The east tower of the Basilica originally contained a "Town Clock", manufactured by Borrel of Paris, with a dial in enameled lava. At one time, the chimes were heard on the hours and half hours for miles around. There was a matching sundial in the West Tower but it was later removed. In 1954, the mechanical works of the clock were converted to an electrical system, and a new dial was installed.

By 1855, the east tower contained the largest and the first of nine bells in the Basilica. Bishop Mullock purchased the bell in February of 1850. Struck by James Murphy of Dublin, it was the largest ever cast in Ireland at that time, and won a Gold Medal at the Dublin Exhibition of Irish Manufacturers, weighing nearly two tons. Upon its arrival in February of 1851, it was hauled by hand to the Basilica, and installed in the East Tower. In the following years, eight more bells were installed in the west tower. James Murphy cast the three largest bells in 1854 and 1857. Matthew O’Byrne of the Fountain Head Foundry, Ireland, cast the five smaller bells in 1906.
The east tower of the Basilica originally contained a "Town Clock", manufactured by Borrel of Paris, with a dial in enameled lava. At one time, the chimes were heard on the hours and half hours for miles around. There was a matching sundial in the West Tower but it was later removed. In 1954, the mechanical works of the clock were converted to an electrical system, and a new dial was installed.

By 1855, the east tower contained the largest and the first of nine bells in the Basilica. Bishop Mullock purchased the bell in February of 1850. Struck by James Murphy of Dublin, it was the largest ever cast in Ireland at that time, and won a Gold Medal at the Dublin Exhibition of Irish Manufacturers, weighing nearly two tons. Upon its arrival in February of 1851, it was hauled by hand to the Basilica, and installed in the East Tower. In the following years, eight more bells were installed in the west tower. James Murphy cast the three largest bells in 1854 and 1857. Matthew O’Byrne of the Fountain Head Foundry, Ireland, cast the five smaller bells in 1906.

© Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John's 2006

Bell

This bell was installed in 1906.

Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John's.
Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John's.

© Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John's 2006


The Bells

Other bells at the Basilica.

Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John's.
Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John's.

© Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John's 2006


For the construction of the ceiling of the Cathedral, Bishop Fleming employed the Conways, a family of masons from Waterford, Ireland. In the years since, the Conway name has become synonymous with the fine artisanship that has gone into building the Basilica. The family still resides in St. John’s today.

The Conway’s are responsible for the principal decorative feature of the new Cathedral, its Italianate plaster ceiling. Once the roof was slated, they turned their attention to plastering the interior. In the center of the ceiling, the Conways installed five elaborate "pendant drops", decorated with cherubs. Until the fiftieth anniversary of the Cathedral in 1905, the Cathedral’s ceiling was flat and white, but Archbishop Howley employed the next generation of Conways, and with local wood carver Dan Carroll and architect Jonas Barter, designed and installed the coffered Italianate ceiling. In 1955, the Rambusch firm of New York executed a scheme of painting, polychroming and gold leaf highlights to the ceiling, giving the effect of a Roman-style Basilica.
For the construction of the ceiling of the Cathedral, Bishop Fleming employed the Conways, a family of masons from Waterford, Ireland. In the years since, the Conway name has become synonymous with the fine artisanship that has gone into building the Basilica. The family still resides in St. John’s today.

The Conway’s are responsible for the principal decorative feature of the new Cathedral, its Italianate plaster ceiling. Once the roof was slated, they turned their attention to plastering the interior. In the center of the ceiling, the Conways installed five elaborate "pendant drops", decorated with cherubs. Until the fiftieth anniversary of the Cathedral in 1905, the Cathedral’s ceiling was flat and white, but Archbishop Howley employed the next generation of Conways, and with local wood carver Dan Carroll and architect Jonas Barter, designed and installed the coffered Italianate ceiling. In 1955, the Rambusch firm of New York executed a scheme of painting, polychroming and gold leaf highlights to the ceiling, giving the effect of a Roman-style Basilica.

© Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John's 2006

Renovations

Completing renovations to the Basilica ceiling prior to 1955 Centenary celebrations.

Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John's.
Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John's.

© Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John's 2006


The Conway Family

The Conway Family in 1926. The Conways were responsible for the construction of the ornate ceiling in the Basilica. .

Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John's.
Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John's.

© Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John's 2006


The Basilica Ceiling

Panoramic view of the Basilica Ceiling.

Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John's.
Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John's.

© Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John's 2006


The Basilica-Cathedral of St. John the Baptist is one of the earliest instances of the Romanesque style of architecture in the New World, yet its context and significance extend far beyond Canadian borders. Inspired by the medieval Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi in Italy, the St. John’s Cathedral was built with two towers, and inspired the construction of many buildings beyond the shores of Newfoundland and Labrador.

When Archbishop John Hughes of New York arrived in St. John’s for the consecration in September 1855, he was very impressed by the size and extent of the Basilica. Returning to New York, he was inspired to build St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the only Irish-built Cathedral in North America to eclipse the St. John’s Cathedral in size.

In 1848 the Dominican Priory was constructed at Pope’s Quay, Cork in Ireland, with a design similar to the towers of the St. John’s Cathedral. In the mid-1860s, the famous Irish architect J.J. McCarthy designed Thurles Cathedral in Tipperary, with a large classical campanile. In Youghal, Co. Cork, by the end of the century, the Presentation Convent and School had been built with a c Read More
The Basilica-Cathedral of St. John the Baptist is one of the earliest instances of the Romanesque style of architecture in the New World, yet its context and significance extend far beyond Canadian borders. Inspired by the medieval Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi in Italy, the St. John’s Cathedral was built with two towers, and inspired the construction of many buildings beyond the shores of Newfoundland and Labrador.

When Archbishop John Hughes of New York arrived in St. John’s for the consecration in September 1855, he was very impressed by the size and extent of the Basilica. Returning to New York, he was inspired to build St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the only Irish-built Cathedral in North America to eclipse the St. John’s Cathedral in size.

In 1848 the Dominican Priory was constructed at Pope’s Quay, Cork in Ireland, with a design similar to the towers of the St. John’s Cathedral. In the mid-1860s, the famous Irish architect J.J. McCarthy designed Thurles Cathedral in Tipperary, with a large classical campanile. In Youghal, Co. Cork, by the end of the century, the Presentation Convent and School had been built with a campanile.

The Cathedral of St. John’s preceded all of these structures, and their architectural similarities to the Basilica are proof that the structure exists in an international context of architectural significance.

© Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John's 2006

Dominican Priory, Ireland

Dominican Priory, Ireland

Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John's.
Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John's.

© Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John's 2006


St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York.

St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York.

Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John's.
Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John's.

© Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John's 2006


Presentation Convent, Youghal.

Presentation Convent, Youghal.

Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John's.
Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John's.

© Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John's 2006


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • recognize the architectural style of the Basilica as Romanesque
  • identify the origins of the bells

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