College Coat of Arms

St Johns Coat of ArmsAlthough referred to in the St John’s Act 1857 as “the College of Saint John”, the College has always been dedicated specifically to the apostle, St John the Evangelist.

Early Christian iconography frequently used symbols to represent Evangelists. The most frequently used symbols are four winged creatures, all invested with a nimbus, the winged man (St. Matthew), the winged lion (St. Mark), the winged ox (St. Luke) and the winged eagle (St. John) taken from the Vision of Ezekiel and the Revelation of St John.

The eagle given to St John often represents the Ascension and was given to St. John “because, as the Eagle soars on its powerful wings high towards heaven (St John) soared in the spirit upwards to the heaven of heavens to contemplate the Divine nature of Christ and to bring back to earth revelations of sublime and awful mysteries.” (Audsley).

Added to the symbol of the Evangelist are the sun in splendour emanating from the top of the shield and the equilateral triangle. The sun in splendour is traditionally representative of God the Father and the equilateral triangle of the Trinity. 

It was natural that the early Church authorities in Sydney would adopt the traditional attribute of St John for the symbols of a new college under his patronage. In 2015 the Coat of Arms was revised to the St John’s logo, introduced to provide a more contemporary version of the traditional crest.

The Coat of Arms remains in use within the St John’s College Foundation logo and in the production of bespoke historical merchandise.


St John’s College is perhaps the grandest Gothic Revival College in Australia, designed by one of England’s (and Australia’s) foremost ecclesiastical architects of the mid-nineteenth century.

A rare realisation of A.W.N. Pugin’s ideal Catholic College (and in turn based on Magdalen College, Oxford) it demonstrates the influence of Pugin on the work of architect, William Wardell.

Built entirely in sandstone, the college is fourteenth century English Gothic in style and substantially Renaissance Baroque in plan, in the manner of Wardell’s earlier monasteries and convents.

There are fine interior spaces – such as the Chapel, Great Hall, Library and Imperial Staircase – all on a scale grander than Blacket’s St Paul’s College, though Blacket himself supervised the work in 1860-62 after Wardell’s resignation.

In 1858 it was suggested that William Wilkinson Wardell (1823-1899) offer his services to the Very Rev. D.M. O’Connell as an architect for St John’s College. At the same time a set of plans was produced for the College building under the immediate direction of Archbishop Bede Polding, the Founder of St John’s. These plans were intended as a general guide for the selection committee.

In February 1859 Wardell was appointed architect for St John’s. Working in Melbourne he drew up the general plans and sent them to Sydney in May. Because of a very tight budget with a limit of 30,000 pounds, July and August saw discussion of Wardell’s design and of how much could be built within the budget. In September and October the general plans were approved by the St John’s Council and the University Senate. For the six months up until April 1860 detailed plans and working drawings were drafted. Wardell designed St John’s College as a three-storey sandstone Gothic Revival building on an H shaped plan.

Stylistically, St John’s is 14th Century English Gothic in detail, yet the building is markedly Classical in its design (i.e. from Renaissance and Baroque tradition). During the period from October 1859 to April 1860 relations between Wardell and the Council deteriorated for various reasons, ultimately ending with Wardell’s resignation being accepted by the Council in June 1860. With the main building programme already in progress the Council retained Wardell’s plans and proceeded with the construction under the supervision of Edmund T. Blacket, another of Australia’s best known colonial architects who had finished construction of the first stage of St Paul’s College at the University of Sydney the previous year. When Blacket was appointed to supervise the construction of St John’s he was given one restriction by the Council.

“. .I should adhere to the design of Mr Wardell and that any alterations I propose should be done with a view to diminish the expense ..”
(Blacket in a letter to the Council, September 3, 1860)

The problem of funds became so severe that much of what Blacket strongly advised just could not be built. Some of the changes Blacket made to Wardell’s specification were the substitution of Australian Hardwood for Pitch Pine, the use of bar trusses in the Chapel, omission of a fountain, use of common bricks instead of fire bricks, substitution of Colonial for Portland stone and the use of ornamental pillars in the library. Blacket estimated that these and other changes would occasion a saving of 1,689 pounds, thus leaving the amended quote at 35,754 pounds.

When the College was finally occupied the cost of construction for the first stage was in fact 40,000 pounds.

Our Buildings

’38 Wing

The next project for the college came 56 years later in 1918. It was Wardell’s son, Herbert, working with his partner Denning, who was the architect for the job. Herbert was considerably experienced, having taken over the plans of St Mary’s Cathedral after his father died in 1899. Wardell and Denning designed what is known as the ’38 wing (it was eventually begun in 1938) estimating the cost at 14,000 pounds. Construction was not started for 20 years because of lack of funds and was finally finished on a reduced scale in 1939.

The Freehill Tower

In 1937 Countess Freehill donated 15,000 pounds to the College on the condition that it be used for the erection of the tower and that Hennessy and Hennessy be the architects. The design for the tower was 10 metres shorter than Wardell would have liked. Wardell believed that without the full height of the tower, the horizontality of the building would not be balanced. Nonetheless the tower was built to the amended design.

Menzies and Polding Wings

The 1960’s saw great activity with extensions to the College. In 1961, 100 years after the first construction, Menzies Wing on the east end of the South Range was begun. The architects were McDonell, Mar and Anderson. In 1962 the Refectory was extended through to where the sacristies were, leaving an open arcade where the eastern wall had been. Extensions were also made to the kitchens and a lift was installed to replace the dumb waiter, still visible in the northern wall of the Great Hall. The architects were McDonell and Mar, who also built the Polding Wing on the west end of the South Range in 1967. Although these wings are four-storeys and very different to the design of Wardell, the architects have looked back to his design for guidance and inspiration. Their modifications of Wardell’s original design for 76 students have enabled the present building to accommodate 185 students.

Hintze Building

The development application for a new wing on Missenden Rd was approved by Sydney City Council in January 2008. The first sod of soil was turned in August 2008 and the building was completed in 2010. Money was raised to help fund the new building and for also completing Wardell’s original plan which was to build a staircase to the Great Hall, reinstate Edmund Blacket’s cloisters, refurbish the fretting sandstone and create a conservation fund for the general wellbeing of the heritage building. The Hintze Building was named after the Patron of the 150th Anniversary Capital Appeal, Michael Hintze (John’s 74 – 76)

This new wing is made up of 73 double ensuite rooms for students and apartments on the fourth level for the Rector and his family, the Dean of Students, tutors and visiting academics. The opening and blessing of the Hintze Building was held on the 28 February 2010 and was a historic occasion, attended by His Eminence Cardinal Pell and Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir.

The Chapel

The central feature of St John’s College is the chapel which is unusually located on the first floor according to the original designs of William Wilkinson Wardell (1823-1899). He designated that the chapel be situated on “the principal floor and there shall be no rooms above it” which in this case was the first floor or ‘piano nobile’ level, containing the Dining Hall, Library and Brennan Hall. It was completed in 1863 as part of the northern wing and longitudinal arm of the college by Edmund Blacket (1817-1883) the colonial architect appointed to supervise the construction of St John’s College.


The fine interior decoration and craftsmanship of the chapel was achieved over many years.

Most of the sanctuary furnishings were designed by Edmund Blacket in the 1860’s.The Blessed Sacrament Shrine is made of Bondi gold sandstone with a Paddington grey tabernacle and was carved in Australia. The pillars supporting the altar are English marble with English stone capitals. The elaborately carved oak Sanctuary lamp is very ornate with acorn and vine leaf laureling about the pedestal. The original cedar choir stalls and pews are located in the chapel and surrounding areas.

The chapel wrought iron gates and grilles were designed by Wardell and Denning and installed between 1915 -1921. The completed design features of the gates include the motif of an eagle, the symbol of the evangelist and the college motto ‘Nisi Dominus Frustra’. They were presented to the college by Mrs N. A. Daley.

The beautiful stained glass window designs were commissioned from John Hardman and Co of Birmingham in 1918 and were paid for by donations of generous benefactors. Hardman designed a scheme for the 10 side windows of the chapel but only 3 on the northern(left) side were completed. The designs were based on the writings of St Bonaventure as quoted by Cardinal Newman in

“Discourses of the scope and nature of University Education” and were conceived as an intellectual journey through the four kinds of light that comprise the Divine light. In the first window Christ is presented as the Light of the World. In the second and third, the knowledge of material things is signified by St Virgilius reflecting on the possibility of a great southern land and the Abbot Mendel studying in his garden