Words: Kerry Larsen
The iconic St Mary's by The Sea chapel is one of the most picturesque churches in the country. However, it's wooden and stained glass interior also holds a vivid history.
According to the Douglas Shire Historical Society, the church was blessed and opened on March 6, 1881 on Grant Street. A temporary chapel, later to become the Presbytery, was built in 1878 at an unknown location.
However, the presbytery and church were completely destroyed by a cyclone on March 16, 1911, which left only seven out of 57 houses in the Port Douglas standing and 100 people homeless.
A new presbytery was soon built on the Grant Street site and the second St Mary's was opened and blessed on August 30, 1914.
Come 1986, St Mary's was the only church left in Port Douglas and in danger of being demolished. This was a time of intense development for the town and many buildings had already been demolished. To the local townspeople, it became imperative that the last remaining church of historical significance should be preserved.
The then Douglas Shire Council provided a site at Dixie Street, bordering Market Park, on the undertaking that the relocation work, restoration and ongoing upkeep and maintenance would never become a burden on the ratepayer.
St Mary's church was finally transported to the present site near the Sugar Wharf on November 11, 1988, beginning a long year of restoration by Port Douglas Restoration Society, originally the "Save the Church" group.
After its transportation to the new site, it was renamed St. Mary's by the Sea and underwent tremendous restoration under the guidance of the Port Douglas Restoration Society, with much fund-raising, generosity and goodwill by the local townspeople, finally becoming the much loved icon that it is today.
St Mary's by the Sea is now one of the oldest buildings in Port Douglas and is a non-denominational place of worship and for the conduct of Port Douglas weddings, christenings, memorial services and funerals.
Set in tranquil tropical gardens and parks, the church is surrounded by breathtaking natural scenery including views of the Coral Sea and the surrounding mountain ranges, which can be viewed from inside the church via the magnificent glass altar window.
Ornate tropical flowers are also featured in the stained glass, with highly polished pews and white painted interior making the ideal Port Douglas venue for weddings with couples from across the globe choosing to exchange their vows at the lovely chapel.
Thanks to the Port Douglas Historical Society (www.douglas-shire-historical-society.org ) and Port Douglas Restoration Society Inc (www.portdouglasrestorations.com ) for providing information for this article.