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“The gravestones of the deceased are daily violated”

Archival Moment

July 4, 1848

Entrance to Belvedere Cemetery, St. John's.

Entrance to Belvedere Cemetery, St. John’s.

It was on July 4, 1848 that many of the citizens of the town of St. John’s were walking to the “outskirts of the town” to witness the blessing of new cemetery for the Roman Catholics.  Many attending the service were unhappy that their loved one’s would be interred so far out in the country.

Bishop John Thomas Mullock, the Catholic Bishop of Newfoundland wrote in his diary on July 4, 1848:

“Consecrated the cemetery at Belvedere … multitude present. High Mass afterwards in the Mortuary Chapel of All Saints.”

The leaders of all the churches in St. John’s had been given notice that the local government  was not happy with internments in the town of St. John’s and that they would have to seek burial ground further away from the livyers.

Up until 1849 all burials for all denominations were made in the town’s cemeteries. The Roman Catholic’s buried their dead in the Long’s Hill Cemetery located near what is now the site of the parking lot of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church (The Kirk). The Church of England Cemetery was in the church yard of the Anglican Cathedral of St. John the Baptist which borders on Duckworth Street, Church Hill, Cathedral Street and Gower Street.  The Wesleyan Cemetery was on the corner of Gower Street and Queen’s Road.

Discontent about the state of cemeteries within the boundary of the town of St. John’s began to surface shortly after the great fire of June 1846.

One of the effects of the Great Fire was reported in the Journal of the House of Assembly on July 14, 1846. The report stated:

 “Troops of starving dogs, infesting the town have become dangerous as well as to the living as to the dead; they have commenced desecrating the tombs of the cemetery …. And may be seen gnawing the bones of those who have been buried …. Pigs and goats infest in great numbers …. And the gravestones and monuments of the deceased are daily violated.”

One of the results of the Great Fire of 1846 was that all fencing and enclosures for farm animals had been destroyed by the fire allowing the farm animals including the goats and pigs to wonder about the town. Their favorite place to feed and graze was in the ‘downtown’ cemeteries.

On July 15, 1849 a Proclamation was issued by Governor, Sir J. Gaspard LeMarchant “forbidding any more burials within the city limits.”  The Governor was responding to the fears of town residents that epidemics such as cholera and typhus were resulting from the internment of the dead in the town. The argument was that as bodies of the newly interred decomposed in the town cemeteries, their diseases were seeping into the wells that were the source of the water supply for town.

Governor, Sir J, Gaspard LeMarchant argued:

 “as a very obvious method of improving the sanitary conditions of this town, I recommend having an act passed prohibiting  any internments in the limits of this town…. “

To get some indication as to how St. John’s has grown one only has to consider that the Belvedere property that our ancestors were walking to for the blessing of the cemetery in 1849  is now known as Belvedere Cemetery and is located between Bonaventure Avenue and Newtown Road.

It is no longer on the “outskirts of the town” no longer “in the country”.

There has been a long established tradition in  Newfoundland and Labrador  whereby families continue to attend to the cemetery plots of their loved one’s.   Typically a few days before the annual flower or liturgical service families  would gather to clean the  family plot.

2019 St. John’s and Area Cemetery Schedule

For flower services and or Liturgical Services.

Mount Pleasant Cemetery           Monday July 8th                 7:00pm

Mount Carmel Cemetery              Tuesday July 9th                 7:00pm

Kenmount Road Cemetery           Wednesday July 10th         7:00pm

Belvedere Cemetery                     Tuesday July 16 th            7:00pm

 Forest Road Cemetery                 Wednesday July 17th         7:30pm

St. Joseph’s Cemetery                   Thursday July 18th             7:00pm 
Petty Harbour

 General Protestant Cemetery     Monday July 22                7:00pm

Holy Sepulcher Cemetery             Tuesday July 23                  7:00pm

St. Kevin’s Cemetery                     Thursday July 25th         7:00pm
The Goulds

Recommended Archival Collection:  All of the churches have established archives that hold detailed records that will help you locate the grave site of a loved one buried in the cemeteries in this province

The Veiled Virgin: “This statue is a perfect gem of art”


December 4, 1856

On 4 December 1856 Bishop John Thomas Mullock, the Catholic Bishop of Newfoundland, recorded in his diary:

Received safely from Rome, a beautiful statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary in marble, by Strazza.The face is veiled, and the figure and features are all seen. It is a perfect gem of art.”

The Veiled Virgin was placed in the library of the Basilica Cathedral Parish in St. John’s until 1862, when Mullock presented the statue to the Superior of Presentation Convent.  His sister was a member of that convent.

This statue was executed in flawless Carrera marble by the renowned Italian sculptor Giovanni Strazza (1818-1875) in Rome. Other examples of Strazza’s work may be seen in the Vatican Museums, Rome and in the city of Milan. The Veiled Virgin was described by the St. John’s newspaper The Newfoundlander (4 December 1856) as the second such work by Strazza on the subject of a veiled woman.

The newspaper reported:

 “To say that this representation surpasses in perfection of art, any piece of sculpture we have ever seen, conveys but weakly our impression of its exquisite beauty. The possibility of such a triumph of the chisel had not before entered into our conception. Ordinary language must ever fail to do justice to a subject like this – to the rare artistic skill, and to the emotions it produces in the beholder. These themes are rather.”

The Veiled Virgin remains in the care of the Presentation Sisters, Cathedral Square, St. John’s.  It may be viewed by appointment.

Recommended Archival Collection: Search the online database for descriptions of our archival records at The Rooms and view thousands of digital photographs. See more at: https://www.therooms.ca/collections-research/our-collections

Recommended Archival Collection:  Presentation Congregation Archives –Cathedral Square, St. John’s, NL 709-753-7291



The Basilica Cathedral Bells


January 1906

Basilica Bells on the steps of the Basilica Cathedral 1906.

Basilica Bells on the steps of the Basilica Cathedral 1906.

If you were walking past Roman Catholic Cathedral (now Basilica) in St. John’s during this week in January of 1906 you might have been curious enough to approach the steps of the church to take a close look at the Joy Bells that sat on the steps of the Cathedral awaiting shipment to Ireland. They were being sent to the famous Murphy foundry on James Street, Dublin, where they were originally cast.

The bells in their day were considered some of the best in the new world.

The bell known as “St. John” built in 1850 was the largest ever cast in Ireland at that time, and won a Gold Medal at the Dublin Exhibition of Irish Manufacturers. The bell, a massive piece, weighs nearly two tons. Upon its arrival in St. John’s in February, 1851, it was hauled by hand to the Basilica, and installed in the East Tower.

The bells sitting on the steps of the Cathedral in January 1906 were made by Murphy, the celebrated Bell maker at Dublin in 1854.

Basilica Bells 2In the tradition of the Catholic Church each of the bells was christened and named before being installed.   In addition to having its own name each bell when originally installed had its own sound or personality.

The bells are:

Mary – 1854 – octave D

Patrick – 1854 -octave E

Bonaventure – 1863 – F sharp

Michael -1906

Matthew – 1906

Anthony – 1906

Francis – 1906

James – 1906

These five bells completed the peal, viz.:  G A B C (sharp) and D (octave)

Following their installation in 1906 the bells rang without interruption until 1988 at which time the cluster of bells was removed from the west tower of the Basilica because of structural weakness in the tower. The bells were placed in storage on site at the Basilica Cathedral. Following years of silence, the bells were again re-installed ringing out on (June 9, 2009) at noon, the first time in over twenty years.

Today you can hear the bells being rung on special “feast days” or special occasions like a wedding.  The largest bell “St. John” rings at noon every day.

Recommended Reading: Tour of the Basilica Cathedral, St. John’s:  http://www.thebasilica.ca/index.cfm?load=page&page=186

Recommended Website: After 21 years, the bells have been reinstalled in the bell tower of the Basilica of St. John the Baptist in St. John’s.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_n-ht7bQ8zA 

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

Franciscans Lobby to Hold Newfoundland, the Orphan Church.

May 8, 1870

Bisop Thomas Power of St. John's, Newfoundland friend of Cardianl Cullen

After the death of Bishop John Thomas Mullock, O.S.F in March 1869, the Episcopal see of St John’s, Newfoundland, had remained vacant for more than a year.

The Irish Franciscans lobbied hard in Rome to continue their unbroken line as vicars apostolic and bishops of Newfoundland. Since the Roman Catholic Church was officially established in Newfoundland in 1784 only priests ordained for the order of St. Francis (Franciscans, O.S.F.) had lead the church in Newfoundland.

The attempts of the Franciscans were futile. Paul (Cardinal) Cullen, Cardinal Archbishop of Dublin was determined to see that Father Thomas J. Power a secular priest friend and protégé of his be elected Bishop of St. John’s. Power was named Bishop on this day 8 May 1870.

 Cardinal Cullen’s influence was felt around the world in a carefully planned campaign to install Irish bishops.  Cullen was able to influence the choice of appointments to Episcopal sees in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada and Newfoundland.  The twelve Irish priests appointed to Australian sees in 1846-78 were all in some way Cullen’s men. InCanadahe was influential in having his friend (Bishop) George Conroy named as the first apostolic delegate toCanada.  Cullen’s Irish men were a close network around the world.

 Bishop Power of Newfoundlandwas consecrated bishop of St John’son 12 June, 1870 in Romeby the Irish cardinal. The next day the new bishop took his seat in the first Vatican Council, and on 18 July, 1870 voted for the dogma of the infallibility of the pope.  After a brief visit to Dublin, Power arrived in Newfoundland on 9 September, 1870.

Shortly after the vote Cardinal Cullen urged the newly ordained Bishop Power to leave forNewfoundland because of the absence of Episcopal leadership in Newfoundland.  In 1869, Newfoundland was referred to as the “orphan church” Bishop John Dalton of Harbour Grace had died in March and Bishop John Thomas Mullock of St. John’s had died in March leaving Newfoundland without a Roman Catholic bishop.

Recommended Reading:  Imperium in Imperio’: Irish Episcopal Imperialism in the Nineteenth Century* by Colin Barr , Ave Maria University, Naples, Florida

Gift from Australia

When writing a codicil to his last will and testament on this day  6 August 1865, Bishop John Thomas Mullock of St.  John’s left “his gold enameled pectoral cross to the Diocese of St. John’s.”  The gift to the diocese was quite significant because this pectoral cross in addition to having “liturgical” symbolic value also gives insight into the bishops and their friendship networks around the world. Bishop Mullock wrote that  “the pectoral cross was a gift from his friend Dr Bishop Patrick Geoghegan, Bishop of Adelaide, South Australia.”   [104.1.31]

Many of the early bishops in the “new world” came from Irish stock.  The young Patrick Geoghegan, ordained in 1829  as a Franciscan priest (O.S.F) had as his first assignment the Franciscan Church of St Francis’ Church, Dublin, popularly known as the Church of Adam and Eve., the oldest existing Roman Catholic in Dublin.

Geoghegan in 1837 asked to be sent as a missionary to Australia where he became bishop in 1859.

While he was at Adam and Eve  he was befriended by another Franciscan priest, John Thomas Mullock who was also ordained in 1829.  Mullock was the guardian of Adam and Eve Convent.  Mullock was sent as a missionary to St. John’s becoming bishop in 1848.

One of the first people that Mullock wrote about his appointment to St. John’s, Newfoundland was Geoghegan. In that letter he wrote:

“As to myself, I can’t say as yet how I will be situated in St John’s, but I am sure Dr (Michael Anthony) Fleming  (Bishop of Newfoundland)  will make me comfortable. I have a very arduous Mission but with God’s assistance I hope to get through it, always remembering St Francis’ Motto non tibi soli vivere [Live not for yourself alone].I get a steamer direct from Glasgow next month and expect to arrive in 9 or 10 days in St John’s. I will write to you in a month or two after my arrival there and give you an account of the Mission. As yet I know nothing of it except by hearsay. Our Cathedral there is the largest building in N. America.”

The two maintained a life long friendship.

The pectoral cross is on exhibit in the Basilica Cathedral Museum, home to one of the finest collections of religious artefacts of historic and artistic significance in the country.

The pectoral cross (crux pectoralis) is worn by bishops. The word pectoral derives from the Latin pectus, meaning Abreast.” This cross is attached to a chain (or cord) and is worn on the chest, near the heart.  In 1889, the Holy See recommended that the pectoral cross of a deceased bishop which contained a relic of the True Cross be given to his successor. When putting on the pectoral cross, traditionally the bishop says, “Munire me digneris,” asking the Lord for strength and protection against all evil and all enemies, and to be mindful of His passion and cross.