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Local Legend and Myth

In the 150 years since the Cathedral's consecration in 1855, several legends have emerged surrounding the construction of the Basilica and the acquisition of its land by Bishop Fleming. Despite having little or no historical basis, these legends play an important role in the oral history of Catholicism in St. John's.

One story tells of how Bishop Fleming obtained permission from Queen Victoria to build on "The Barrens". Supposedly, if he were to go to Hyde Park in London where the Queen rode by in her carriage, she would stop to greet him. The Bishop did just this, and the Queen stopped and asked him back to Buckingham Palace for tea. After a discussion, the Queen offered her support and approval for the project, and later the land was officially granted. In 1901, when Bishop Howley gave a sermon for the death of Queen Victoria, he described the granting of the Basilica land as "the gracious gift of Queen Victoria".

It is also said that once the land was obtained from Governor Henry Prescott, the exact amount of land allowed for the project 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. Allegedly, many were fearful the British Governor may have a sudden change of heart and revoke the decision, and several Catholics decided to secure the site by burying a corpse on the land. However, there is no evidence to support the story. Nevertheless, many parishioners and tourists often inquire about the location of the corpse and the validity of this popular story.