Part three of a 3-part series
IN 1851 the district's Catholic congregation was privileged to have St Scholastica's, a small Gothic Revival church, opened at Berrima.
It was of a design by famed English architect and theorist Augustus Pugin.
In 1891 the church was renamed St Francis Xavier. Being of considerable significance as the only essentially unaltered Pugin-designed building in Australia, in 2008 it was placed on the NSW Heritage Register.
The design had been obtained in 1842 as one of a batch commissioned from Pugin by John Polding, first Archbishop of Sydney.
A church building fund was started and Polding blessed the foundation stone in February 1849.
Regarding subscriptions, research by historian Linda Emery reveals that the major contributor, promising the sum of 20 pounds, was publican Bryan McMahon, owner of the Berrima Inn in Jellore Street.
A former soldier transported to NSW for desertion, he came to Berrima as the overseer of one of the convict road gangs working in the district. Recognising the potential of the growing market town, he left his government position in the mid-1830s and built Berrima's first licensed inn.
The other major contributors to the building fund were also publicans - Michael Doyle of Berrima, Redmond Connor of Sutton Forest and John Keighran from Bargo.
Builder William Munro was finishing the construction of Berrima's Holy Trinity Anglican Church when he secured the contract in 1849 to build St Scholastica. A Scottish immigrant, he had arrived in the colony in 1838 and began his working life in NSW as a house carpenter.
His work in Berrima, also including major repairs to Berrima Court House, set him on the path to success and he became a leading Sydney architect.
The Church of St Scholastica was opened in 1851.
The stone came from the same quarry used for the building of Holy Trinity. The NSW Heritage Register describes the Berrima church as consisting of a four-bay nave, buttressed at the corners, with north porch and a single bellcote astride the west gable, a two-bay chancel with diagonal buttressing to its east wall, and a sacristy abutting the chancel south wall.
It is constructed of ashlar sandstone and today has corrugated iron roofs. The nave and porch interiors are of ashlar sandstone, the chancel and sacristy being plastered. The nave has an open timber roof with arch-braced collar tie trusses on arch-braced king posts. The floors are wooden. The plastered chancel ceiling dates from the last quarter of the twentieth century. The chancel is equipped with stone sedilia (three recessed seats) and piscina (stone basin) as well as an Easter sepulchre recess.
With the exception of the corrugated iron roofs and the chancel, porch and sacristy ceilings, the entire structure is original, intact and unaltered. The present forward altar is original, as is the baptismal font (not by Pugin). All other furnishings date from the last decade of the nineteenth century.
The church is sited on an open block with large mature European, Californian (Monterey pine, Pinus radiata) and native trees around its perimeter and some small shrubs and trees on the block.
Noted Pugin expert Brian Andrews, in an essay on the Pugin Foundation website, points out that the design of St Scholastica was a totally original evocation of a small English medieval village church.
He also states that the quality of workmanship in the church reveals that Munro was a very competent builder. One example is the tall slender lancet windows that light the nave and chancel. Those in the north, west and east walls of the nave have simple mouldings, whereas the paired lancets in the chancel north wall, as well as the triple lancets in the chancel east wall, have more complex mouldings. The trinity of lancets have a subtle, almost imperceptible, Pugin touch. The central window is 5cm wider than the two flanking it, contributing to the overall balance and harmony of the composition.
St Scholastica's was for many years the focus of Catholic worship in the district, but as the railway towns of Mittagong, Bowral and Moss Vale developed, Berrima declined. In the late 1880s, the Berrima church was incorporated into the Moss Vale parish and the name was changed to St Francis Xavier.
It remained in use until 1973 when it closed and fell into neglect. However in 1984 it was reopened and since 2000 has been substantially repaired. It is open for mass, weddings and other sacraments through the Moss Vale Parish.
A dedicated 'Friends of the Church' group manages the ongoing restoration and maintenance of this local heritage treasure.