St Columbans’ Church, Cudal

This is the tiny Catholic Church of St Columban in the village of Cudal, near the town of Orange, in inland New South Wales (NSW), Australia.  I say ‘near’ but that nearest town is still 40 kilometres away.  When this church was built, in 1880, that was a day’s ride on horseback or in a buggy.  And the nearest big town, Sydney, is another 260 Km past Orange, so Cudal was a pretty remote country outpost from civilisation in 1880.

I really like it because it’s trying so hard to be a ‘gothic’ church. That was the ‘proper’ Christian architecture of its day, no matter how limited your resources or your materials.  The roof is of lightweight tin – ‘corrugated iron’ to the rest of the world – so you know that the buttresses are decorative, they aren’t needed to hold the walls up against the outward pressure of the weight of the roof, even if its timber frame was probably originally clad in slate.

The church of St Columban, in Cudal, NSW, Australia

The church of St Columban, in Cudal, NSW, Australia

Although very small, this 1880 church echoes medieval European Gothic churches in its design

Although very small and simple , this 1880 church tries to emulate medieval European Gothic churches in its design

The windows in the single space church, and the door into the porch area at the north-west end, follow the typically pointed gothic shape, but the theme breaks down a little at the south-eastern presbytery where there is a simple bell tower, with both the single bell and its rope exposed to the elements.

The presbytery and bell tower of the St Columban's, Cudal, NSW

The presbytery and bell tower of the church of St Columban’s, Cudal, NSW

The presbytery and bell tower of the St Columban's, Cudal, NSW

The bell is exposed, and is in a bell tower reminiscent of a Greek Islands Orthodox Church

St Columban’s was built from what appears to be black basalt, an igneous rock formed as lava within volcanoes.  Inland NSW around Cudal is pretty flat country, and there’s no sign of even an ancient extinct volcano within several hundred miles, but according to Geology.com, basalt is the most common stone underlying the earth’s surface.  Obviously, some of that underlying ancient lava is near enough to the surface, and near enough to Cudal, for its late Victorian residents to quarry some and build their very own place of worship from it.

It’s rough built.  The blocks are crudely hand-hewn.  Whatever mortar the builders originally used to hold the stones in place, they seem to have been repointed by amateurs at some later date.

St Columban's church, Cudal, NSW, is built from rough-hewn basalt rock

St Columban’s church, Cudal, NSW, is built from rough-hewn basalt rock

St Columban was an Irish monk from the 6th century AD.  He was a teacher and a great travelling missionary, founding monasteries all over Europe, which at that time was most of the known world.  The first settlers to Cudal may well have been poor Irish immigrants, who would have felt some affinity with their compatriot itinerant saint.  The church they built may be crude and small, but it is well-maintained, and there are enough parishioners in this little community to hold weekly services in it, so it is still doing the job it was built for.

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