Catholic, thought and practice.

Chasuble, a vestment worn by a priest celebrating the Mass, the main service of Worship - made 1450-1600, probably Italian Silk Damask brocaded with silver gilt thread and embroidery appliqued- courtesy V & A Museum, London.

This was probably easier than many might suppose to make happen, in that the one thing the Tudors didn’t destroy was the liturgy of the Eucharist known as the ‘mass’.

The ‘mass’ is an English word deriving from the Latin text the priest said at the end of the mass ‘ite, missa est’.

This was the way of dismissing congregation at the end of a service – to which the people responded ‘Deo gratias’ – thanks be to God.

While the ‘mass’ may have lost some of its processional and ceremonial aspects in some parishes in the history of the ‘church of England’, there was always a ‘high church’ aspect of the new Anglicanism that emerged again during the nineteenth century, one in which people still genuflected to the altar and crossed themselves.

They celebrated much of the ‘mass’ standing up in honour of their God, as they had in days of yore.

A whole new Mass has been written for the Centenary celebration of the Chapel of St Mary & St George at  Guildford Grammar School, for didgeridoo, Himalayan singing bowls, voices, organ and choir.

It has been described by its Australian composer of orchestral, instrumental and electronic music Gerard Brophy as both ‘a worshipful celebration of the Chapel’s centenary as well as a recognition of and reconciliation towards the original inhabitants of its location’.

As such it will be a confluence of the two great spiritual traditions because the Guildford Grammar School is located on the traditional lands of the Wajuk people.

The entire town of Guildford itself, is 20 minute drive north-east of Perth has been classified by the National Trust and so it has a multitude of historical buildings and heritage sites to investigate if you are on a journey there at the time.

Stunning reredos behind the altar in the East end of St Mary & St George Chapel, Guildford Grammar School, Perth Western Australia

In today’s age while the school accepts students from all religious backgrounds and none, all students are required to attend Chapel services, congregational singing and to participate in the Christian and religious education classes of the School.

The Chapel has a splendid interior including an amazing painted reredos, a screen behind and above the altar characteristic of European Baroque style architecture, that was repeated behind the altar in The Chapel Royal at Hampton Court designed by Sir Chrisopher Wren and carved by the 17th centuries great English craftsman Grinling Gibbons.

It also has a stunning ‘Resurrection’ window designed by Robert Juniper and made and installed by Cedar Prest in 1988. Prest also completed another behind the organ at its great west ened.

The stonemasons employed to build the Chapel of St Mary and St George followed tradition, especially in employing men their skills, which had originally been honed during the Roman age in mines at Devon in England and passed down through the centuries to generations of their families.

From antiquity until the twentieth century a lifeline of continuity connected architectural styles and their design reflects the beliefs and values of each age in which they were conceived.

In ancient cultures, as at Athens in Greece, the temple had been reserved or priests, while the people stood outside, divinity hidden. The innovation of the Christian was their desire to come inside.

They wanted to gather together in an assembly, called the ecclesia, in order to celebrate, under the authority of the episcopus, the miracle of the Last Supper of the historical man known as Jesus, and the faithful were asked to contribute to its growth.

Jesus was the first born child of the virgin woman Mary who was from the tribe of Judah, a descendant of King David. She became the wife of Joseph, a carpenter and her son was born in a stable on their way to Joseph’s home town Nazareth in order to comply with a Roman population census.

This is a story children at the Guildford Grammar School would learn about and understand. Jesus of Nazareth is believed by millions to have fulfilled a prophecy and introduced harmony in creation.

Jesus was later given the title Christ, which comes from the Greek Christos, meaning ‘anointed one’. The event we call the incarnation (God becoming man and dwelling with us), divided time into before he was born (BC) and after he was born (AD or ACE)

In England in 1818 the Church Building Act authorized churches to be built out of public funds so ‘the soul of the working man might be regained for the established church, for his own improvement and for the benefit of the nation’.

When we speak of the Gothic we usually imagine cathedrals, ministers, abbeys, churches, chapels, spires, towers and high soaring spaces with pointed arches and large external flying buttresses to support them.

Pointed arches were the main characteristics of the Gothic style in medieval Europe from the eleventh century onward.

A Gothic arch points ‘heavenward’ to God, the being believed in monotheistic religions such as Judaism, Islam and Christianity, to be the creator of our universe.

Style had many influences… the perceived standards set by the moral and ethical conduct of Queen Victoria, her consort, Prince Albert and their family impacted greatly on social mores in Australia and these continued during the Edwardian age in which the Chapel was founded.

It was 1909, when the Guildford Grammar School was under the guidance of the headmaster Reverend Percy Henn, that a decision was made to endeavour to secure the benefaction of a London businessman, the well-known philanthropist Cecil Oliverson to cover the costs of building a chapel. He obliged and building began in 1912, the chapel was consecrated in 1914 and dedicated to Saint Mary & Saint George.

St George has been a much venerated and celebrated saint in both west and eastern religions and is the patron saint of England.

He is extremely brave and very symbolic, the perfect saint really for a children’s school to commemorate, especially for the boys who make up its Senior School, with co-education encouraged at a preparatory level only.

Detail Saint George Slaying the Dragon - Stained glass panel designed by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, about 1862 V & A Museum, London

As children many of us would have heard the story of how St George saved the Princess and the people of her land from the dreaded Dragon.

As a symbol of the powers and forces that destroy life the story is a powerful allegory, and emblematic of the triumph of good over evil.

The dragon is a metaphor for the demons we all face and fight ourselves on a daily basis.

He is all about the power of evil and ‘the enemy of truth’ and lies in wait seeking to deceive and ‘frustrate the upward reach of humanity’. Above all he represents tyranny

St George, well he helps us all, and most especially young men wanting to take on their own role in life by offering to help Jesus to light the pathway forward.

St George’s refusal of money from the King as a reward, asking that it be given to the poor, is symbolic of him putting the needs of the many before that of himself as an individual. Its a fine example of living a goodly life championing the greater good.

Anglican primate of Australia, Dr Phillip Aspinall, consecrating the great west end of St John's Cathedral, 29th October, 2009

The fact that the Chapel building itself was completed in two  years is a truly remarkable turn around rate for building in this fashion in our nation, which also had the joy of consecrating the only Gothic revival building still being completed (2006) anywhere in the world in October 2009; St John’s Cathedral at Brisbane where the Primate of the Anglican church in Australia is based.

During World War II the Chapel was used as a military hospital and the red and white contrasting tiles in the shape of a Swiss Cross that were laid on the roof so the building could be clearly identified by enemy aircraft are faded, but still discernable.

The Chapel of St Mary & St George has been and is still an important aspect of the education pupils at the school receive; one that provides opportunities for reflection together.

The special Choral setting of the Eucharist planned in celebrate and honour 100 years since the Consecration of the Chapel of St Mary & St George at Guildford Grammar School is all about deepening spiritual life; celebrating God’s love and empowering others through sharing and dispensing the grace of God.

The Centenary will surely be a grand celebration anyone is welcome to attend for after all, ‘the Holy Spirit was poured out for all of us to drink’*

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2014


Guildford Grammar School

21–26 March, 2014

11 Terrace Road,
Guildford, Western Australia, 6935

Email:  [email protected]

Website: http://www.ggs.wa.edu.au/



*I Corinthians 12: 12,13

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