Fleming’s desire to erect a massive Cathedral in St. John’s was met with much opposition and reluctance. Many people questioned the necessity of a large church in a small British North American colony. A Cathedral of this size would rival that of any North American colony and would be the largest undertaking to date in St. John’s. Also, since Irish Catholics were a political minority within St. John’s, many saw Fleming’s efforts to acquire land to be futile. These factors, combined with Bishop Fleming’s reputation as a difficult negotiator, would surely result in divisive relations between Catholics and Protestants in St. John’s.

From 1834 until 1838, Fleming petitioned the British Government for a tract of land on "The Barrens", to the east of Fort Townsend, the highest ridge overlooking St. John’s harbour, but the British Governor Prescott refused. What followed were four trans-Atlantic voyages to London by Fleming in order to secure the land. Nine acres was finally granted in May 1838 by the Board of Ordnance.

Having obtained the land, Fleming went to Europe for architectural plans. He consulted J Read More
Fleming’s desire to erect a massive Cathedral in St. John’s was met with much opposition and reluctance. Many people questioned the necessity of a large church in a small British North American colony. A Cathedral of this size would rival that of any North American colony and would be the largest undertaking to date in St. John’s. Also, since Irish Catholics were a political minority within St. John’s, many saw Fleming’s efforts to acquire land to be futile. These factors, combined with Bishop Fleming’s reputation as a difficult negotiator, would surely result in divisive relations between Catholics and Protestants in St. John’s.

From 1834 until 1838, Fleming petitioned the British Government for a tract of land on "The Barrens", to the east of Fort Townsend, the highest ridge overlooking St. John’s harbour, but the British Governor Prescott refused. What followed were four trans-Atlantic voyages to London by Fleming in order to secure the land. Nine acres was finally granted in May 1838 by the Board of Ordnance.

Having obtained the land, Fleming went to Europe for architectural plans. He consulted John Jones of Clonmel, Ireland, before settling on Joergen Schmidt (name source), the architect of the Danish Government at Altona-on-the-Elbe, outside Hamburg. With Schmidt’s designs, Fleming could "complete a most extensive Cathedral, a House for the Bishop and Clergy, a convent, schools and at an expense far less than by the plans of the English or Irish Architects". At first, Fleming hired the Waterford builder Michael McGrath, but after a disagreement, replaced him with builder and stone-carver James Purcell.

© Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John's 2006

Sir Henry Prescott

Sir Henry Prescott, Governor of Newfoundland, 1834-1841.

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. John's, 1831

St. John's in 1831 with Queen's Battery in foreground.

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 foundation of the Basilica-Cathedral is constructed of local sandstone from Signal Hill. Galway limestone and Leinster granite from Ireland were used for the interior walls and towers. Small amounts of sandstone from the Kelly’s Island and Mistaken Point formations were quarried and used in the ambulatory walls.

Signal Hill sandstone was used in the restoration of the exterior walls. The impressive statuary throughout the Basilica was carved in Carrara Marble, quarried in Italy. Verona limestone, also from Italy, was used to construct parts of the high altar, while the side altars were adorned with Egyptian travertine.
The foundation of the Basilica-Cathedral is constructed of local sandstone from Signal Hill. Galway limestone and Leinster granite from Ireland were used for the interior walls and towers. Small amounts of sandstone from the Kelly’s Island and Mistaken Point formations were quarried and used in the ambulatory walls.

Signal Hill sandstone was used in the restoration of the exterior walls. The impressive statuary throughout the Basilica was carved in Carrara Marble, quarried in Italy. Verona limestone, also from Italy, was used to construct parts of the high altar, while the side altars were adorned with Egyptian travertine.

© Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John's 2006

St. John's Harbour

St. John's Harbour, date unknown.

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


A Hammer

A hammer used to chisel stone for the Basilica, exhumed from renovations to the Cathedral in 1992, and presumed to have been used during the 1840's.

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


Kelly's Island

Kelly's Island, Conception Bay, one of several locations used to gather stone to build 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


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • recognize the perseverance of Bishop Fleming in building a cathedral
  • name the origin of the stones used for the construction of the cathedral.

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