This first stone of the Catholic Cathedral of St. John's, Newfoundland, dedicated to the Most High God under the patronage of the Blessed St. John the Baptist was laid by Rt. Rev. Dr. Fleming in the presence of the priests whose names are herunto subscribed - and several thousands of other persons - on Thursday the 20th day of May, in the year of our Redemption, 1841, in the fourth year of the reign of Her Most Gracious Majest Queen Victoria and the 11th of the Pontificate of His Holiness Pope Gregory XVI - Clergy - Rev. C. Dalton, V.C., Very Rev. Dean Mackin, Revs: T. Waldron, J. Murphy, P.J. Cleary, P. Nowlan, P.K. Ward, J. Forristall, J. Cummins, K. Walsh, John Ryan and E. O'Keefe.The stone is located under the base of the West Tower, and is not visible.
As you enter the Basilica itself, preferably by the centre doors, the beauty and elegance of the interior are immediately apparent. The simplicity of decoration and design in the nave and transepts attracts the eye to the beautiful High Altar, and upward to the magnificant ceiling. The ceiling design, dating from 1903, consists of twelve raised panels in a circle at the intersection of the nave and the transept. The circumference of the circle is 200 feet. Besides the central circle, there are eleven panels in each end of the transept, ten in the apse and twenty-five in the nave. In 1903, the central circle contained figures of the apostles, and some of the panels had floral designs. However, the entire ceiling was redecorated at the time of the Centenary Celebration in 1954-55. The twelve panels received elaborate floral designs with specially contrived decorations in each panel symbolizing sacred themes surrounding the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The large pendant drop at the central crossing, as well as the five smaller drops, were richly polychromed and embellished with a profusion of gold-leaf highlighting.The whole interior of the Basilica was involved in this ambitious and authentic example of the art of Church decoration, which still inspires our admiration, although the original glowing colours have dulled somewhat with the years. The extensive renovations carried out in the Basilica at that time were the work of the Rambusch Decorating Co. of New York, who also designed the new lighting system.
To the memory of the Rev. John Forristall who departed this life on the 20 Nov. 1850 in the 37th year of his age. His unaffected piety and unremitting zeal in the discharge of the sacred duties attached to the Holy Order of Priesthood gained him the respect and esteem of all who knew him during the twelve years he officiated in this city. May the great and merciful God grant him the reward promised to the good and faithful servant.
Requiescant in Pace
Continuing to the right, one enters the East Ambulatory and, walking along this side aisle, one can see the stained glass windows which were installed here (and in the West Ambulatory) during the renovations of 1954-55. There are 26 windows in all, taking in both ambulatories, and the designs include the Fifteen Mysteries of the Rosary, as well as miniature portraits of the Saints, with one window devoted to a representation of the Canadian Martyrs.
To the right, a little beyond St. Theresa's Altar, is a small room which was at one time the Baptistry, and now houses a Religious Store. In this room can be seen two stained glass windows depicting the Baptism of our Lord, and the Resurrection.
A little further on, still on the right hand side, is the Marian Chapel, erected in 1954 to commemorate the Marian Year. The walls, pews and altar in this Chapel are of white oak, while the tester, or canopy, is of walnut. The recessed Stations of the Cross are handcarved wood. There are four beautiful stained glass windows represnting the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption of Our Lady, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and Our Lady of Fatima. There is also a small organ. The Marian Chapel seats 90 and is used principally for small weddings, private baptisms, and special anniversary Masses for small groups.
Retracing one's steps, one enters the first archway to the right into the Basilica near the Side Altar of the Blessed Virgin, also known as the Immaculate Conception Altar. The life-size statue of the Immaculate Conception which stands here is by Filippio Ghersi. It is of Italian marble and was the gift of the Ladies of the Contraternity of the Blessed Virgin. It was installed on September 1, 1864. This altar is faced with a slab of oriental alabaster, exquisite, antique and exceptionally rare. The ancient Egyptian quarries of this marble were rediscovered in the 1800's by Ali Pasha of Egypt and portions of the marble were presented by him to Pope Gregory XVI who used them to adorn the high altar of St. Paul's Outside the Walls in Room. A small quantity of the marble remained in Rome and, of this, two slabs were brought to St. John's by Bishop Mullock to enhance the Basilica. The second slab was used to face the Sacred Heart Altar to the west of the High Altar.
The candelabra here, and on the Blessed Sacrament Altar, are ornately scrolled works in bronze and were a gift of the Altar Society, (c.1883).
On the wall to the right of the Blessed Virgin Altar is a small plaque of marble with a gilt inscription. It commemorates the Altar as the Altar of the Holy Rosary. This additional dedication was made by Archbishop Roche in 1932.
The large tablet to the right of the Blessed Virgin Altar is a memorial to Archbishop Roche and bears a realistic bas-relief portrait of the Archbishop. It was commissioned by his successor, Archbishop Skinner, and was erected in 1951. It is the work of Armando Batilli of Italy and is of Carrara marble. The inscription reads as follows:
Sacred to the memory of
The Most Rev. Edward Patrick Roche, D.D. Archbishop of St. John's, 1915-1950
Born at Placentia, February 19th 1874
Ordained at All Hallows College, Dublin, June 24th 1897
Consecrated Archbishop of St. John's, June 29th 1915
If the the visitor now looks to the right, to the columns under the east gallery, two small ornamented crosses can be seen on the walls. These, and the two located beneath the west gallery, are the only visible crosses of the twelve consecration crosses in the Basilica. The other eight are fixed to the walls of the nave and are concealed by the Stations of the Cross, which were lowered to their present position during the 1954-55 renovations. These crosses were placed on the interior walls, blessed, and anointed at the time of the consecration of the church. They may never be removed and are proof, in the absence of documents, that a church has been consecrated.
Facing the Blessed Virgin Altar is the Baptistry, which is located in a space once occupied by a section of pews. The Font was orginally located in the Sacristy, later in the Baptistry Room adjoining the Marian Chapel, and was moved to its present location in 1981. The Font dates to 1855. The Candleholder which stands here is part of the set which adorns the High Altar. Thus, the visitor may see, close up, the intricate detailing which constitutes the real beauty of these altar accessories.
On the column which stands behind the Baptistry is located a tablet honouring Bishop O'Donel, the first Catholic Bishop of Newfoundland. This table measures approximately 7 feet in height and some 4 1/2 feet in width. It is made of marble and was executed by the Abbey Stained Glass Studios in Dublin, Ireland. It contains a cameo portrait of the Bishop and carried the following inscription:
In memory of Bishop James Louis O'Donel, O.D.F.
Born Knocklofty, Co. Tipperary, Ireland, 1937
Appointed first Perfect Apostolic of Newfoundland
May 30th 1784
Appointed first Vicar Apostolic of Newfoundland
January 5th 1796
Consecrated Bishop, September 21, 1796
Resigned January 1, 1807
Died at Waterford, Ireland, April 1, 1811
This tablet was erected in 1984, as part of the celebration of the 200th Anniversary of the formal establishment of the Roman Catholic Church in Newfoundland.
Immediately to the west of the Blessed Virgin Altar is located the Pulpit. It is of hand carved Carrara marble, in colors which complement the Altar Rail, and is graced with a delicate mosaic portrait of St. John the Baptist. It also bears carved portrayals of the four evangelists, and the base is adorned with scrolls and wreaths. Archbishop Roche commissioned its execution as a memorial to his predecessor, Archbishop Howley, and it was completed in 1918. Originally installed on a fluted marble pedestal, and evlen feet in height, the pulpit was attained by mounting a gracefully spiraled series of treads. In 1954, in order to alleviate difficulty in ascending and descending, the pulpit was reduced in height by removal of the pedestal, which was replaced by a reduced base, and the stairway rearranged to allow easier access.
The plaque on the Pulpit reads as follows:
Most Reverend Edward Patrick Roche, D.D.
In Memory of His
Most Reverend Michael Francis Howley D.D.
First Archbishop of St. John's
The beautiful Altar or Communion Rail is of marble and was ordered from Italy in 1914 by Archbishop Howley. The balusters and steps are of pure white marble. The top rail is of a light brown marble known as Yellow Verona, while the bottom rail and the gate supports are of black marble, veined with white. There were three sets of bronze gates but the centre gates, which carried an inscription indicating that the rail was the gift of Mrs. Katherine Howley Morris (Archbishop Howley's sister), were removed some years ago to provide a more intimate relationship between the Sanctuary and the nave.
Moving on to the left, we stand before the High Altar, which dominates the apse. It is fitting to note here the words of Bishop Mullock at the time of the consecration in 1855:
"The High Altar stands apart at the intersection of the nave and transept ... the altar and tabernacle are faced with white marble, the rest is of Caen stone ... a Triumphal Arch, or Baldachin ... is surmounted by a group of angels bearing aloft the Cross, at a height of fifty-two feet from the floor of the Church. This canopy, or arch, is supported by eight monolithic columns of polished granite. Under the arch, on an elevated pedestal, is a colossal group of the Baptism of Our Saviour, executed by Carew, in Caen stone; by whom also are the group of angels, and the infantine angels, and a lamb ... the remainder of the carving was executed by W. Sullivan. Under the High Altar, which is open in front, is placed Hogan's ... "The Dead Christ."
This altar has undergone several decorative and other transformations. Some of these alterations were due to the gradual acquisition of new altar furnishings, while others were the result of lilturgical requirements. In 1902, the entire altar was moved back about seven feet to create a more spacious Sanctuary. At that time, the temporary wooden altar top was replaced by a permanent marble slab, and the altar was officially consecrated on February 7, 1903. A plaque commemorating this event is fixed to the left side of the High Altar. It was commissioned by Bishop Howley. Translated from the Latin, the inscription reads:
To God the Greatest and Best
This High Altar
Dedicated in the name of John (the) Baptist
Having been removed to its proper position
Being rebuilt in better form
And adorned with a marble table
M.F. Howley, Bishop of St. John's, Newfoundland
Consecrated with solemn ceremony
In the eleventh year of his episcopate
Of our Salvation 1903
On February 7.
During the renovations undertaken for the Basilica Centenary Celebrations in 1955, the central sculpture of the "Baptism of the Saviour", along with attendant sculpture, was removed. The middle section of the Altar table was also removed and, in the space left vacant, the Presidential, or Celebrant's, Chair was installed. The High Altar itself was partially rebuilt and the eight pillars and capitals now support a simple arch. The centre section of this structure is backed by a reredos. Attached to the central panel of the altar screen is a carved wooden figure of John the Baptist. (Italian, c. 1950).
At the top of the arch above the altar is a small carved shield bearing the Greek monogram for the word "Christ". This is one of the earliest symbols found in the catacombs in the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D., and is often placed on or over an altar.
At each end of the altar, the marble supports bear mosaic inclusions, one a representation of the heraldic device of Pope Pius IX, the second containing a melding of the personal arms of Bishop Mullock and the heraldic device of the Franciscan Order.
The High Altar is adorned with a great crucifix some 7 feet in height, and six candlesticks of gilt bronze, ornately decorated. The latter are about 5 feet high and each has three Gothic niches, about 12 inches high, surrounding the shaft half-way up. Each niche contains a figure about 6 inches high, representing some saint. The candlesticks were made to order in France and were a gift of the Altar Society.
Interspersed with six elegant urns, these seven items, with their intricate detailing, are fitting adornments, in keeping with the massive proportions of the great altar. They date back to about 1883.
The Tester, suspended by chains above the High Altar, was installed in 1955 to fulfill the new Liturgical requirements inherent in the elevation of the Cathedral to the status of Basilica. The Tester measures eighteen feet by twelve feet and is richly gilt and polychromed. On the underside is depicted a dove, rays and stars, symbolising the Holy Spirit. At the front of the Tester is a hand-carved, polychromed replica of the Metropolitan Coat-of-Arms.
The small altar, or Altar of Sacrifice, which stands at the front of the Sanctuary, dates from 1974 and is of marble. It enshrines one of the most revered and valuable pieces of statuary in the Basilica - "The Redeemer in Death" or "The Dead Christ" - sculpted in Carrara marble by the Irish sculptor John Hogan in 1850. In his will, Bishop Flemming bequeathed a sum of L600 for such a statue and his successor, Right Rev. J.T. Mullock, on one of his visits to Rome, purchased the statue and had it placed beneath the table of the High Altar on March 19, 1855. It has twicebeen moved to new locations, first in 1903 when the Sanctuary was expanded and then in the early 1970's when it was moved to its present position. The statue is Hogan's masterpiece. It is an awesome and beautiful work of art, full of dignity, and conveying a sense of the serenity which follows the acceptance of God's will and the peace which is a prelude to the glory of the Resurrection. It was pronounced by Thorwaldsen, the great Danish master of statuary, as proving Hogan to be the best sculptor he left after him in Rome.
The visitor will notice grilled windows set in the east and west walls of the apse. From the small rooms behind these windows, the Sisters of the Presentation and Mercy Congregations can participate in the Parish Masses.
On each side of the Sanctuary are the Clerical Stalls, or Seats, which were installed in 1915, replacing those which dated from the earliest days of the Church.
The Sanctuary is not open to sightseers but it is of interest to note that one Archbishop and four Bishops are buried in the crypt beneath the High Altar.
From this viewpoint in the Church, one can see the intersection of the nave and transepts, some thirty feet above the floor, the statues of the four evangelists, St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke and St. John. These are of Italian workmanship, and there are indications they were commissioned by Bishop Mullock during the period 1850-55. They are of marble and are slightly larger than life-size. Each evangelist is shown with his appropriate symbol: St. Matthew with a child; St. Mark with a lion; St. Luke with an ox; and St. John with an eagle. These symbols have their origin in the "four living creatures" of the prophet Ezekiel and their association with the evangelists dates from about the fourth century.
From this central point in the Basilica one has the best view of the twenty-eight beautiful stained glass windows which adorn the upper walls and which date from the early years of the church.
In the apse are five windows of English workmanship. Each window consists of three panels, the outer ones being ornamented with fancywork, monograms, etc., while the centre panels each contain three figures, depicting altogether the twelve apostles, Our Lord, Our Lady and St. Joseph. Beneath the windows are paintings of scenes from the life of St. John the Baptist.
The other stained glass windows in the upper walls are of English, French and Irish workmanship. All the windows were the gifts of religious societies, or individuals, and mainly date back to the 1880's and the 1890's.
The windows in the galleries and nave represent the following:
In the East Gallery, North to South - The Nativity and the Presentation, St. Francis of Assisi, Queen of the Holy Rosary, St. Joseph, The Ascension. In the East Nave, North to South - St. Luke, The Transfiguration, St. Joseph and the Child Jesus, The Annunciation, St. Cecilia.
In the West Gallery, North to South - Melchizedec, St. John the Baptist, St. Patrick, The Immaculate Conception, The Crucifixion.
In the West Nave, North to South - St. Patrick, St. Brigid, St. Francis Borgia, The Resurrection, The Sacred Heart appearing to St. Margaret Mary.
In the south wall of the Basilica, above the organ gallery, stands the most historically impressive of the stained glass windows - the Pallium Window - erected to commemorate the establishment of the Ecclesiastical Province of Newfoundland and the conferring of the pallium on Archbishop Howley on June 23, 1905.
The picture represents three great Prelates of the Church, vested in full pontificals. The central figure, wearing the pallium, is Archbishop Howley. On the Archbishop's right is Bishop McDonald of Harbour Grace, Newfoundland, who conferred the pallium. At the Archbishop's left is Bishop Neil McNeil of St. George's, Newfoundland.
There are over twenty-five figures in the window, including clergymen, dignitaries, altar boys, cross-bearers, etc. The outline of the High Altar forms the background, and an inscription across the window reads, in translation, "Commemorative of the Conferring of the Pallium, Juen 23, 1905."
At the bottom of the window are shown the Arms of the three Dioceses which form the Ecclesiastical Province.
The Window is from the workshop of M. Louis Koch of Beauvais, France, and was presented by the Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
[Note: The pallium is a narrow circular band of white wool about two inches wide, with two 12 inch pendants of the same material which hang, one over the front and one over the back of the wearer. Six black crosses are embroidered on the Pallium, one each on the front and back, one on each shoulder, and one on each pendant.The Pallium is specially woven in Rome from lamb's wool which has been blessed. The lambs symbolize Christ as the Lamb of God, and the Good Shepherd. The wearing of the Pallium is significant to the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan in his ecclesiastical province and is a sign of his union with the See of Peter. The Pallium is bestowed by the Pope, or his representative, upon the Archbishop. On an Archbishop's death, the pallium is interred with him.]
The stained glass windows to the eat and west of the Pallium window depict St. Peter (east window) and St. Paul (west window).
The visitor can now move on to the west of the High Altar, where is located the Sacred Heart, or Blessed Sacrament Altar, companion to the Blessed Virgin Altar. The statue of the Sacred Heart is life-sized, at 6 feet. It was a gift of the League of the Sacred Heart, and was installed and blessed by Bishop M.F. Howley on June 19, 1903, and the Feast of the Sacred Heart. It is of Carrara marble and is the work of Cailaro Aureli of Rome, one of the world's greatest sculptors of his time.
The Blesses Sacrament is reserved on the Sacred Heart Altar. The tabernacle is a new one installed in 1955. A Sanctuary lamp burns perpetually before the tabernacle, and the lamp hanging there now is a particularly beautiful one.
Immediately to the west of the Sacred Heart Altar a marble table, which is fixed to the wall, commemorates Thomas Mullock, who died April 14, 1858 at the age of 78. He was the father of Bishop Mullock. His mural monument is 12 feet in height and is the work of Italian sculptor Filippio Ghersi. The pediment is adorned with the harp, crown, national emblems and floral decorations. In the centre is a niche with a statue of the Archangel with a trumpet, in three quarters relief, illustrating the inscription "Canet Tuba et Mortis Resurgent" ("The trumpet shall sound and the dead arise."). It is believed that Thomas Mullock is buried close by the location of the monument.
Beyond the Sacred Heart Altar stands the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, comprising a group of nine statues, of poly chromed and gilt plaster. A gift of the Portuguese people, whose ties with Newfoundland are well documented, the statues were presented to the Basilica during the Centenary Celebrations in 1955. On May 27 that year the statues were borne in procession by thousands of Portuguese fishermen from their ships on the waterfront to the Basilica. Following a special ceremony, they were transferred to their present location. This shrine is visited regularly by the Portuguese fishermen when their vessels are in port, and is held in high esteem by the Catholic population of St. John's.
The West Ambulatory contains two side-altars similar to those in the East Ambulatory. The first in order from the main entrance is the Altar of St. Patrick. The statue of St. Patrick was probably commissioned by Bishop Mullock during the period 1850-55, sculptor unknown, but almost certainly Italian.
The second is the Altar of St. Joseph. The statue of St. Joseph is by John Edward Carew (c. 1850).
Both statues are of white marble and are larger than life-size.
1. On a column in the west transept, facing the Blessed Sacrament Altar:- A tablet to the memory of the Hon. Daniel A. Ryan. The author of this memorial plaque is unknown but it was probably commissioned by the Ryan family. Mr. Ryan, a Newfoundland merchant of high repute, was a benefactor of the Basilica. He died in 1934.
The inscription reads as follows:
to the memory of
Hon. Daniel A. Ryan
Knight Commander, Order of St. Gregory
A Benefactor of the Cathedral
Died July 6, 1934
Requiescat in Pace
2. One the West wall of the nave, near the junction of the transept:- A tablet erected by Mr. Richard O'Dwyer, a benefactor of the Basilica in memory of his wife, Frances Mary (nee McKenna) and his infant daughter, Mary Wilhelmina Margaret. It is carved in marble and was likely executed in the 1860's.
The inscription reads:
Sacred to the memory of
The beloved wife of Richard O'Dwyer
Esquire of Saint John's, Merchant
Who died on the
21st December, A.D. 1852
Aged 26 years
Mary Wilhelmina Margaret, their infant daughter
Who died on the
16th December, A.D. 1852
Requiescat in Pace
3. On the west wall of the nave, midway between the apse and the entrance:- A Cenotaph in bas-relief depicting the administration of the Last Rites to Bishop Scallan by Bishop Fleming. Carved in Carrara marble by John Hogan, it was posthumously commissioned by Bishop Fleming. It was installed in May, 1854 and is a work of inherent beauty and historic importance.
The following is a translation of the inscription:
Rt. Rev. Dr. Thomas Scallan
Bishop of Drago and Vicar Apostolic
He dies in the year of our salvation
1830, in the 69th year of his age and
the 14th year of episcopate.
Erected, in honour of his predecessor, by
Bro. Michael Anthony Fleming O.F.M.
First Bishop of Newfoundland
4. On the east wall of the nave, on a pillar to the right of the transept:- A Cenotaph in memory of Miss Mary Ann Bulger. The patron of this memorial is unknown. Miss Bulger was the unmarried daughter of Captain John Bulger of the Newfoundland Regiment. She was 60 at the time of her passing, and she is buried in the Basilica. She was a generours benefactress of the church, bequeathing one thousand pounds towards its construction. She also directed in her will that her rights and titles to property in Ireland be assigned towards the building of the Cathedral, and her personal belongings be sold for the benefit of the poor.
Below is a coy of the inscription on the memorial:
is erected to the memory
Miss Mary Ann Bulger
Who departed this life on the
9th of March 1847
In the 60th year of her age
May she rest in peace
5. On the east wall of the nave near the junction with the transept: A memorial tablet erected by Bishop Mullock to his predecessor, Bishop Fleming. It is the work of the Irish sculptor John Hogan, executed in Carrara marble and erected in 1855, and is one of the most interesting monuments in the Basilica. In this memorial, Bishop Fleming is depicted as holding in his right hand a scroll containing the plans for the completion of the Cathedral and passing them over to his successor, Bishop Mullock. A child is shown kneeling at the feet of the prelates and this has been interpreted as representing the orphan children of the diocese, who were always a subject of great concern to Bishop Fleming, and whose welfare is now being entrusted to Bishop Mullock.
It is said that the figure of the child was further intended by Bishop Mullock to be symbolic of the Cathedral which, having lost its father in the death of Bishop Fleming, had become, as it were, an orphan.
features of the Bishops were so faithfully reproduced by the artist that they considered to be portraits in marble.
The inscription reads:
John Thomas Mullock, O.S.F.
In memory of his friend and predecessor
Michael Anthony Fleming, O.S.F.
Bishop of Newfoundland
He died on the 14th of July, 1850, in the 57th year
of his age and the
21st of his episcopacy
The Cathedral and the Orphanage are enduring monuments
of his zeal and charity.
Requiescat in Pace
Proceeding now to the rear of the church the visitor will see two historic objects to the west of the entrance doors. The first of these is the Mission Cross. This larger-than-life size piece depicts the Crucified Saviour. It was erected in 1882, to commemorate a very successful Mission conducted by the Redemptorist Fathers in the Basilica in December of that year. The Cross (or Crucifix, as it should more properly be called, since it bears a corpus) was the gift of the Redemporist Fathers, who unveiled and blessed it at the conclusion of the Mission. It was located, at that time, at the right hand side of the Blessed Virgin Altar.
Next to the Mission Cross is a tablet, erected in 1855-56, commemorating the Consecration of the Cathedral.
The inscription, translated from Latin, reads:On September 9, 1855 A.D. this Cathedral and Mother Church of Newfoundland was consecrated in honour of the Blessed and Immaculate Virgin, St. John the Baptist, and St. Francis, by Brother John Thomas Mullock, O.F.M., Bishop of Newfoundland. There were present the following Most Illustrious and Most Reverend Prelates: John Hughes, Archbishop of New York; Armand de Charbonnel, Bishop of Toronto; Colin MacKinnon, Bishop of Arichat; and Thomas L. Connolly, O.F.M., Bishop of Saint John, New Brunswick.
The Grand Organ which was originally installed in the Basilica was, by all accounts, a truly magnificant instrument. It was constructed by Messrs. Robsons of London, England, and was the gift of Bishop Mullock. Its debut on October 9, 1853, saw Thomas Mullock (the Bishop's brother) as the organist. Due to deterioration over the years, the Grand Organ had to be dismantled in 1938 and was replaced by a Hammond electronic organ. This, in turn, was replaced in 1954-55. The new organ has 66 stops and a total of 4050 pipes. The installation actually comprises two organs; the main organ of 51 stops located in the organ gallery, and the sanctuary organ of 15 stops arranged behind the main altar. Each organ may be played from the main organ gallery either separately, or, if desired, simultaneously with the main organ. The organ was built and installed by Casavant Freres Limited of St. Hyacinthe, Quebec.