The Christ Church Complex of ecclesiastic buildings in St Kilda was initially bound on three sides by a perimeter road called ‘Church Square’ and, accordingly, referred to as Church Square on Acland Street. This last known Church Square in Victoria was given to the Anglican Church by the State in 1850. It was the product of an inherited Act from NSW upon separation, marred by petitions from the outset stating, for example, that such ‘patronage of religion by the State is strongly to be deprecated and condemned as unjust in its character and mischievous in its operation’. The Act was soon abolished.
Before it was abolished, though, a nascent congregation of Anglicans were granted this block on Acland St. It remains whole without subdivision in title or plan, much to the enterprise and credit of succeeding congregations. As such, the block’s rare unity transforms it into the last known physical remnant of a brief if not chastised moment in Victoria’s past, in which there was an attempt to install social cohesion through town planning. It can be seen, here, in the inward orientation of residences surrounding Church Square so that they each address the church at their centre. Parishioners leave of an evening, while facing residences stay put and attentive. The social contract implicit in this arrangement between the church and locals, is embedded, and remains that way still today.
Artefact Church Square’s alternative redevelopment would regenerate Church Square’s initial purpose behind the land grant in the mid-1800s. For up until the mid-1900s in Australia, the church was generally seen as the social centre of a community. Communal prayer brought locals together and generated congregational activities that formed the ‘social media’, aka Facebook, for generations. With today’s increasingly changing face of a secularised society, the church no longer performs this central role.
As the church therefore finds itself more and more on the fringe, the question is how do we retain the centrality of Church Square as befitting the State’s initial purpose of providing a means for social cohesion especially today, when there is such growing disparity? This last remaining Church Square is, therefore, caught between its civic history of social utility, and its private ownership by the Anglican church with a devoutly dedicated congregation’s unmet efforts to raise $4.5 million through direct funding, for Christ Church’s urgent repair.
Unlike the current development seeking appeal at the Heritage Council in May 2019, Artefact Church square’s alternative proposal will emphasise the heritage significance of Church Square by reactivating the Square’s civic commitment to the surrounding community as a means to generate the necessary funds with which to repair Christ Church.
For time immemorial, churches have elevated their mission through art — music, paintings, frescoes, sculptures and architecture — for the greater inclusion of a congregation and resonant meaning. Christ Church, St Kilda, built 1854–7, is no different. It heralds Geometric Gothic Revival style architecture (c. 1300) by Charles Swyer (1825–76), stained glass windows by leading artisans of the time, and an organ built in 1859 by William Hill of London, the earliest Hill organ known to be shipped to an Australian church.
The potential for an Arts Library to recommit Church Square to its historic role as central to a socially cohesive community, is supported by the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ latest census figures, where Libraries, Art Galleries and Botanical gardens are all extremely well attended. See ‘Libraries – Palaces for the People’ below.
Artefact Church Square plans to seek museum accreditation for its proposed redevelopment of the former Bishop’s Residence.
The museum’s artefacts? The former Bishop’s Residence, itself, was ‘Built in the mid-1850s as the original parsonage and is important as one of the earliest surviving two storey domestic buildings in the Gothic Revival style in Victoria’. Its conservation — including restoration and maintenance of its heritage garden and that behind Christ Church — will form the basis of the museum.
The museum will also include an Art Therapy Centre for Sexually Abused Children. ‘Artistic self-expression may be the best therapy for victims of childhood sexual abuse, finds a new study from the Universities of Bristol and Durham in the United Kingdom.’ ‘Letting the Future In can enable the children to safely work through past experiences, and come to understand and move on from what has happened.’
The museum’s Public Arts and Architecture Library will focus on Australian arts and architecture. It will also include audio/visual editing suites downstairs, and an instrumental practise studio (for those in flats and with neighbours who prefer they practise elsewhere).
For a more detailed sketch of what Artefact Church Square intends, please see the PDF below under references.