10 reasons why it was worth living and breathing Geraldton Cathedral mosaic

The commission to create a mosaic for a new Baptistry Pool for Saint Francis Xavier Cathedral in Geraldton landed in my lap in April. I knew  I wanted to make something bigger than the the budget available and just thought I could work a little harder and create something that would truly open the heart and that was fitting for the cathedral….What was I thinking! Mosaics are really labour intensive!

But I usually manifest my dreams and asked my dear friend Ashima, if she was up for some extra work  too and she agreed. I felt it just had to be this way for the vision to emerge. I hadn’t  counted on anything going astray within my dream  though…. and what dream is ever straight forward?

By mid July, I had visited the cathedral, the design was approved, most of the stained glass was bought and we were ready to start cutting the  glass to make a mosaic. It was a stretch to make it in the timeline and here is why it was worth all those long days of cutting glass and installing the mosaic.

1. I met Father Robert Cross. He is also an archeologist and when I arrived at the cathedral for my first visit, he had literally just dug up his eighth bishop and I saw the bones! In a cardboard box. Of course they looked coffee stained. I had thought they would be white.

Father Robert is incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about the life of Hawes who was the architect and priest who first designed and started building  the Cathedral back in 1916. He was also very hospitable  during several visits to Geraldton..

2. I sat and meditated  in a cathedral of sand. The original floor had been ripped up. The moment I walked in,  divine love started pouring into me for what seemed like an eternity. I cried buckets. I just couldn’t stop. My mum said it was the Holy Spirit telling me to become a practicing Catholic again.

Afterwards, I reacquainted myself with the Catholic faith and symbolism and sat in my studio back in East Fremantle continuously drawing and meditating  for a week…. and this design emerged. The only criteria I was given was that it should move from dark to light and have the symbol of Baptism, which is the shell.

I wanted the shell to float within the three circles of light; the Trinity, and moment of transformation.

It became both landscape and sky/ heaven. The river symbolises the journey of soul through darkness into light; the large sun, the moment of Baptism and transformation by spirit, and the second sun , the way in which an open heart can blossom out into the rest of the world. I wanted the mosaic to wrap around and hold the person being baptised. The pool was later changed to this version when its depth was increased.

3. I bribed Ashima to work late to sing along to  “The Sound of Music”. She shares my addiction of the musical and does really good impressions of Maria walking and singing up the mountain.

She worked by my side most of the time we were cutting the mosaic which was predominantly made from stained glass and some small glass mosaics. Other artists came and worked too with about 4 of us working on it much of the time.

Here’s a little peak through the construction time.

4. Dear friends cooked for us and bought chai tea and even cleaned my house! Different artists came and worked on the mosaic from a few hours to a few days, or weeks. So much love was poured into this.

5.  I met Angela McCarthy. She invited me to do this commission. She is the most passionate woman I know who is an advocate for the power of  spirituality and art. She lectures in theology at Notre Dame Uni. She also brought really great food to the studio as we worked into the evening one night.

6. We got behind with our schedule to be ready for the big opening ceremony, as there were so many adjustments to be made to the pool and mosaic with the Baptistry pool not being built to spec. This was the bit of the story I hadn’t counted on… but as you know, these times push us into spaces that can open up  chambers of the heart and find gold. Like…

7. During the installation, I worked in the cathedral on my own through the night a couple of times. The peace and space was unforgettable. I walked outside at daybreak feeling very blessed and euphoric.

We temporarily suspended the mosaic panels  for the opening ceremony and it looked OK. Thank goodness!

To the sound of an angelic choir and the immense sound of the new pipe organ, the Bishop of Geraldton, Bishop Morrisey blessed the Baptistry pool during a huge ceremony to bless and dedicate the Cathedral after seven years of restoration.This picture is courtesy of THE E Record, Catholic E news for Perth Diocese.

After the ceremony it was back to finishing off gluing and then grouting in the mosaic with a couple more of the 5 hour trips north to Geraldton. On one of them, my old car died. Now I have the nicest car I have ever had… courtesy of the bank for now. It feels very luxurious.

8. I worked with Tony Italiano who is the best Italian tiler ever. He was so devoted to getting the installation done well. We shared stories. He told me how he met his beautiful wife for the first time back in their home  village in Italy when they were both coincidently visiting there from Perth and Geraldton.

9. Graham and Polish Thomas had built an incredible, exquisite, new pipe organ and were tuning it the whole time I was there. Tony, the tiler, wore headphones. It was sometimes like listening to an intensely loud  Dracula movie soundtrack, and other times like birdsong …It made the whole experience even more intense and beautiful.

10. I had the joy of making art for a sacred space that will last for hundreds of years and will be enjoyed by thousands of people over the ages. I hope it touches their hearts. It changed mine. It used every part of me up and pulled me into new territories of art and my own interior. It was transformational in many ways. Well it is a Baptistry Pool.

It was an absolute privilege and a real gift and I am so truly very grateful for the opportunity to create in such a beautiful, public ,sacred space.

And Geraldton community….is so gorgeous. Every checkout girl felt like my sister and the church community were very warm and appreciative.

The biggest thanks go to Ashima Milne for all her plastered  fingers cutting glass in the long hours and Justin Crawford for all his technical engineering in the wee hours that saved the day too.

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  • Maree Brennan June 29, 2020  

    Dear Dawn, I recently visited the renovated St Francis Xavier Cathedral & was overcome by the beautiful renovations to this dearly loved sacred building. I was born & need in Geraldton before moving away in my early 20s. The cathedral is very special to me for many reasons. Your baptismal pool is one of the most beautiful pieces of sacred art I have ever seen. So fresh & pure yet not out of place in the traditional Romanesque structure. Thank you for sharing your story, your experience & for putting your heart and soul into this special project. I am so pleased that it was also a time of spiritual renewal & for this I say, welcome home. God bless you & thank you again. You have created a small piece of heaven on earth.

    • Dawn July 6, 2020  

      Hi dear Maree
      Thank you so very much! I really appreciate that. I’ve been thinking about the mosaic a lot recently. I think there is a part of me still in there. It was such a joy to create. And I certainly was given so much divine guidance and energy to create and complete it.
      When I visited the cathedral to see it before commencing the design this huge bolt of love came through for several minutes. It was so overwhelming I could hardly stand. So I knew I was meant to do it. What a gift.
      Thank you dear Maree.

  • Mandy Grubb July 6, 2021  

    Hey Dawn, Mandy here. I’ve just seen your beautiful mosaic at the Cathedral in Geraldton. I loved the unexpected connection to the gorgeous you. We have been on a 3 week trip – Dongara, Shark Bay, Melangata station, Cue, Geraldton – and over this time have been connecting with the Monsignor Hawes story. The station we stayed at was the only private residence designed by Hawes. Amazing place! Love.

  • Iris Whitelock February 8, 2022  

    What a beautiful story, Dawn! I don’t know when I’ll be going to Geraldton next – it’s not on the schedule yet! – but I might just have to put it on there. xxx

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