Basilica of St. John the Baptist
History and museums
The Basilica-Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador is the metropolitan cathedral of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John's, Newfoundland and the mother church and symbol of Roman Catholicism in Newfoundland.
The Basilica-Cathedral was the largest building project to its date in Newfoundland history. Construction lasted from the excavation of the ground in May 1839, through the laying of the cornerstone in May 1841, until the completion and consecration on September 9, 1855. At this time, it was the largest church building in North America and remains the second largest in Canada behind Saint Joseph's Oratory in Montreal.
On October 17, 2007, Bishop Martin Currie of the Grand Falls diocese was appointed archbishop of St. John's. He assumed his position on November 30, 2007.1
Built between 1839–1855, the basilica is located on the highest ridge overlooking the city of St. John's. The church is not oriented on the liturgically correct east-west axis, but faces toward the narrows that form the entrance to St. John's harbour.
The Basilica-Cathedral of St. John the Baptist is built in the form of a Latin cross and in the Lombard Romanesque style of a Roman basilica. It was designed for Bishop Michael Anthony Fleming by the German architect Ole Joergen Schmidt, though Fleming also seems to have had plans prepared by the distinguished Irish architect John Philpot Jones of Clonmel, County Tipperary, Ireland, and also consulted with James Murphy, a native of Dublin, Ireland on the final plans for the cathedral. Construction was initially supervised by the Waterford contractor Michael McGrath, but later superintended by stonemason and sculptor James Purcell of Cork, Ireland, who also designed and built a small wooden church, Christchurch, for the community of Quidi Vidi near St. John's, Newfoundland.
Construction took place under the watchful eye of the Irish-born Bishop Michael Anthony Fleming, the Vicar-Apostolic and first Bishop of Newfoundland and later under the eye of his successor, Bishop John Mullock. The Basilica-Cathedral of St. John the Baptist is unusual among North America's 19th century public buildings in that it was constructed using limestone and granite imported from Galway and Dublin, Ireland, as well as 400,000 bricks from Hamburg, as well as local sandstone quarried from St. John's and Kelly's Island in Conception Bay, giving the Cathedral its characteristic grey colour. During its centenary celebration in 1955, Pope Pius XII raised the cathedral to the rank of minor Basilica.
The St. John's Basilica-Cathedral was contemporary with and part of the great boom in church construction which surrounded the era of Daniel O'Connell and Catholic emancipation in Ireland and Newfoundland. For its day, the St. John's Basilica was the largest Irish cathedral anywhere outside Ireland. No other Irish building in North America can boast of such intimate influences from or upon Ireland, and no other building had such an international reputation in its day.
The Basilica was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1983, to recognize its architectural uniqueness as one of the earliest North American examples of the Romanesque revival style, and its central role as the spiritual and cultural home of Newfoundland Roman Catholics. The building has also been designated as a Registered Heritage Structure and Provincial Historic Site by the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador.
The Basilica Museum is open seasonally, and is currently located in the Basilica Residence. Exhibits include religious art, historic and religious artifacts of the Basilica, pictures of bishops and archbishops of St. John's, and furniture and decorations of several period rooms in the Residence.