History of St Peter’s Cathedral

The spires of the Cathedral provide a proud focus for the people of Adelaide as well as the churches of the Diocese.  The foundation stone of St Peter’s Cathedral was laid on St Peter’s Day (29th June) 1869.  The influence of French Gothic architecture can be seen in the West front, which features a rose window, similar to those found in many famous cathedral overseas.

The See of Adelaide was constituted in June 1847. As there was no cathedral, Trinity Church on North Terrace was denoted as the pro -tempore Cathedral Church. Augustus Short, first Bishop of Adelaide, held the first ordinations there on St Peter’s Day in 1848. When Adelaide was surveyed by Colonel William Light, over a decade before, land in Victoria Square had been set aside for public use. Bishop Short obtained a land grant in the square from the Governor, Major-General Frederick Robe CB, in March 1848. By late 1849 a subscription was bringing in funds for construction of a cathedral on the now cleared site. Around this time the legality of the land grant began to be publicly questioned. It was argued that the area was a public reserve and the Governor had no power to issue such grants. To resolve matters Bishop Short, supported by the Synod, took the matter to the Supreme court. The judgment in June 1855 confirmed that the grant was invalid and construction could not proceed.

Bishop Short purchased just over an acre of land at the corner of King William Road and Pennington Terrace North Adelaide on 8 August 1862. He reported in 1868 that the funds gathered were sufficient and announced to the Diocesan Synod his decision to begin construction of a cathedral. Building began in 1869 an it was consecrated as St Peter’s Cathedral on 1 January 1878.


Augustus Short had plans for a cathedral drawn up by English architect William Butterfield. Butterfield was very interested in polychromatic patterns of bricks and stone in his buildings. Two examples of Butterfield’s work can be seen in the reredos in the Lady Chapel and in the Font near the front door.

The Cathedral was started in 1869 and the first section was completed and opened fully for services in 1877. The change of colour in the ceiling of the nave shows where the first part ended. Photographs of the building of the Cathedral can be seen in the passage to the northern side of the Chancel. The rest of the nave was completed by 1901. The towers were completed in 1902 and The Lady Chapel and crypt was completed in 1904. The last section to be completed was the front steps in 1911.

In the 1990s much restoration was started. The floor needed replacing; some tiles were retained and others made in England to match were used. The roof, of Welsh slate, had to be replaced again with Welsh slate. The pinnacles around the Lady Chapel have been removed until funds are available to repair the damage done over a century’s exposure to the atmosphere. Restoration is a continuing activity in any building of this nature.

Historic photographs of the building of the Cathedral, and a copy of the Butterfield plan, can be seen on the wall in the passage to the sacristy on the southern side of the Quire.

Building Funds

The Cathedral was built in sections as money became available. Some well-known Adelaide people, including Robert Barr Smith, Sir Thomas Elder, Sir John Bonython, Mortlock and Pope were very generous in their contribution to the building of the remaining sections of the Cathedral. In the late 20th century, Mrs Colleen Beinl and Santos have been very generous benefactors to the Cathedral.


The wooden sculptures on the High Altar Reredos were executed in England and depict people and angels who have been important for some reason to the people of the Church.

The two stone heads on the top of the pillars which mark the ending of the first section that was completed are of Bishop Short, the first Dean of Adelaide and possibly the architect and builder of the first section of the Cathedral.

The Christus Rex hanging below the early South Australian flags and guidons is enamel on copper made by a Czech-Australian Voitre Marek. The Madonna in the Lady chapel, also enamel on copper, was also made by Marek.


The timber in the ceiling of the Cathedral is probably Baltic Pine. Some of the timber for the wood work in the Chancel and Sanctuary is made of English Oak. The reredos was built in Exeter, England, but most of the timber work in the Chancel and Sanctuary was carved and built in Adelaide. The Cathedra (the Bishop’s Throne), made in the 90s, is made of Australian timbers.

Photographs of some of the various art work are beautifully shown in the booklet which can be bought from the shop.

Stained Glass Windows

The Cathedral’s windows range from mid 19th century work to early 21st century work. Many of the windows were made in England, however, two of the earliest windows, the Rose Window in the eastern wall and the window of Edward the Confessor were made in Adelaide. The lower windows in the nave depict people who have, in their lives , been significant in some way to the English Church from early times right up to 19th century martyrs. A leaflet about these windows is available on the stands by the doors.

The windows in the Lady Chapel are of a different style from those in the nave and were made early in the 20th Century. These windows show a different version of some of the scenes on the High Altar reredos and that scene in the newest window.

The high clerestory windows, with South Australian themes as well as Biblical references, were designed by Cedar Prest and made in Adelaide. A booklet about these windows is available from the shop in the Cathedral.

The newest window, the Magdalene window, celebrating both the resurrection and the work of women in the church was designed and made in Melbourne by David Wright. Compare this window with the north-western window in the Lady Chapel. A leaflet explaining this window is available from the stands by the doors.