Thursday 28 April 2016

Romanesque in Gippsland: St Mary's Church, Bairnsdale

I'm currently visiting Bairnsdale in the East Gippsland region of Victoria, Australia (courtesy of the East Gippsland Shire Council). I'm mainly here to deliver a couple of library talks about travel writing, but this morning I had a chance to look around the town before my return train to Melbourne.

Bairnsdale is a busy commercial hub rather than a tourist hotspot, though many travellers pass through here on their way to scenic places such as Lakes Entrance. As a result there aren't many obvious tourist attractions in the town, but one such is St Mary's.

This Catholic Church was built in 1913, and its exterior is interesting because of its Romanesque style and its asymmetrically placed bell tower. It certainly looks quite different from the standard 19th century neoclassical churches you find throughout the Australian countryside:

What's particularly remarkable about the church, however, is its interior. In 1931, the church's Father Cremin encountered Francesco Floreani, an Italian painter who'd trained in Turin. Due to the Great Depression, he'd been forced to leave Melbourne and take up farm work in the countryside.

Cremin invited him to leave the land and paint the interior of the church, a job which took seven years from 1931 to 1938. The result is remarkable - a kind of mini-Sistine Chapel in East Gippsland:

With the beautiful stained glass windows, it's quite an effect:

Floreani even managed to work himself into one scene, wearing a blue collar and keeling in prayer. Even a religious artist must be allowed the occasional selfie.

St Mary's Church is located at 240 Main Street, Bairnsdale. Entry free.

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