Historic church unveils new crown spire, after a 40-year wait
A Parkville church built in 1898 has been given a new lease on life with a new crown spire installed to replace the previous spire that was destroyed in a storm some 40 years ago.
The Melbourne Mar Thoma Church on Royal Pde has undergone repair works with the replacement crown spire – believed to be the only of its kind in Victoria and possibly Australia after stone was sourced from New Zealand – being a major addition and providing a striking view to the surrounding area.
The church community hails from the southern state of Kerala in India and are in full communion with the Anglican Church.
The present church was purchased by the Uniting Church in March 2008, with about 340 families now being part of the church community.
The Mar Thoma Church’s building convenor Thomas Joseph said the original crown lantern was “shattered into tiny pieces” after being struck by lightning in about 1982, with the upper part of the crown being removed.
“Those pieces were collected and were kept by the Uniting Church for a long time. I collected the pieces and kept them with us and handed them over to the stonemason,” Mr Joseph said.
Over the years, the crown’s remaining stone has deteriorated, with metal scaffolding used as a temporary support for the buttresses.
But the new spire, he said, had brought a sense of pride and joy to the community after works were completed in February.
We can proudly say that the current structure is stronger and better than the old structure and it’s the carbon copy of the original crown lantern.
The church worked with heritage and conservation teams from RBA Architects and Conservation Consultants based in St Kilda to bring the project to fruition after planning began in 2018.
One of the project’s team members, Phillipa Hall, said materials were sourced from the Ōamaru quarry in New Zealand where the original limestone came from.
“We’ve all been really pleased. It’s been such a long process, and everyone worked together really well,” she told Inner City News.
“I think everyone’s priority was just for the success of the project and to get the crown and the tower rebuilt. As far as we can tell, we think it’s the only one in Australia. There’s a few in the UK but we think this is the only type of crown in Australia.”
Ms Hall added it was a “huge step” alone for the Mar Thoma Church to have their own church in Australia, “and so, for them now to be able to reinstate the kind of defining feature (that is the crown) is something they’re really, really proud of”.
The project was fully funded by the church after two funding requests to Heritage Victoria were knocked back.
Mr Joseph said following four years of “tug of war” with the City of Melbourne and Heritage Victoria, they were granted a permit in 2018 to build the amenities on the side of the church with a condition to restore the crown, “which was in fact an eye sore and a potential danger to the community”.
In addition to the new crown, the church is also excited to replace the old cross at the top of the church in early March, which “will be copied from the original cross which we still have”.
At the time of purchasing the building, repair works were conducted to replace carpets, update the altar, and install chandeliers to match the age of the church.
The church first opened as a College Church with its first minister, the Reverend Alexander Yule, choosing to erect the spire based on that of the King’s College Chapel (1498-1509) at Aberdeen University in Scotland where Rev. Yule was a former student. •