Tag Archives: basilica

Kneeling and prayers in the streets

Archival Moment

2 November

Photo Credit: The Basilica Cathedral bells, St. John’s, NL

The parishioners of the Roman Catholic Cathedral (now Basilica) in St. John’s were informed  at the end of every Sunday mass  in  November of 1902 that

“During the month of November the “De profundis bell” will be tolled at nine o’clock every evening for the Holy Souls.  All people who at the sound of the bell shall recite, on their knees (if possible) the Psalm De profundis with the verses and responses.

The De Profundis is found in scripture – Psalm 130.

Upon hearing the sound of the church bell wherever Catholics were at 9:00 p.m. they would fall to their knees and recite Psalm 130.

The Roman Catholics in the town of St. John’s  were also informed that:

“Those who do not know the De profundis  may say instead an Our Father  and Hail Mary  for the repose of  the faithful departed.”  (Source: Basilica Cathedral Publication Book, October 26, 1902.

And there was no escaping the toll of the Cathedral (now Basilica) bells. It is said that the bells could be heard as far away as Torbay.

The De profundis  bell was not the only one that was sounded.

A beautiful and pious custom which prevailed in many countries was the “passing bell,” which was rung slowly when a death was imminent in the parish. When the sick person was near his end the solemn tones of the bell reminded the faithful of their Christian duty of praying for his happy death and for his eternal repose; and after his spirit had departed, the bell tolled out his age — one short stroke for each year.

A bell that continues to be sounded in St. John’s  is the Angelus Bell.  The Angelus, consists essentially in the reciting of certain prayers at the sound of a bell at fixed hours. At the Basilica Cathedral the angelus bell is struck at noon each day.

By tradition, the Catholic Church dedicates each month of the year to certain devotion. In November, it is the Holy Souls in Purgatory, described in Catholic theology asthose faithful Christians who have died and gone before us.” Praying for the dead, especially for those we have known, is a requirement of Christian charity.

New Word:  De profundis    (Latin) “out of the depths of misery or dejection” (from the first words of Psalm 130

Recommended Archival Collection:  Archives of the R.C. Archdiocese of St. John’s, NL  (ARCASJ).

Recommended Song: Psalm 130

The Great Fire of 1892.


July 8, 1892   

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: B4-49; St. John’s East in ruins folloing the Great Fire. (note the Basilica in the background)

Late in the afternoon of 8 July 1892, a small fire broke out in a St. John’s stable on Freshwater Road after a lit pipe or match fell into a bundle of hay. Although containable at first, the flames quickly spread due to dry weather conditions.  Within hours, the fire had destroyed almost all of St. John’s.

The fire burned into the night and did not end until about 5:30 the following morning.  Many people camped out in Bannerman Park or on property surrounding the Roman Catholic Cathedral (now Basilica), which was one of the few buildings the fire did not destroy.

As the sun rose on 9 July, more than two-thirds of St. John’s lay in ruins and 12,000 people were homeless; many had lost everything they owned, except the clothes they were wearing.

One of the accounts written about the fire was penned by W.J. Kent   who wrote:

“All the arteries which led from the water to the higher portions of the town were crowded with the terrorised mob and the screams and cries of the women mingled with the wailing of children, the shouts intensified by the ever-freshening masses of livid fire and the glare of the burning buildings, contributed to make a scene the like of which it is not often given to the lot of many to witness…. Few there were who closed their eyes that night.”

Four persons were burned to death.  The devastation that struck the city was recorded by one of the priests on staff at the R.C. Cathedral (the Basilica) who wrote on Sunday July 10, 1892”

 “There was no publications today in consequence of the great calamity that has happened in our city on Friday evening and night, when the best part of St. John’s east was entirely destroyed by fire which caused such a panic that everyone is excited and frightened and nearly 12, 000 persons are left homeless, over 2000 houses were burned besides stores, wharfs…”

At the Last Mass, Father Scott preached a very touching sermon about the fire and those who were its sufferers from its effects.  Four persons were burned to death, namely:

Mrs. Catherine Stevens    }lived on Meeting House Hill

Her daughter Louisa Stevens

And the servant girl – name not known

Also Miss Catherine Molloy, Bulley’s Lane, and elderly girl not married



The Great Fire of 1892

Rev. Moses Harvey at  St. Andrews Free Presbyterian Church on the day following the fire walked about the city, he presents a similar description of the devastation and plight of the victims of the fire.

“The next morning I took a walk around the awful scene of devastation. It was heart-rending. Nothing visible for a mile from Devon Row but chimneys and fallen and tottering walls. The thick smoke, from the smouldering ruins still filled the air… The wrecks of the fanes of religion stood out, then [sic] broken walls pointing heavenward, as if in mournful protest against the desecration that had been wrought.

And the poor inhabitants, where were they? It made the heart ache to see the groups of men, women and children, with weary, blood-shot eyes and smoke begrimed faces, standing over their scraps of furniture and clothing — some of them asleep on the ground from utter exhaustion — all with despondency depicted on their faces. They filled the park and grounds around the city. Many hundreds escaped with nothing but the clothes they wore… .”

Recommended Reading: St. John’s, City of Fire, by Paul Butler, Flanker Press,  St. John’s. 2007.   

Recommended on line account: The St. John’s Fire of July 8, 1892: The Politics of Rebuilding, 1892-1893 by  Melvin Baker (c)1984. Originally published in the Newfoundland Quarterly, vol. LXXIX, no. 4 (Winter 1984), pp. 23-30.  http://www.ucs.mun.ca/~melbaker/1892fire.htm

Recommended Archival Collection:   Take some time at the  Archives Division of  the Rooms to look at MG 596  this item consists of map showing area of city affected by the 1892 fire. A number of photos of the Great Fire of 1892 that document the extent and devastation of the fire are also held in the photograph collection of The Rooms Provincial Archives Division.


Mysterious Iceberg off St. John’s


June 24, 1905

“Our Lady of the Fjords”

Mysterious Iceberg in St. John’s Narrows, T.B. Hayward. June 24, 1905

On  June 24, 1905 T.B. Hayward a St. John’s artist and photographer pointed his camera in the direction of a mysterious iceberg off the Narrows of St. John’s, and snapped a picture of what is likely the oldest known photograph believed to be a depiction of a supernatural Christian presence.

The photograph in ques­tion depicts what many people believe is a clear picture of a wondrous iceberg showing the figure of the Virgin Mary in the narrows off St. John’s. How similar to a statue the original iceberg looked is unknown. The photographer (T.B. Hayward) was really a painter of Newfoundland scenes, particularly marine scenes. His method was to photograph a scene and then paint the photograph.

The Catholic Archbishop, in St. John’s, Michael Francis Howley, who saw the iceberg from the steps of the Basilica Cathedral, was so impressed by the extraordinary iceberg that he wrote an article published in The Tablet, the Catholic Diocesan newspaper for Boston describing the iceberg as the “Crystal Lady.”  He also endorsed the sale of postcards and photographs that were produced by Hayward for mass production.

Archbishop Howley perceived the iceberg to be a sacred sign, so moved by the sight that he com­posed a sonnet in honour of the frozen statue entitled “Our Lady of the Fjords.” In the sonnet, he refers to the glistening ice figure as “a shimmering shrine – our bright Atlantic Lourdes. The sonnet was published Newfoundland Quarterly in 1909.

Our Lady of the Fjords

Hail Crystal Virgin, from the frozen fjords
Where far-off Greenland’s gelid glaciers gleen
O’er Oceans bosom soaring, cool, serene
Not famed Carrara’s purest vein affords
Such sparkling brilliance, as mid countless hordes
Of spotless glistning bergs thou reignest Queen
In all the glory of thy opal sheen
A Shimmering Shrine; Our bright Atlantic Lourdes.
We hail thee, dual patront, with acclaim,
Thou standest guardian o er our Island home.
To-day, four cycles since, our rock-bound strand.
First Cabot saw: and gave the Baptist’s name:
To-day we clothe with Pallium from Rome.
The first Archbishop of our Newfoundland!

Contemporary Newfoundland author Wayne Johnson says his father grew up in a house blessed by water from this iceberg, which they called the “Virgin Berg.” Johnson wrote about the iceberg in his book  Baltimore’s Mansion.

The timing of this wondrous iceberg, this Marian apparition appearing in the St. John’s Narrows  was quite  significant.

June 24 on the Christian calendar is the Feast of St. John the Baptist.   On June 24, 1497  John Cabot “discovered”  Newfoundland,  it is the feast day of the patron saint of the R.C. Basilica Cathedral and the Anglican Cathedral  in St. John’s and the namesake for the capital city, St. John’s.

Recommended Reading:

The Newfoundland Quarterly, LXXXVI, no. 2. (1980)

Kodak Catholicism: Miraculous Photography and its Significance by Jessy C. PAGLIAROLI : Canadian Catholic Historical  Association (CCHA) , Historical Studies, 70 (2004), 71_93

Recommended Archival Collection:  Very few photographs of Thomas B. Hayward have been identified.  If you are aware of other photographs and sketches created by Thomas or his father J. W Hayward the  Rooms Provincial Archives Division would love to hear from you.



12,000 residents of St. John’s homeless


June 9, 1846

St. John’s previous to the fire of June 9, 1846

The origin of the fire, which broke out on  June 9, 1846, in St. John’s, has generally been attributed to the carelessness of a cabinet maker who lived on George Street.

By 7:00 p.m., when the fire had finally run its course, over 2,000 buildings had been burned and about 12,000 people, or 57 per cent of the town’s total population, left homeless. The total amount of property loss was estimated at £888,356.   Altogether, there were three casualties: one soldier died as a result of the demolition ordered on Water Street; one citizen collapsed while attempting to carry his possessions to safety; and one prisoner died in his cell when the gaol burnt. A few days after, two labourers clearing away ruins were killed by a falling wall.

Homeless Seek Shelter

On June 10, 1846 many of the 12,000 refugees from the fire could be found in make shift tents in this neighborhood (Fort Townsend) now the site of The Rooms. Others found shelter on the grounds of the new R.C. Cathedral (now Basilica) that was under construction, others in the area now called Bannerman Park on Military Road.

Recommended Reading: The Great St. John’s Fire of 1846 by Melvin Baker (c)1983 Originally published in the Newfoundland Quarterly, vol. LXXIX, no. 1 (Summer 1983) http://www.ucs.mun.ca/~melbaker/1846fire.htm

Recommended Archival Collection at the Provincial Archives in the Rooms:  MG 50.2:  Map of St. John’s, Newfoundland, showing all the buildings erected since the fire of the 9th of June 1846 from actual survey (MG 50.2)


The Portuguese in Newfoundland


May 27, 1955


It is estimated that  four to five thousand Portuguese Fishermen carried the Fatima statues through the streets of St. John's .

It is estimated that four to five thousand Portuguese Fishermen carried the Fatima statues through the streets of St. John’s .

One of the highlights of the 100th Anniversary celebrations of the Basilica – Cathedral of St. John he Baptist in St. John’s in 1955 was a parade of four – five thousand Portuguese fishermen from the “White Fleet” who marched through the city of St. John’s on  May 27, 1955.

The fishermen walked in procession from the waterfront to the Basilica –Cathedral and presented a gift in the form of Our Lady of Fatima, comprising a group of nine statues, of poly chromed and gilt plaster.

The statues were presented to Archbishop Patrick J. Skinner of St. John’s, by Reverend Father J. A. Rosa, chaplain of the Portuguese fleet, on behalf of the officers and crews of the fleet, and the people of Portugal.   The grotto  where the statues were placed is located under the west gallery in the Basilica Cathedral.

Only two other pieces of public art celebrate the presence of the Portuguese in Newfoundlandand  and Labrador.

MiguelCorte Real Andrade visted the site of his ancestor last week.

MiguelCorte Real Andrade visted the site of his ancestor last week.

The statue of  Gaspar Corte-Real Portuguese navigator – he reached Terra Nova (Newfoundland)  in the 15th century. This statue was unveiled on May 1965 in front of Confederation Building in St. John’s.  It was a gift from from the Portuguese Fisheries Organization as an expression of gratitude on behalf of the Portuguese Grand Banks fishermen for the friendly hospitality always extended to them by the people of Terra Nova.

The most recent installation of public art to celebrate the history of the Portuguese in Newfoundlandare the series of murals located on Duckworth Street.  (near the site of the  Sheraton Hotel) The murals depict scenes from towns in Portugal.

Another memorial to the Portuguese fishermen that is under discussion is the unmarked grave of White Fleet Fisherman, Dionisio Esteves. He died during the 1966 fishing campaign while unloading his daily catch of codfish. He was crushed between his swamped dory and the steel hull of the fishing vessel. His grave site, which was only recently discovered, has come to symbolize all those Portuguese fishermen who lost their lives fishing in Newfoundland waters.

Local St. John’s businessman and author, Jean Pierre Andrieux is spearheading a financial campaign to raise funds to erect a memorial at the grave site of Esteves that would also serve to remember all Portuguese fishermen who lost their lives fishing in Newfoundland waters.

Portuguese Dinner:  An Invitation to a Portuguese Dinner, June 2, 2015   Read More: http://archivalmoments.ca/2015/05/monument-to-portuguese-fishermen-to-be-erected/ For further information contact Jean Pierre Andrieux @ jpa@spmtours.com or 753-7277

Recommended Reading: Port O’ Call, Memories of the Portuguese White Fleet in St. John’s, Newfoundland, by Priscilla Doel (Institute of Social and Economic Research, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John’s, 1992).

Recommended Website:  Watch and listen as  the Portuguese carry the Fatima Statues to the Basilica Cathedral, on May 27, 1955.    http://www.museevirtuel-virtualmuseum.ca/sgc-cms/expositions-exhibitions/basilique-basilica/assets/year_of_joy.html

Historic Entrance to St. John’s


May 17, 1857

Basilica Cathedral Archway,  Welcome to St. John’s

Basilica Archway St. John’s

On  May 17, 1857 a single-span entrance arch constructed of Leinster granite, with a statue of John the Baptist carved in Carrara marble was erected on the grounds in frount of R.C. Cathedral, St. John’s (now Basilica).

The Arch is constructed of enormous blocks of granite and is surmounted by a marble statue of St. John the Baptist, patron of the city and one of the patrons of the Basilica. The statue is ten feet hight and was sculpted at Carrara, Italy, of pure white marble, by Fillipio Ghersi, of Italy. It represents the saint preaching penance, and holding in his right hand a baptismal shell.

The height of the arch and statue is 42 feet.

Basilica Archway, 1907

Basilica Archway, 1907

In 1907 the archway was repositioned to allow for the widening of the adjacent Military Roadand rebuilt with a triple arch span.

The arch is a traditional symbol of welcome, in Newfoundland spruce bough arches were often constructed to welcome visiting dignitaries. The idea of the  John the Baptist arch was to weclome ships  as they entered into ‘the narrows’  of St. John’s (at one time the only highway into the city). From the harbour entrace  ship crews and passengers would look toward the town and there on the hill side to welcome them would be John the Baptist, the patron of the city.

On July 24, 2006 Heritage Designation for the Basilica Archway was recommended by the Heritage Advisory Committee for the City of St. John’s and accepted at a meeting of the City Council.

Recommended Website:  Tour of the Historic Basilica Cathedral, St. John’s.  http://www.thebasilica.ca/

Recommended Reading: Geology of the Roman Catholic Basilica of St. John the Baptist, St. John’s, Newfoundland: Department of Marine, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC, 27695.  http://journals.hil.unb.ca/index.php/gc/article/view/2739/3186

An awesome and beautiful work of art

March 9, 1855

The Redeemer in Death, Basilica Cathedral, St. John's.

The Redeemer in Death, Basilica Cathedral, St. John’s.

Edward Morris a St. John’s businessman and politician in his diary dated March 9, 1855 wrote:

“went to the Cathedral (now the Basilica) to see Hogan’s sculptured ‘Dead Christ’ which was placed today under the Great Altar. A magnificent piece of art ordered by Dr. Fleming , (Bishop Michael Anthony Fleming) before his death. It cost 600 ponds sterling in Rome besides the expense of freight.”

“The Dead Christ” – was sculpted in Carrara marble by the Irish sculptor John Hogan in 1854. Bishop John Thomas Mullock, on one of his visits to Rome, purchased the statue and had it placed beneath the table of the High Altar on March 9, 1855.

Since it was installed in the Basilica it has twice been moved to new locations, first in 1903 when the Sanctuary was expanded and again in the early 1970’s when it was moved to its present position.

The statue is Hogan’s masterpiece. One observer of the statue wrote:

“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.”

Hogan created two other versions of the statue; the first version (1829) is located in St. Therese’s Church, Dublin, Ireland, the second (1833) in St. Finbarr’s (South) Church, Cork, Ireland. Other works by Hogan include the Sleeping Shepherd and The Drunken Faun. Hogan assured his international reputation in 1829 with The Dead Christ; thereafter, his creations were snapped up by Irish bishops visiting his Rome studio.

Hogan was recognized by by his fellow artist, he  was pronounced by the Danish sculptor Bertel Thorwaldsen as “the best sculptor I leave after me in Rome.”

Hogan was a great supporter of the Irish movement for independence and went on to create a marble statue of Daniel O Connell, an important figure in the movement. The statue stands today at City Hall Dublin, the same spot where O’Connell gave his first speech against the Act of Union in 1800.

Hogan died at his home in Dublin, in 1858.
Recommended Archival Collection: Edward Morris Diaries, Archives of the Roman Catholic  Archdiocese of St. John’s, NL.

Recommended ReadingA full account of Hogan’s life and works, with a catalogue raisonée and bibliography, is given by John Turpin in John Hogan: Irish Neoclassical Sculptor in Rome (Irish Academic Press, 1982).

Recommedned Tour: Visit the  Basilica Cathedral in St. John’s  and enjoy the large collection of art work that adorns the building. The Basilica Cathedral is home to art created by internationally celebrated artists like John Hogan, Edward Carew, Louis Koch, and Gerry Squires.  If you were visting another city you would likely visit the Cathedrals and museums, why not do it in your own city!