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Basilica of St. John the Baptist, St. John's, ca. 1860.
Basilica of St. John the Baptist, St. John's, ca. 1860

Plans for the cathedral were solicited by Bishop Michael Anthony Fleming from the Irish architect John Jones, to adequately reflect the significance of the Roman Catholic Church in Newfoundland. But for climatic and ideological reasons Fleming finally settled on the design of C. Schmidt, the architect of the Danish Government at Altona, just down the River Elbe from Hamburg. The roof of Schmidt's cathedral was designed to throw the heavy loads of snow then common in Northern Europe and Newfoundland. Schmidt's neo-classical design, with its vocabulary of rounded arches, pillars, and columns, appealed to Fleming's love of all things classical and Roman.

Schmidt's design for this monumental cathedral is one of the earliest North American examples of the neo-classical revival in architecture, but the St. John's cathedral is thoroughly Irish, for it was contemporary with a great boom in Irish church construction which also deployed the classical style, and the cathedral precinct of schools, convents, and episcopal palace is directly reminiscent of the church precincts found in the southeastern Irish cities of Wexford, Waterford, Cork, and Thurles.

Although the foundation stone was laid by Fleming on May 20th, 1841, the Basilica took another 14 years to complete, by which time Fleming was dead and Bishop John Thomas Mullock had succeeded him.

Image from P.J. Kennedy, ed. The Centenary of the Basilica-Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, St. John's, Newfoundland: 1855-1955 (St. John's: Centenary Souvenir Book Editorial Board, ©1956). Courtesy of the Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John's.
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