In 1834, Bishop Michael Anthony Fleming stood on the crest of a hill in St. John's, Newfoundland, and imagined a cathedral on the site. He had no land, no money, and no support, save that of an impoverished Irish congregation. Read the amazing story of how Fleming secured the land he wanted, raised the thousands of pounds required, and even quarried stone from the ground with his own bare hands. The massive project literally cost him his life, but even as the bishop's strength faded, he was determined to say the first Mass in the cathedral. And he did so, on a frigid January day, in an empty shell of a building, amid scaffolding and sawdust.
It was a time when bishops spoke freely on political issues, whenever these infringed on the rights of their flock. It was a time when people marched in the thousands for the laying of the cornerstone in 1841, for the funeral of Bishop Fleming in 1850, and for the consecration of the cathedral on September 9, 1855. It was a time when people gave freely of their time and limited means: fencing the land, digging the foundation and hauling away gravel, and dragging great blocks of granite up from the harbour wharves to the construction site.
Today the Basilica-Cathedral is a visual testament to the grit and determination of the people of St. John's and the bishops who led them. Each magnificent work of art tells its own story. The Dead Christ – 2,000 pounds and carved from a single block of marble. The memorial to Bishop Scallan – was the bishop actually excommunicated? And the old high altar – taken apart in 1955, but the controversy lives on.
Take a tour of the Basilica of St. John the Baptist – you will never see it in the same way again.