Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
28 Mar 2013
The Risen Christ stained glass window
Created in the 19th Century over a period of 50 years the 40 magnificent stained glass windows are frequently described as "the glory of St Mary's Cathedral."
Many, the work of British master artisan, John Hardman the Cathedral's stained glass windows internationally recognised for their beauty as well as their outstanding quality and design.
Exquisitely-realised the windows are at their best in the early evening or morning when light floods through the glass. For anyone who visits the city's iconic Gothic-revival Cathedral cannot help but be filled with admiration for architect William Wardell and his vision that gave birth to the city's iconic Cathedral with the outstanding stained glass windows.
This weekend with thousands of people attending the various Easter Services it is an ideal time to admire the stained glass and perhaps reflect on the story some of them tell of the crucified Christ and the Risen Christ.
But with so many treasures, artworks and pictorial stained glass to appreciate, it comes as no surprise that many visitors overlook the small two-panelled window on the Cathedral's College Street side near to the Chapel of the Sacred Heart which also have a story to tell. As with the majority of the stained glass windows at the Cathedral, the two panels depicting the Birth of Our Lord were created by craftsmen at the now defunct Birmingham Company, Hardman & Son and are beautifully realised both in design, colour and execution.
Trams spelled the begining of the end to Sydney's hansom cabs
While due to the smaller size of the two panels and their location in the Cathedral, the window is often missed by visitors. But for the Queensland father-in-law of Tracey Cain, the editor of Meter, the magazine for the city's cabbies, the window turned out to be one of the highlights of his visit.
"He was admiring the beauty of the window when he noticed the brass plaque below and discovered the window had been donated to the Cathedral in 1882 by Sydney's Catholic cabbies," says Tracey.
Until then she had had no idea that back in Sydney's early days when taxis were horse-drawn Hansom Cabs, the drivers had got together to donate a stained glass window to the Cathedral.
"I'm not sure how many people knew of this but it was a lovely discovery and made a wonderful cover for the Christmas issue of Meter Magazine late last year," she says.
A three-panelled stained glass depiction of the crucified Christ
The brass plaque under the window is simple and says: "This window is donated by the Catholic Cab Men of Sydney, 1882." But further research reveals the gift by Sydney's mainly Irish cabbies marked the dedication Mass at St Mary's which was held on 8 September 1882 and marked the first time the Cathedral's bells rang out.
The first St Mary's Cathedral was destroyed by fire in 1865. Australia's first archbishop, John Polding immediately commissioned William Wardell, a pupil of famed Gothic Revivalist architect Alexander Pugin to design a new Cathedral. In the meantime, a temporary wooden church was erected. In 1869 this too was destroyed by fire, but by then foundation stones for the ambitious sandstone Cathedral with its vaulted ceilings, wide nave and three towers had laid and work begun. 
In England at this time, Pugin was working closely with John Hardman to create some of Britain's most superb stained glass windows and his former pupil Wardell, chose Hardman and his firm to design and craft windows for Sydney's new Cathedral.
Although Archbishop Polding died long before the Cathedral was completed, his successor Archbishop Roger Vaughan presided over the dedication Mass in 1882. By now some of the magnificent stained glass windows including the one donated by Sydney's Catholic cabbies had been installed, but the Cathedral itself was many years away from completion and the foundation stone for the nave had yet to be laid.
Hansom cab rank outside St Mary's Cathedral
The nave itself was not finished until 1928 and the Cathedral not fully completed until 2000 when the spires from Wardell's original plan were finally completed.
"The Cathedral is very much bound up with the history of Sydney and we are very proud to discover that the Cathedral has such a strong link with Sydney cabbies and their history," says Tracey.
Back in 1882 when the city's Catholic cabbies donated the window, there were almost 1000 hansom cabs in Sydney. Introduced to the city in the 1860s they quickly became Sydney's favoured form of transport. Each cab featured a driver dressed smartly in three piece suits with bowler hats set at a jaunty angle, sitting outside high at the rear of the cab with the reins to his horse fed through a support at the front of the roof, while the hansom's two passengers rode snugly inside.
The windows reveal glorious rich colouring
Unlike today, each cab and horse was independently owned by their driver with fares set at 1 shilling for 15 minutes at a speed of less than 9.5 kph. Cabbies back then paid one pound for the license fees. On top of this relatively small fee was the cost of hansom cab's "turnout" which included the cab, its fittings, the driver's uniform and bowler along with harness and the horse itself.
As with current practice, there were specific "cab ranks" where hansom cabs could be hailed and at the height of these horse-drawn taxis there were at least 70 dotted across the city with 30 more in the suburbs.
The death knell to Hansom Cabs sounded in the late 1890s with the advent of horse drawn buses, trams and the invention of the telephone. The telephone replaced the short runs Hansoms used to make to deliver messages or leave calling cards while the public relied more and more on trams and buses to get around. By 1918 and the increasing use of motor cars, there were few cabs still in use although there was a surge in taxi driver numbers.
"After the First World War the government handed out taxi plates to returning soldiers to help them get back on their feet," Tracey explains adding that the same thing happened after World War II.
While things have changed since 1882, Sydney cabbies are still regarded as among the world's best.