Meeting Melbourne Again
Spirited! qualities may be found in people, places, things and activities. Spirited places are those that evoke special feelings within you, whenever you visit them.
As a child whenever Mum would take me and my brothers to the city we would stop into St Francis Church on the corner of Lonsdale and Elizabeth St. This simple cream coloured church graces one of Melbourne's busiest street corners; a mere stone's throw from the Bourke St Mall.
It's a building steeped in rich history. The foundation stone was laid in 1841 and the church was named in honour of St Francis of Assisi. It was Victoria's first Catholic Church and Melbourne's first Cathedral. It is claimed that Saint Mary of the Cross (Mary Mackillop) made her First Communion in this church as her family lived in nearby Fitzroy. My great grandparents were married here in 1897, after St Francis had reverted to a Church with the building of St Patrick's Cathedral in East Melbourne.
As a child I remember visiting St Francis to light candles in the Lady Chapel. It was frequently crowded and Mass was said several times a day to cater for busy city workers and shoppers. We frequently went to St Francis as a family for Saturday evening Mass after the football or before dinner in the city.
I took my children to St Francis whenever we visited Melbourne, as my mother had done and her mother before her. The most memorable visit was when an elderly man, on his knees, asked those in the chapel to join with him in praying the Rosary. I felt an immense calm fall over me as we prayed with strangers; a truly sacred moment. I'm not sure if it is this experience, the nostalgia of childhood memories or my love of the rich family and church history but I continue to have a deep yearning and commitment to visit the Lady Chapel to light candles for family and friends. Last holidays, as I toured the city with my brother and nieces we visited St Francis and I shared with the girls our family connection to the church. I feel that in some small way this visit honoured our family story, and in particular, our faith story.
Although times have changed and Melbourne has grown exponentially this church still exudes a sense of deep calm and peace; a haven in the midst of a large, bustling city. Inside, you can hear the faint echo of trams as they rumble down Elizabeth St but inside it is tranquil and serene. I am filled with peace. I sit in deep contemplation and often my eyes well with tears. I don't know where these tears come from; a well spring from within that is released so easily in this most beautiful of sacred spaces.
Do you have a favourite place that is for you, a sacred space?
Here's a website showing a lithograph image of St Francis Cathedral c 1890.
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