anglican focus

The news site of the Anglican Church Southern Queensland: nourishing and connecting our faith community

Flags, icons, stained-glass, memorials and a Normandy-inspired ceiling

People & History

“As a Guide, whether you are showing one or two visitors, or a larger group, around it’s always a thrill to see their reaction as you explain the Cathedral and its many treasures to them,” says Cathedral Guide Denzil Scrivens

Print article

Last week while on Cathedral Guide duty, I encountered a visitor standing in the building enthralled by its architecture. She was from Winchester, and had also lived in France and Italy. Contemplating the Cathedral’s ceiling, she felt she was back in Europe in the midst of a gothic masterpiece and was surprised that she was having this experience in Australia.

I explained to her that the Cathedral was designed by English architect John Loughborough Pearson, one of the greatest champions of the 19th century Gothic Revival Movement. And that the Cathedral’s stunning stone ceiling was based directly on the great medieval abbey at Caen in Normandy, which Pearson visited as a young architect in the 1850s.

Shortly after this conversation, a young Brisbane man came in. Particularly interested in military history, he noticed the old Union Jack hanging on the wall in the South Transept. I informed him that it was the very last flag flown at the historic evacuation of the Anzacs from Gallipoli in December 1915.  “My goodness,” he replied, “You have a relic of national significance.” I said I agreed, as do the many veterans who visit the Cathedral each year.

And then there were the two young men from Ukraine whom I recently encountered in the Cathedral. They were very taken with the Cathedral’s collection of Orthodox-style icons, particularly the impressive icon cross in the Chapel of the Holy Spirit. They hadn’t expected to find something of their religious culture in a non-Orthodox setting in Australia and, just for a moment, felt something of the spirit of their homeland.

Reactions from visitors like these are common. As a Guide, whether you are showing one or two visitors, or a larger group, around it’s always a thrill to see their reaction as you explain the Cathedral and its many treasures to them.

The St John’s Cathedral Guides form an important part of the Cathedral’s welcome to visitors. The Cathedral is seeking to attract more people to this vital ministry, particularly given that visitor numbers have been increasing since the pandemic’s impacts have eased.

When I retired from the Queensland public service in 2006, I was looking for an activity to occupy myself, provide a sense of fulfilment and connect with others.

I had been a parishioner of the Cathedral for some years and always wondered at the beauty and uniqueness of the amazing building. So I thought why not join the Cathedral Guides and share with others this exceptional space and its varied treasures?

My decision to join the Guides was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Being a Guide has been extraordinarily rewarding and meaningful.

Each year thousands of visitors come into the Cathedral. Tourists and pilgrims come from around the world – from the UK, Europe, North and South America, New Zealand, parts of Africa and across Asia. Many are attracted by tourist books and websites such as TripAdvisor, which recommends St John’s as a “must-see” attraction.

There also many Aussies, from interstate or locally, who are curious about this structure that they’ve heard about or simply noticed as they’ve driven or walked past.

And whether it’s an overseas visitor or local resident, the reaction is invariably the same – astonishment that Brisbane hosts such a remarkable building, and one boasting outstanding architecture and an exceptional array of beautiful artworks and historic memorials. Such religious spaces are common in Europe. They are rare in Australia.

You don’t have to be a member of the Cathedral congregation to be a Guide – many of our Guides worship in other Anglican parishes or are from different walks of life. Both retired and working people serve as Guides. Most Guides do one shift of duty at the Cathedral monthly and rosters are arranged to suit a volunteer’s circumstances. Free parking at the Cathedral is available to Guides when they are on duty.

Training is also provided. New Guides are rostered with an experienced Guide until they feel comfortable performing duties on their own. There is also a range of resource materials that new Guides can access to learn more about the building and its features.

One of the great things about being a Guide is that you can focus on whatever aspect captures your interest. You certainly don’t need to know everything about the building. Some Guides focus mainly on a single part of the Cathedral, such as the architecture, stained-glass, sculptures, paintings, memorials or Church history. It’s up to each Guide.

If being a Guide isn’t for you, you might want to consider being a Welcomer whose function is simply to greet visitors as they enter the Cathedral.

Editor’s note: The Cathedral is holding an information session for anyone wishing to know more about being a Guide or Welcomer on Thursday 1 June from 11.00 am – 12.30 pm in the Darnell Room in St Martin’s House adjacent to the Cathedral. RSVP to or telephone Cathedral Reception on 3835 2222.

More People & History stories

Loading next article