St Patrick's Blesses New Organ

A Tasmanian blackwood organ commissioned to mark the bicentenary of the birth of celebrated theorist and designer AWN Pugin has been blessed at a ceremony at St Patrick’s Church in Colebrook.

St Patrick’s Church is one of two Catholic churches in Tasmanian that was built to a design prepared by Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812–52), a preeminent early-Victorian architect, designer and theorist who led the gothic revival in England. Built in 1856, the church’s external form and internal furnishing is reflective of English village church architecture 500 years earlier. Its significance as an exemplar of gothic revival architecture, and the work of AWN Pugin in particular, is now widely recognized thanks to the efforts of the Pugin Foundation.

Over the past decade, the Pugin Foundation has managed the conservation of St Patrick’s Church, including restoration of missing elements and the commissioning of an organ for the church to mark the bicentenary of AWN Pugin’s birth. A proposal by Launceston organ builder, Hans Meijer, was accepted and raising of the necessary funds began. In 2013, The Tasmanian Heritage Council lent support to an application by the Pugin Foundation to the Tasmanian Community Fund to secure the balance of money needed. The application was accepted, and the works commenced.

In refining the design, Hans Meijer consulted John Maidment OAM, Chairman of the Organ Historical Trust of Australia, and Ian Boersma of Heritage Tasmania. The case, of Tasmanian blackwood, is inspired by the simple forms and proportions of Georgian era furniture but incorporates a fretwork screen based on a similar screen on the front of Pugin’s own organ. Niches containing three large pipes on either side of the console are topped with composite arches that replicate a geometry found in the rood screen of St Patrick’s Church. The panel mouldings likewise replicate a profile found in the rood screen.  All parts except the electric blower were made in Hans Meijer’s workshop. It incorporates much recycled material. The keys are ivory and ebony, stops are bone (obtained from a Launceston butcher!), and many of the pipes are a lead alloy (the lead having been extracted from a bumper bar of a decommissioned crane truck).  Some of the blackwood used for the case was reject material passed on to Hans when it became known that the project was stalled due to a shortage in blackwood planking. Modern materials such as particle board or Phillips head screws have not found their way into the construction!  Once completed, the organ case was French polished by Tony Colman. 

On 4 June 2016 a small crowd gathered at St Patrick’s Church for the ceremonial unveiling and blessing of the organ. The ceremony commenced with a welcome by Father Terry Rush, followed by an overview of the project by Brian Andrews of the Pugin Foundation. The blessing was conducted by His Grace, the Most Reverend Julian Porteous DD, Archbishop of Hobart, after he had delivered a thought-provoking address on the place of the organ in the worship service. The service concluded with a demonstration of the new organ’s capabilities through a recital of six pieces by Andrew Bainbridge, organist of St Mary’s Cathedral, accompanied by oboist Alexander Rodrigues.

Before the ceremony, some of the persons involved in the making of the organ speculated on whether the sprinkling of holy water might affect the French polish if the proceedings did not provide opportunity for a discreet wiping off of the water soon after the sprinkling. They discovered with relief that the Archbishop had chosen to use incense for the ceremony instead of water!

The Pugin Foundation intends that the organ will increase opportunities for St Patrick’s Church to be used as a concert venue, generating income for the ongoing maintenance and conservation of this important heritage place.

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