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NIGHTMARE ON ARUNDEL STREET

As the initial shock-waves subsided and the reality of the vandalism settled heavily in the hearts and minds of parish­ioners, noise emanating from within the church took on even more sinister dimensions. Jack-hammers that once merely pounded seemed to smash and drills that whistled now tore at the body of the church which, as an object of beauty, did not conform to the sterile architectural dogma of the new church. Since 1908, the simple, elegant grandeur of St. Joseph’s had evoked a sense of other-worldliness that uplifted, refreshed and enriched several generations of Benalla faithful. In 1989, this enduring beauty and supernatural aspect apparently threatened to overpower the new, worldly religion of Team Ministry.

From the Team’s perspective the pressing question had al­ways been how to transplant their functional form of worship into a church that had so obviously been created for the sacri­ficial, supernatural ends of Catholicism? Their predetermined answer was logical even if distressing in the extreme: transform St. Joseph’s into a sanitised worship-centre by creating a super-deluxe style parish hall.

Fearing that the Team was just warming to its task and unwilling to contemplate the possible end product, some parish­ioners avoided the forlorn looking object behind the wire fence on Arundel Street altogether. Others tried to keep an eye on things, peering through the gate in an effort to gauge the state of play or, on rare occasions during the absence of the works supervisor, making quick sorties into the church.

The watching and waiting was a nightmare, reminiscent of a scene from Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson’s epic histor­ical novel The King’s Achievement,’ set in sixteenth century England at the time of the gradual destruction of the monasteries. In one scene, the central character Christopher Torridon, a novice monk, looked on helplessly from a distance as Thomas Cromwell’s “spoilers” set about destroying the beloved Priory church of Lewes:

… Smoke was rising from a fire somewhere behind the church, a noise as of metal on stone chinked steadily, and the voices of men calling one to another sounded continually from the enclosure …

… There were footsteps on the stairs; and Sir James came in. … “The church is to be down in a week they say.”

Chris looked at him dully. “All?” he said. “All the church my son.”

… They were beginning with the apse and the chapels behind the high altar. The ornaments had been removed, the images piled in a great heap in the outer court, and the brasses had been torn up. There were half a dozen masons busy at undercutting the pillars and walls; and as they ex­cavated the carpenters made wooden insertions to prop up the weight. The men had been brought down from London, as the Commissioners were not certain of the temper of the Lewes people. Two of the four great pillars behind the high altar were already cut half through.

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