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Sydney’s St. Mary’s Cathedral’s dazzling light display

Sydney Australia, St. Mary's Cathedral, Christmas

Sid's Planet | Fair Use via YouTube

J-P Mauro - published on 12/21/23

The Australian light show, running from now until Christmas, reportedly took 265 days and more than 30 million pixels of light to complete.
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Catholics of Sydney do not want to miss the enormous Christmas display at one of Australia’s oldest and most historic churches, St. Mary’s Cathedral. From now until Christmas Day, St. Mary’s is putting on a festival called “Christmas at the Cathedral,” which culminates in a massive show that uses projectors to light up the cathedral’s facade. The events are running every night until Christmas, leaving plenty of time to see the spectacle. 

Every evening, beginning at 4 p.m., the cathedral holds Confessions before Mass at 5:30.

At 7:00 Cathedral Square – just outside St. Mary’s doors – becomes transformed into a street fair, complete with pop-up gift shops, food stalls, and a lovely Nativity scene. Attendees also get to enjoy the a cappella music stylings of Soulfood, a vocal group from Sydney that’s performed outside of St. Mary’s on dozens of occasions.

“Christmas at the Cathedral” offers ample entertainment for the whole family, but these are just diversions as the crowds await the main event: the massive light show projected onto the facade of St. Mary’s Cathedral, as can be seen in the video below.

In wonderful and fluid animation, the Cathedral is masterfully filled out with colors before a short animated scene commences. For the first half of the light show, the images all follow the themes of the song “The 12 Days of Christmas,” beginning with the partridge in a pear tree and ending with 12 drummers drumming. In the second half the show pivots to present some of the finest Catholic frescoes ever painted; this half, however, is not animated and is presented as more of a slide show.

According to Catholic Weekly, the Archdiocese of Sydney collaborated for the event with Electric Canvas, a troupe of digital artists and technologists who run an annual display at Sydney’s Vivid Festival. This is the festival that sees the Sydney Opera House illuminated by similar projections. We’re not sure what it takes to get the opera house lit up, but to complete the cathedral show, Electric Canvas required 265 days and some 30 million pixels.

Peter Milne of Electric Canvas commented on the work: 

“When the team at the archdiocese presented us with the theme of the ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ for this year’s projections, we were thrilled. The addition of ultra-high-definition ground projection onto the cathedral’s entry podium proved a big hit with kids of all ages in 2022 and was used between running’s of the main facade show, so that will be even bigger this year.”

While this is not the first year the display has been set up and enjoyed by thousands of onlookers, it will not be the last either. Much of the funding for the production came from a sponsorship with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA). In his comments to Catholic Weekly, Chris Williams, Executive General Manager from the CBA, noted that their sponsorship of “Christmas at the Cathedral” will extend for the next four years. 

“Christmas Lights at the Cathedral is an event that brings so much happiness, drawing together people of all ages and backgrounds from across our community. We are proud to announce the renewal of our partnership for a further four years, extending our commitment to supporting such a wonderful event.”

Visit the St. Mary’s Cathedral website to learn more, or just mosey down to Cathedral Square once the sun goes down. 

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