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  • Introduction:Practice, Performance, and Emotions in Medieval and Early Modern Heritage
  • Alicia Marchant (bio) and Jane-Héloïse Nancarrow* (bio)

I. The Laying of Stones

When, in January 1868 the foundation stone was laid for the newly commenced St David's Cathedral in Hobart, Tasmania, local newspapers described a lively event with music and military processions witnessed by cheering crowds lining the streets:

At a quarter past ten a.m. yesterday the spirit-stirring sounds of martial music might be heard from the Barracks, and a guard of honor consisting of 100 men of H.M. 2-14th Regiment, commanded by Captain Morgan, with Lieutenants Whidbourne and Ottley as subalterns, marched out and down Macquarie-street, drawing up opposite St. David's, where already the citizens were assembling, bent upon obtaining good positions to view the ceremony of laying the foundation stone of the new Cathedral. The three stands inside the church inclosure were tastefully decorated with ferns, native cherry, and flowers. Over the triangles from which the stone was suspended were the Union Jack and St. George's Ensign, whilst close alongside, the Standard of England threw out its ample folds and told of the expected presence of Royalty.1

The royal personage charged with the task of laying the foundation stone was the son of Queen Victoria, Prince Alfred the Duke of Edinburgh, who paraded down the street in an equipage led by grey horses. The Duke's arrival at the steps of St David's was met with euphoric greetings, with 'cheers of the surrounding spectators, the guard presenting arms, the buglers sounding the salute, and the ladies waving their handkerchiefs and clapping their hands with all the enthusiasm of loyal subjects'.2 This exuberant outpouring of emotion likely stemmed as much from civic pride in the design of the extravagant building as it did from the presence of royalty in one of the furthest outposts of the British Empire, particularly an outpost founded for convict transportation.3 According to contemporary reports, the duke performed the task to a tee, lowering the stone into place to great cheers [End Page 1] after having first positioned copies of the local daily newspapers in the hole to sit underneath the stone for future records.

The architectural plan and design of this new church expressed an emblematic 'architecture of royalty' adhering to late nineteenth-century principles of Gothic Revival architectural style (figure 1). St David's had been designed by renowned English architect George Frederick Bodley (1827–1907) and was built in several stages between 1868 and 1936.4 In 1891, the chancel area surrounding the altar was completed, firmly cementing the Gothic design principles originally outlined by Bodley's plan (figure 2). Gothic Revivalism (also known as neo-Gothic, or Victorian Gothic) was an architectural style that sought to reconfigure and reimagine high- to late-medieval architectural forms, particularly in relation to the pointed arch, Gothic tracery, and lancet windows.5 Examples of Gothic Revival architecture abound in Australia, including St George's Cathedral in Perth (1888) and St Paul's Cathedral in Melbourne (1891). Here, the practice of architectural appropriation highlights how the recreation of an existing material form might be considered a 'performance' of heritage.

In order to fully understand the popularity and widespread adoption of Gothic Revivalist style, we must first understand the original processes and meanings of Gothic architecture that emerged in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. To the Victorians, medieval Gothic architecture was considered a response to the eclecticism of preceding Romanesque architectural forms—which suggests that Gothic Revivalism was perceived as another way to performatively assert political and cultural power within the disparate and outlying colonial territory of Tasmania in the late nineteenth century. As Brian Andrews suggests, worldwide, the Gothic Revival movement 'stamped hugely diverse cultures and peoples with its essential Englishness and conceded little if anything to the milieu in which its monuments stood'.6 The relationship between Gothic Revivalist architecture and the colonialist agenda highlights the essentialism of 'Englishness'—cemented through various practices and performances—during the design and consecration of the cathedral of St David's.

The foundation stone, placed in a performative manner by the Duke of...


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