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If Candlemas Day be sunny and bright …

ARCHIVAL MOMENT 

February 2, 1871 

Febryary 2 is Candlemas Day - Blessing of the candles that are used during he year.

February 2 is Candlemas Day – Blessing of the candles that are used during the year.

 

Some of the best insights into the history of families and communities in this province can be garnered from the pages of the hundreds of diaries that have been deposited into archives in the province. In the diaries of Edward Morris, Mr. Morris observed on February 2, 1871.

Fine morning, light frost, wind from the north, north west. Streets frozen again but no cold such as we have had. The day fine enough but the walking very rough.  Attended at the Cathedral in the morning at the ceremonies of Candlemas Day ….”

February 2 is “Candlemas”  Day.

The ceremony of Candlemas Day that Mr. Morris observed was the blessing of the annual supply of the Church’s candles.  Beeswax candles were blessed by being sprinkled with holy water and having incense swung around them, and then the candles distributed to everyone in the church. Then there was a procession in which people carried lighted candles while the choir sang. The procession represents the entry of Jesus as light of the world into the temple.

In Newfoundland there is an established tradition that on this day a blessed candle would be lit and the mother of the household would bless the children in the home with the candle.  The wax was allowed to drip on the head (hat) and shoulders and on the shoes of the children.

Every fishing boat would also have a blessed candle. These candles would be taken out and lit during a gale or storm.

WINTER IS HALF OVER

This day also used to have great significance on the calendar, because the date lies half way between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, so it marks the day upon which winter is half over!  As Candlemas traditions evolved, many people embraced the legend that if the sun shone on the second day of February, an animal would see its shadow and there would be at least six more weeks of winter.

You may know the rhyme:

If Candlemas day be sunny and bright,Winter again will show its might. If Candlemas day be cloudy and grey, Winter soon will pass away. (Fox version)

If Candlemas day be fair and bright, Winter will have another flight. If Candlemas day be shower and rain, Winter is gone and will not come again. (Traditional)

In Branch, St. Mary’s Bay an expression that is particular to Candlemas Day was the expression:

Half your prog and half your hay,

Eat your supper by the light of the day.

The expression calls on families, now that we are half way through winter, to take stock of their (prog)  food supplies in their root cellars  and feed for the animals (hay).   Just to insure  that there is enough to get you through the winter.

Recommended Archival Collection:   Edward Morris Diaries 1851-1887. Edward Morris was a businessman, politician, and office-holder; born in 1813 at Waterford (Republic of Ireland). He moved to St John’s, Newfoundland in 1832.  On January 1, 1851 he began to keep a daily diary that he continued until his death on 3 April 1887.

Consecration of the Basilica

ARCHIVAL MOMENTS

September 9, 1855

The Basilica Cathedral, St. John’s, NL was consecrated on 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.