St Ignatius — A History

Like all great churches St Ignatius has a remarkable history attached to it, a fact that we at Serendipity see as making your beautiful wedding ceremony even more special. We hope our readers find this historic narrative as inspiring as we do! Follow the links here to our main pages on St Ignatius and a history of Richmond here for more beautiful recent wedding photography.


Richmond parish began in 1853, with mass being celebrated at “Erindale”, Mr Joseph L’Estranges house set in a 9 acre paddock. Fr Joseph Madden then built St James at the corner of Bridge Rd and Coppin St on gifted government land. By the mid 60’s Richmond was home for 4000 Catholics — Dr Goold, Melbourne’s Bishop sent off for help, and the by 1866 the 5 Jesuits sent included Fr Dalton, the driving force and visionary for a larger central church. Shortly after Fr Dalton arranged the purchase of a one and half acre site on Richmond Hill for the incredible sum of 2,500 pounds. He set about fundraising for a truly splendid church, and was gifted by William Wardell’s (St Patrick Cathedral) sons a design that would bring about, when it was built, the third largest church in Australia. The foundation stone was laid in 1867, and the body of the church was built by 1870. The grand opening was attended by 1000 people inside and 2000 people outside, including songs assisted by a visiting opera company and St Frances choir, and Peter Lalor, of the Eureka stockade, by then a Member of Parliament, assisted in the collection.

The Education Act of 1872, providing free and secular education for all, stripped money from Catholic education for a time. In response Bishop Goold brought teaching orders to Melbourne — the De La Salle brothers ran the boys school, and then the nuns of the Society of Faithful Companions of Jesus established Vaucluse convent, a girls school and then a secondary school. The transept was built from 1885–8, was completed bar the spire by 1892, costing by that stage 42,000 pounds, an amazing fund raising effort for a basically impoverished community. The spire was built from 1927–1928, and joined the marble altars as signs of the confidence of the parishioners in the heady days of the mid to late 20’s. After WWII Richmond became a migrant suburb, and the parish assisted the Italian and Polish communities, then the Vietnamese. The spire was renovated and strengthened in the 1960’s.

serendipity photography st ignatius


St Ignatius follows William Wardell’s French Gothic design. As in St Patrick’s Cathedral, the sanctuary is surrounded by an ambulatory, here with four chapels opening from it. Light shines from the clerestory windows above the sanctury, transept and nave. The pillars in the sanctuary are of polished red granite, the other of Malmsbury bluestone. Hallet of Richmond built the fine marble altars, the High Altar, and the one in the Lady Chapel. The organ is the very same gold medal awarded one that Fincham built for the Colonial Exhibition of 1875.

Although in the middle of your wedding your will probably not look closely at the beautiful stained glass windows that are responsible for much of the atmosphere at St Ignatius, they are worth appreciating for their details and particular significance as well as their beauty. The three windows above the main door include a monogram of the name of Jesus, with motifs from the seal of the Jesuits, 6 bays with passionflowers and roses represented in the side windows. On the east side Christ appears in majesty surrounded by the twelve apostles, with two lancet windows one carrying representations of St Ignatius Loyola carrying his Constitutions of the Order, and the other of his coworker St Francis Xavier. Two lancet windows on the north wall honour St Mary McKillop and Caroline Chisolm.

Lilies, the traditional symbols of chastity, decorate images of the Virgin Mary and Joseph in the Lady chapel. Mary stands on a crescent moon — a representation of the Immaculate Conception. The two windows installed nearby commemorate Kevin O’Neil the prominent Melbourne florist, they show St Ignatius contemplating the painting Mondonna della Strada, surrounded by the lilies grown on O’Neil’s Macedon property and colourful flowers reminiscent of his style. The Lady chapel celebrates visions of the Virgin at Lourdes, with attendant images of healing and faith. St Joseph’s chapel is next, with glass from 1910 with 3 paired lancet windows and a medallion above. On the left, you may care to trace motifs relating to Faith, Charity and Hope, Foresight, Moderation and Righteousness. The central window talks of Joseph of the old testament, and those of the right tell of the flight to Egypt. The next chapel is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus with windows from 1906, and scenes of the life of Jesus, and various Saints, and the presentation of the Sacred Heart to St Margaret Mary in 1675. The last chapel is that of St Ignatius himself, the glass is from 1912. Trace IHS (Jesus) and AMDG (For the Greater Glory of God), and view scenes from his life, the appearance of St Peter during his convalescence, the arrest by the Inquisition, St Ignatius and his companions binding themselves in service, and receiving the Papal confirmation of the Order in 1540.


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