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.