September 9, 1855
Four Roman Catholic bishops arrived in St. John’s for the consecration of the new Roman Catholic Cathedral (now Basilica) early in the night of Monday, September 3, 1855, and proceeded immediately to the Cathedral, amid the tumultuous welcome of a large and enthusiastic throng of spectators. Every available space along the route of the procession was densely packed. The great bells of the Cathedral, together with those of the Old Roman Catholic Chapel on Henry Street and of the convents, pealed forth. The windows of the houses along the route were brilliantly lighted and the streets were illuminated not only by the gas lights but also by flaming torches, giving a most picturesque appearance to the town.
The procession wended its way to the recently completed Cathedral, where the bishops knelt in prayer. After a blessing was given to the congregation, Bishop John Thomas Mullock of St. John’s spoke to the crowd, thanking them for the warm reception they had given the visitors. All then dispersed for the night.
During the next few days, the prelates were entertained at various functions, and received addresses of welcome from the Benevolent Irish Society, and other groups.
A LABOUR OF LOVE, WAS AT LAST ACCOMPLISHED.
On September 9 the day of Consecration, great crowds of people flocked into St. John’s, from remote as well adjacent settlements. It appeared that the entire Catholic population of the island had come to participate in the ceremonies. The Consecration of the Cathedral was carried out by Bishop Mullock, with all the solemnities prescribed in the Roman Pontifical. Twenty-two of the thirty priests in Newfoundland were present, as well as the Secretary-Chaplain to Archbishop Hughes, and the Chaplain to Bishop MacKinnon.
The celebrations with which the day of Consecration came to a close were truly impressive. That night, the entire frontage of the Cathedral and adjacent buildings was decorated with 1500 coloured lamps, while the Catholic people in every quarter of the town vied with one another in illuminating the windows of their houses. Tar barrels blazed in the streets, firearms were discharged, and sky rockets streamed through the air. Every available means was employed to proclaim the prevailing joy and thanksgiving that the great work, which was truly a labour of love, was at last accomplished.
The four visiting Roman Catholic Bishops were: Most Rev. John Hughes, Archbishop of New York; Bishop Armand-Francois de Charbonnel, of Toronto; Bishop Thomas Louis Connolly of New Brunswick; Bishop Colin Francis MacKinnon of Arichat (Antigonish),Nova Scotia.
Archbishop John Hughes of New York was so impressed that such a substantial cathedral could be built in a town of the size of St. John’s (approximately 25,000) by sealers and fishermen that he resolved when he returned to New York that he would commence the construction of his cathedral that we now know as St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Madison Avenue in New York.
The Basilica has undergone many revisions since its completion in 1855, its very existence represents something more durable even than stone, as this simple verse describes:
“The fishermen who built me here
Have long ago hauled in their nets,
But in this vast cathedral
Not a solitary stone forgets
The eager hearts, the willing hands
Of those who laboured and were glad
Unstintingly to give to God
Not part, but all of what they had.”
Recommended Website: History of the Basilica Cathedral, St. John’s, NL: http://www.museevirtuel-virtualmuseum.ca/sgc-cms/expositions-exhibitions/basilique-basilica/en/index.html
Recommended Reading: Fire Upon the Earth: the Life and Times of Bishop Michael Anthony Fleming, O.S.F. by J.B. Darcy, C.F.C.: Creative Publishers, 2003.
Book Launch TONIGHT: You are welcome to the official launch of The Story of the Basilica of St. John the Baptist by Susan Chalker Browne Wednesday, September 9, at 7:00 pm at the Basilica Museum, Basilica of St. John the Baptist, 200 Military Road, St. John’s.