Tag Archives: Fleming

One man’s journey to build the Basilica

Archival Moment

Recommended Tour:  Join Paul Rowe  in  his  special Tour and Play  “Fleming”  One Man’s Journey to Build the Basilica and Unite a Nation.    Time: Tuesday – Saturday  at Noon   from  July 5 – August 27, 2016.  All Welcome:  $12 Admission; $10 Students and Seniors. Cash Only Please. Tickets Available 30 Minutes Before Showing.

Basilica Interior - Rooms Exhibit 016Journey back to 1843 and experience an unforgettable one-man play and guided tour of the Basilica – Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.

Join Bishop Michael Anthony Fleming, interpreted by actor Paul Rowe, as he guides you through the Basilica.

One of the most influential Newfoundlanders of his time, Bishop Fleming is brought to life as you witness his tireless efforts to construct the largest cathedral to date in the New World. As Bishop Fleming recounts the early days of the Basilica, you’ll learn about its social and cultural significance, and about the formative and often turbulent history of the young Colony of Newfoundland.

See how citizens of all faiths came together to construct this National Historic Site as you explore its remarkable halls.

Bishop buried, the legends survive.

July 18, 1850

Basilica 1841

Basilica 1841

On July 18, 1850  Bishop Michael Anthony Fleming who was responsible for building the Roman Catholic Cathedral (now the Basilica)  in the town of St. John’s  was buried in the  crypt of the new Cathedral.

The newspaper of the day reported that an estimated 10,000 people lined to streets to bow their heads in respect as the funeral procession passed through the streets.  Having circled the town, the  procession returned to the Cathedral that was still under construction, where after some concluding prayers, the coffin was enclosed in an oaken shell, lined with lead and interred in the vault under the main altar where it rests to this day.

Fleming’s greatest domestic projects were:

The recruiting of two orders of Irish religious women (the Presentation Congregation and the Sisters of Mercy) to work as teachers.

The construction of the Cathedral (now Basilica) it was the largest building project in 19th century Newfoundland and is now  the definitive icon of Newfoundland Catholicism.

During the winter of 1835 Fleming lived in a fishing room at Petty Harbour, administering smallpox vaccine to the whole community of Catholics and Anglicans, and remaining in quarantine with them when no physician or other clergyman would go there.

Fleming was instrumental in enforcing the Emancipation Act for Irish Catholics in Newfoundland in 1832.

The legend of the ‘Pink, White and Green’

The Pink, White and Green

The Pink, White and Green

In popular “legend”, Fleming is credited with creating the “Pink, white and green” tricolour flag of Newfoundland. It is told that during annual wood hauls for the Anglican cathedral and Roman Catholic cathedral, considerable rivalry developed between the two groups involved. The Protestant English marked their wood piles with the pink flag of the Natives’ Society, while the Catholic Irish used green banners. The threat of violence was such that Bishop Fleming intervened, and persuaded them to adopt a common flag, on which the pink and green would be separated by a white stripe to symbolize peace. The pink symbolized the Tudor Rose of England (The Protestants) and the Green symbolized St. Patrick’s Emblem of Ireland (The Catholics). The White is taken from St. Andrew’s Cross (St. Andrew is the Patron Saint of Fishermen and Scotland). This legend, it’s symbolism and origins, have all been disproven by historical evidence. In reality, the Newfoundland “pink, white and green” tricolour didn’t appear until at least 41 years after the inception of the Irish tricolour and was almost certainly based on the Irish flag.

The legend of the Basilica Land

There is “legend’, that the exact amount of land allowed for the basilica cathedral to be built was to be determined by how much land the parishioners could fence in one day. This gave rise to the story that hundreds of Catholics showed up offering help with picks and shovels. In actual fact, the land acreage had been clearly defined in the terms of agreement.

Person of Canadian National Historic Significance

On 9 September 2005, the 150th anniversary of the consecration of Fleming’s cathedral, a plaque was unveiled by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada designating Bishop Fleming as a person of Canadian National Historic Significance.

Recommended Reading: Fire Upon the Earth, the Life and Times of Bishop Michael Anthony Fleming, by J.B. Darcy, C.F.C. Creative Publishers, 2003.

Recommended Archival Collection:   Explore MG 250 at the Rooms Provincial Archives Division. The collection consists of correspondence, speeches and sermons of Bishop Fleming, 1838-1845.

Recommended Tour:  Join Paul Rowe  in  his  special Tour and Play  “Fleming”  One Man’s Journey to Build the Basilica and Unite a Nation.    Time: Tuesday – Saturday  at Noon   from  July 5 – August 27 .   All Welcome:  $12 Admission; $10 Students and Seniors. Cash Only Please. Tickets Available 30 Minutes Before Showing.


Old Christmas day – first mass at the Basilica


January 6, 1850

R.C. Cathedral, St. John’s, 1841

Though unfinished, the Roman Catholic Cathedral (now Basilica) was opened for worship on 6 January 1850. (The Feast of the Epiphany – Old Christmas Day). Ill and exhausted by his labours, Bishop Michael Anthony Fleming who had conceived of the idea of building the massive Cathedral celebrated mass.

 “It was the last time the dying Bishop was to assume the vestments, and the first and last time he would offer mass in his new Cathedral. He was so weak a chair had to be placed at the Altar, and several times he had to stop and rest.”

His death later that year was widely attributed to his exertions on seeing that the Cathedral (now Basilica) was built.  The Patriot & Terra Nova Herald the local newspaper stated, “The Cathedral . . . has been that building upon which he seems to have staked all.”   The mass was Bishop Fleming’s last public appearance.

In the spring of 1850 an ailing Fleming, in semi-retirement, moved from the Episcopal Residence on Henry Street  to Belvedere, the Franciscan house. (near what was to become known as Belvedere Orphanage building, now the MCP  building 57 Margaret’s Place (off Newtown Road) in St. John’s.)There he died a few months later on July 14, 1850.  Thousands turned out to pay their last respects as his body was interred in the cathedral he had struggled so hard to build.

Rome had appointed a coadjutor bishop, John Thomas Mullock, who had been a friend and adviser to Bishop Fleming as his successor. Bishop Mullock completed the cathedral and it was officially consecrated in September 1855.

Recommended Archival Collection:  Bishop Michael Anthony Fleming Collection, Archives of the R.C. Archdiocese ofSt. John’s.

Recommended Reading: Fire Upon the Earth: The Life and Times of Bishop Michael Anthony Fleming , O.S.F.  by Brother J.B. Darcy, C.F.C.  Creative Publishers,St. John ’s, 2003.

Recommended Website: From Cornerstone to Cathedral: http://www.virtualmuseum.ca/Exhibitions/Basilica/en/index.html

The First Transatlantic Radio Message


December 12, 1901

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: A 66-145; Guglielmo Marconi, with instruments used to receive first transatlantic message,St. John’s. Photographer James Vey, St. John’s.

On December 12, 1901, at the Signal Hill, St. John’s, Italian scientist and engineer Guglielmo Marconi sent and received the first transatlantic radio message.

The test signal was sent by electrical engineer John Ambrose Fleming in Poldhu,Cornwall, 3,200 km away across theAtlantic Ocean. It came in through a 121 metre long copper wire antenna trailing from a box kite and out through a radio speaker.

Marconi had set up temporary masts, but high winds had blown them down. The kite contraption worked. Marconi heard the first signal as the faint clicking of Morse code – of the letter ‘S’ –three short clicks– repeated over and over, and he passed the ear piece to his assistant, G. S. Kemp for corroboration.

Marconi first started experimenting with radiotelegraphy around 1895 and he realized that messages could be transmitted over much greater distances by using grounded antennae on the radio transmitter and receiver.

A few years after his successful transmission with Fleming, Marconi opened the first commercial wireless telegraph service.

Recommended Archival Collection:  At the Rooms Provincial Archives Division see  F.37-’37  one of the archival documents is the Proposal of the Canadian Marconi Company to establish a wireless telephone service between St. John’s and Canada, the United States and Great Britain

Recommended Reading:  Marconi, by Giancarlo Masini, Marsilio Publishers: 1999.

Recommended Website:  http://www.marconicalling.co.uk/  Marconi Calling is a fascinating exploration of Guglielmo Marconi’s life, his scientific discoveries, the impact of wireless and the development of modern communications