Basilica Tour

The Basilica Cathedral of St. John the Baptist is treasured by the people of Newfoundland and Labrador for many reasons. A functioning church, over 1000 people meet here each week to worship and celebrate their faith. And considered one of the finest repositories of Irish and English ecclesiastical art in North America, visitors and tourists flock to what the New York Times has called a 'must see in St. John's,' to explore and appreciate its history and artistic significance.

While nothing compares to experiencing the Basilica in person, we've designed a guide to give visitors detailed descriptions of items of beauty and interest. Many of these objects date from the earliest days of the church, while others from the 1903 and 1955 programmes of renovation, restoration and redecoration. Please note that while the title 'Basilica' is used throughout this guide, prior to 1955 the church was referred to as a 'Cathedral.' Please see our History Page to learn more.

For a schedule of our Summer 2016 dramatic presentation, 'Fleming,' please see here.

The Piazza

Standing in the Basilica's piazza, or courtyard, it becomes clear why Bishop Michael Fleming was insistent on procuring this piece of land. It offers a stunning view of the city of St. John's, Signal Hill, the harbour and its narrow entrance. Moreover, with its commanding height at the top of the hill, the Basilica stands like a beacon to those sailing through the Narrows to seek safe anchorage.

In and near the piazza are the Mercy Convent and School and the Presentation Convent and School to the east, and the Basilica offices and Residence and St. Bonaventure's Boys' School, to the west and north.

The Arch

Constructed of enormous blocks of granite and surmounted by a marble statue of St. John the Baptist, the Entrance Arch stands at the south of the piazza. Erected on May 17, 1857, it was taken down in 1907 to allow for the widening of Military Road, and rebuilt with a triple arch span. The height of the arch with the statue is 42 feet.

St. John the Baptist is patron of the city and one of the patrons of the Basilica. This statue is 10 feet high, sculpted of pure white marble by Fillipio Ghersi in Carrara, Italy. It represents the saint preaching penance, holding a baptismal shell in his right hand.


Statuary in the Piazza

In the centre of the piazza stands a marble statue of the Immaculate Conception, ten feet high, on a granite pedestal of about the same height. Erected in 1858 by the Right Reverend J.T. Mullock, it is the work of Irish sculptor, John Edward Carew.

 Located on the east side of the main steps of the Basilica is a marble statue of Saint Francis of Assisi, and of St. Patrick on the west side. Both statues, sculpted by John Edward Carew, are about 9 feet and mounted on granite pedestals. Early engravings of the Basilica show that at one time (c. 1878), both these statues were located on the free standing pedestals within the piazza, equidistant from each other and from the Immaculate Conception statue.

The Basilica

The church is built in the form of a cross, in the style of a Roman Basilica. It is 246 feet, 6 inches long, and 186 feet, 6 inches in the transept; the facade is 99 feet.

With the exception of the low side aisles, the Basilica is faced with cut limestone from Galway, Ireland. Dublin granite is used for the quoines, moldings, cornices, window-frames, and string and felt courses. The facade is flanked by two towers, 150 feet high. The nave and the transepts are each 52 feet wide, without including the pillars. The low side aisles, or "ambulatories," are 12 feet wide and open into the main building by a series of elegant arches.

The walls of the Basilica are ornamented with Corinthian pilasters, surmounted by a cornice 13 feet wide. The arches are also artistically decorated. The ceiling of the nave is flat, enriched with elaborate centrepieces and panels. The apse of the church is semi-circular and forms the choir behind the High Altar.

There are seven side altars in the Basilica, all ornamented with statuary. St. Andrew's Altar, an eighth alter once located in the apse, was removed in 1954 to make room for the Echo Organ.

Many architects played a role in the construction of the Basilica. John Philpot Jones of Clonmel, County Tipperary, Ireland, was actually responsible for the design. However, Bishop Fleming also visited Hamburg, Germany to consult a second architect, Ole Joergen Schmidt, who prepared the detailed plans and a scale model of the new church (a half inch to a foot). Bishop Fleming also hired Michael McGrath of Waterford, Ireland, to supervise the construction. Because of differences of opinion, the original builder was later replaced by James Purcell.

When consecrated on September 9, 1855, the Basilica's cost was placed at half-a-million dollars, principally raised by the fishermen of the country, an amazing testament to their enduring faith, and to the zeal of their Bishop and clergy.

The Towers - Clock and Bells

The East Tower of the Basilica originally contained a "Town Clock," manufactured by Borrel of Paris, with a dial of enameled lava. The great bell, a Bourdon, marked time and could be heard for miles. A matching sundial in the West Tower was removed some years ago.

The East Tower also contains the largest and the first of the nine bells currently in the possession of the Basilica. Purchased by Bishop Mullock in February, 1850 and 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 in at nearly two tons, upon its arrival in St. John's in February, 1851, it was hauled by hand to the Basilica, and installed in the East Tower.

There are eight bells in the West Tower. The three largest bells were cast by James Murphy in 1854 and 1857. The five smaller bells were cast by Matthew O'Byrne of the Fountain Head Bell Foundry, Ireland, in 1906.

For a number of years the bells were rarely rung because of the condition of the towers, frames and supports. In 1954-55 extensive repairs were carried out on the belfries. The bells were supplied with new fittings and an electro-mechanical system was installed, to replace the former manual system. Now, on special occasions, the sweet sounds of the Joy Bells ring out once again over the city.

The Crosses

Three crosses adorn the main entry and each tower of the Basilica. 10 feet tall, they appear to have been installed during the final stages of construction. The crosses atop the East and West towers are illuminated at night.

The Foundation Stone

The Foundation Stone of the church was laid by Bishop Fleming on May 20, 1841. It is a mass of granite, about two tons weight. A copper box lined with lead, containing a large parchment scroll signed by the twelve clergymen present, was placed in the stone's centre cavity.  The inscription reads:

This first stone of the Catholic Cathedral of St. John's, Newfoundland, dedicated to the Most High God under the patronage of the Blessed St. John the Baptist was laid by Rt. Rev. Dr. Fleming in the presence of the priests whose names are herunto subscribed - and several thousands of other persons - on Thursday the 20th day of May, in the year of our Redemption, 1841, in the fourth year of the reign of Her Most Gracious Majest Queen Victoria and the 11th of the Pontificate of His Holiness Pope Gregory XVI - Clergy - Rev. C. Dalton, V.C., Very Rev. Dean Mackin, Revs: T. Waldron, J. Murphy, P.J. Cleary, P. Nowlan, P.K. Ward, J. Forristall, J. Cummins, K. Walsh, John Ryan and E. O'Keefe.

The foundation stone lies at the base of the West Tower, and is not visible.

The Vestibule

Upon entering the main door of the Church, visitors enter the vestibule. In a niche to the left stands a life-size marble statue of "The Child Jesus in the Temple" or "Christ with Doctors." While its origins are not documented, it is believed to be the work of Filippio Ghersi. It has been called the oldest piece of statuary in the Basilica.

The Interior

As you enter the Basilica itself, preferably by the centre doors, the beauty and elegance of the interior are immediately apparent. The simplicity of decoration and design attracts the eye to the beautiful High Altar, and upward to the magnificent ceiling.

The ceiling design, dating from 1903, consists of twelve raised panels in a circle at the intersection of the nave and the transept.  In 1903, the central circle contained figures of the apostles, and some of the panels had floral designs.

Between 1954-1955, the interior of the Basilica was redecorated for the Centenary Celebration. An ambitious example of the art of Church decoration, the work still inspires our admiration, although the original glowing colours have dulled slightly over the years. The entire ceiling was redecorated, and the twelve panels received elaborate floral designs with specially contrived decorations symbolizing sacred themes surrounding the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The large pendant drop at the central crossing, as well as the five smaller drops, were richly polychromed and embellished with a profusion of gold-leaf highlighting.

The extensive renovations carried out in the Basilica at that time were the work of the Rambusch Decorating Company of New York, who also designed the new lighting system.


Stations of the Cross

Fixed to the walls of the nave are the fourteen Stations of the Cross, which were purchased by Bishop Mullock in 1855. Fabricated of a bronze-like material, they were originally hung directly above the arches that open from the ambulatories into the nave. In 1955, they were totally reconditioned, cleaned of a century's patina and reframed, and the central figures of each were highlighted in gilt. At that time, they were rehung at a reduced height to facilitate ease in viewing.


The Galleries

The Galleries in the East and West transepts were erected in 1904.

The Pews

200 permanent pews were initially installed in the Basilica around 1855, prior to its Consecration. The 322 pews currently present in the Basilica are made of white oak and were installed in 1904. Kneeler pads were installed in 1954.

Heating and Lighting

The heating and lighting systems in the Basilica have been modernized over the years.A hot water heating system was introduced into the Basilica in the 1880's to replace wood-burning stoves. Electric lights were installed in 1904, replacing the gas-jets.  In recent years, the Basilica Heritage Foundation raised funds for a Green-Heat system consisting of multi-zone heat pumps. The Green Heat system took many months to install and became operational in July of 2011. It is far more energy efficient and its use has resulted in savings of 30-40% in electricity costs.

The Fonts

The small marble fonts attached to the rear wall of the church contain holy water (which has been blessed). It is custom, when entering and leaving a Roman Catholic church, to dip one's hand in the water and make the sign of the cross on oneself.

Forristall Tablet

A table is fixed on the rear wall, to the east of the main entrance, in memory of the Reverend John Forristall, who died in 1850. The patrons of this work are unknown. Father Forristall, a Diocesan priest, was an invaluable assistant to Bishop Fleming during the Basilica's construction. He is listed among the celebrants of the cornerstone laying ceremonies of May 20, 1841, and was also a participant in the Basilica's Consecration. The following is a transcript of the text:


To the memory of the Rev. John Forristall who departed this life on the 20 Nov. 1850 in the 37th year of his age. His unaffected piety and unremitting zeal in the discharge of the sacred duties attached to the Holy Order of Priesthood gained him the respect and esteem of all who knew him during the twelve years he officiated in this city. May the great and merciful God grant him the reward promised to the good and faithful servant.


Requiescant in Pace

Stained Glass Windows - Ambulatories

Stained glass windows were installed in both the East and West Ambulatories during the renovations of 1954-55. There are 26 windows in all, with designs that include the Fifteen Mysteries of the Rosary, as well as miniature portraits of the Saints. One window is devoted to a representation of the Canadian Martyrs.

The Confessionals

The eight Confessionals currently in use and located in each ambulatory were installed in 1954. They are made of white oak and equipped with devices to aid the hearing-impaired. Four of these confessionals have been enlarged to provide Reconciliation Rooms, as called for in the new Liturgical Regulations.

Side Altars - East Ambulatory

The first side altar along the east ambulatory enshrines a statue of St. Brigid, to recall the traditional link between Newfoundland and Ireland. The second side altar is dedicated to St. Anthony of Padua, with the statue ascribed to John Edward Carew (c.1850). Beyond the St. Anthony altar is a shrine in honour of St. Theresa of Lisieux. A relic of the Saint is preserved in the pedestal on which the statue is erected.

These larger than life-size statues are all made of marble. The statues of St. Brigid and St. Theresa are of Italian workmanship.

The slight indentations in the tops of the altars are provided to accommodate the altarstones when Mass is to be offered.

The Marian Chapel

Further on the right is the Marian Chapel, erected in 1954 to commemorate the Marian Year. The Marian Chapel seats 90 and is used principally for small weddings, private baptisms, and special anniversary Masses for small groups.

The walls, pews and altar in this Chapel are made of white oak, while the tester, or canopy, is of walnut. The recessed Stations of the Cross are handcarved wood. There are four beautiful stained glass windows representing the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption of Our Lady, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and Our Lady of Fatima. There is also a small organ.

The Blessed Virgin Altar

In the first archway to the right is the Side Altar of the Blessed Virgin, also known as the Immaculate Conception Altar. The life-size statue was sculpted by Filippio Ghersi in Italian marble. It was a gift from the Ladies of the Contraternity of the Blessed Virgin and installed on September 1, 1864.

This altar is faced with a slab of oriental alabaster, which is exquisite, antique and exceptionally rare. The ancient Egyptian quarries of this marble were rediscovered in the 180os by Ali Pasha of Egypt, who presented portions of the marble to Pope Gregory XVI. They were used to adorn the high altar of St. Paul's Outside the Walls in Room. A small quantity of the marble remained - of this, two slabs were brought to St. John's by Bishop Mullock to enhance the Basilica. The second slab was used to face the Sacred Heart Altar to the west of the High Altar.

The candelabra here, and on the Blessed Sacrament Altar, are ornately scrolled works in bronze and were a gift of the Altar Society in 1883.


The Holy Rosary Plaque

On the wall to the right of the Blessed Virgin Altar is a small marble plaque with a gilt inscription. It commemorates the Altar as the Altar of the Holy Rosary. This additional dedication was made by Archbishop Roche in 1932.

Roche Memorial

The large tablet to the right of the Blessed Virgin Altar is a memorial to Archbishop Roche, bearing a realistic bas-relief portrait of him. It was commissioned by his successor, Archbishop Skinner, and was erected in 1951. It was sculpted in Carrara marble by Italian Armando Batilli. The inscription reads as follows:
Sacred to the memory of
The Most Rev. Edward Patrick Roche, D.D. Archbishop of St. John's, 1915-1950

Born at Placentia, February 19th 1874

Ordained at All Hallows College, Dublin, June 24th 1897

Consecrated Archbishop of St. John's, June 29th 1915


The Consecration Crosses

To the right of the Roche Memorial, in the columns under the east gallery, two small ornamented crosses can be seen on the walls. These, and the two located beneath the west gallery, are the only visible crosses of the twelve consecration crosses in the Basilica. The other eight are fixed to the walls of the nave and are concealed by the Stations of the Cross, which were lowered to their present position during the 1954-55 renovations. These crosses were placed on the interior walls, blessed, and anointed at the time of the consecration of the church. They may never be removed and are proof, in the absence of documents, that a church has been consecrated.

The Bapistry

Facing the Blessed Virgin Altar is the Baptistry, which is located in a space once occupied by a section of pews. This Font was originally located in the Sacristy, later moved to the Baptistry Room adjoining the Marian Chapel, and finally moved to its present location in 1981. The Font dates to 1855. The Candleholder which stands here is part of the set which adorns the High Altar. Thus, the visitor may see, close up, the intricate detailing which constitutes the real beauty of these altar accessories.

The O'Donel Memorial

On the column standing behind the Baptistry is a tablet honouring Bishop O'Donel, the first Catholic Bishop of Newfoundland. This tablet measures approximately 7 feet in height and 4 1/2 feet in width. It is made of marble and was executed by the Abbey Stained Glass Studios in Dublin, Ireland. It contains a cameo portrait of the Bishop and carries the following inscription:
In memory of Bishop James Louis O'Donel, O.D.F.

Born Knocklofty, Co. Tipperary, Ireland, 1737

Appointed first Perfect Apostolic of Newfoundland
May 30th 1784

Appointed first Vicar Apostolic of Newfoundland
January 5th 1796

Consecrated Bishop, September 21, 1796
Resigned January 1, 1807

Died at Waterford, Ireland, April 1, 1811

The tablet was erected in 1984 as part of the celebration of the 200th Anniversary of the formal establishment of the Roman Catholic Church in Newfoundland.

The Pulpit

Immediately to the west of the Blessed Virgin Altar is the Pulpit. It is hand carved in Carrara marble, in colors which complement the Altar Rail, and is graced with a delicate mosaic portrait of St. John the Baptist. It also bears carved portrayals of the four evangelists, and the base is adorned with scrolls and wreaths. Archbishop Roche commissioned its execution as a memorial to his predecessor, Archbishop Howley, and it was completed in 1918. Originally installed on a fluted marble pedestal, and eleven feet in height, the pulpit was attained by mounting a gracefully spiraled series of treads. In 1954, in order to alleviate difficulty in ascending and descending, the pulpit was reduced in height by removal of the pedestal, which was replaced by a reduced base, and the stairway rearranged to allow easier access.

The plaque on the Pulpit reads:
Erected by

Most Reverend Edward Patrick Roche, D.D.

In Memory of His
Illustrious Predecessor

Most Reverend Michael Francis Howley D.D.

First Archbishop of St. John's

The Altar Rail

The beautiful Altar Rail, or Communion Rail, was ordered from Italy in 1914 by Archbishop Howley. The balusters and steps are made of pure white marble. The top rail is a light brown marble known as Yellow Verona, while the bottom rail and the gate supports are black marble, veined with white. There were once three sets of bronze gates, but the centre gates were later removed to provide a more intimate relationship between the Sanctuary and the nave. The removed gate carried an inscription indicating that the Altar Rail was a gift from Mrs. Katherine Howley Morris, Archbishop Howley's sister.

The High Altar

To the left of the Altar Rail stands the High Altar, which dominates the apse. This altar has undergone several decorative and other transformations. Some of these alterations were due to the gradual acquisition of new altar furnishings, while others were the result of liturgical requirements.

In 1902, the entire Altar was moved back about seven feet to create a more spacious Sanctuary. At that time, the temporary wooden Altar top was replaced by a permanent marble slab, and this Altar was officially consecrated on February 7, 1903. A plaque commemorating this event was commissioned by Bishop Howley and is fixed to the left side of the High Altar . Translated from the Latin, the inscription reads:
To God the Greatest and Best

This High Altar

Dedicated in the name of John (the) Baptist

Having been removed to its proper position

Being rebuilt in better form

And adorned with a marble table
M.F. Howley, Bishop of St. John's, Newfoundland

Consecrated with solemn ceremony
In the eleventh year of his episcopate

Of our Salvation 1903

On February 7

During the renovations undertaken for the Basilica Centenary Celebrations in 1955, the central sculpture of the "Baptism of the Saviour," along with attendant sculpture, was removed. The middle section of the Altar table was also removed and, in the space left vacant, the Presidential, or Celebrant's, Chair was installed. The High Altar itself was partially rebuilt and the eight pillars and capitals now support a simple arch. The centre section of this structure is backed by a reredos. Attached to the central panel of the altar screen is a carved wooden figure of John the Baptist, made in Italy, circa 1950.

At the top of the arch above the Altar is a small carved shield bearing the Greek monogram for the word "Christ." This is one of the earliest symbols found in the catacombs in the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D., and is often placed on or over a Roman Catholic altar.

The marble supports at each end of the Altar bear mosaic inclusions. One represents the heraldic device of Pope Pius IX. The second melds the personal arms of Bishop Mullock and the heraldic device of the Franciscan Order.

The High Altar is adorned with a great, 7-foot crucifix and six candlesticks of gilt bronze, ornately decorated. The latter are about 5 feet high, and each has three Gothic niches, about 12 inches high, surrounding the shaft. Each niche contains a figure about 6 inches high, representing a saint. The candlesticks were made-to-order in France and were a gift of the Altar Society. Interspersed with six elegant urns, these seven items, with their intricate detailing, are fitting adornments, in keeping with the massive proportions of the great altar. They date back to about 1883.

The Tester, suspended by chains above the High Altar, was installed in 1955 to fulfill the new Liturgical requirements for elevating the Cathedral to the status of minor Basilica. The Tester measures eighteen feet by twelve feet and is richly gilt and polychromed. The underside depicts a dove, rays and stars, symbolizing the Holy Spirit. At the front of the Tester is a hand-carved, polychromed replica of the Metropolitan Coat-of-Arms.

It is fitting to note here the words of Bishop Mullock at the time of conscreation: "The High Altar stands apart at the intersection of the nave and transept ... the altar and tabernacle are faced with white marble, the rest is of Caen stone ... a Triumphal Arch, or Baldachin ... is surmounted by a group of angels bearing aloft the Cross, at a height of fifty-two feet from the floor of the Church. This canopy, or arch, is supported by eight monolithic columns of polished granite. Under the arch, on an elevated pedestal, is a colossal group of the Baptism of Our Saviour, executed by Carew, in Caen stone; by whom also are the group of angels, and the infantine angels, and a lamb ... the remainder of the carving was executed by W. Sullivan. Under the High Altar, which is open in front, is placed Hogan's ... "The Dead Christ.""


The Altar of Sacrifice and The Dead Christ

The Altar of Sacrifice, the small altar at the front of the Sanctuary, dates from 1974 and is made of marble. It enshrines one of the most revered and valuable pieces of statuary in the Basilica, "The Redeemer in Death" or "The Dead Christ." It was sculpted in Carrara marble by the Irish sculptor John Hogan in 1850.

"The Dead Christ" has its own remarkable significance. In his will, Bishop Flemming bequeathed a sum of L600 for such a grand statue. His successor, Right Rev. J.T. Mullock, purchased the statue on one of his visits to Rome, and had it placed beneath the table of the High Altar on March 19, 1855. It has twice been moved to new locations, first in 1903 when the Sanctuary was expanded and then in the early 1970s when it was moved to its present position.

The statue is sculptor Hogan's masterpiece. It is an awesome and beautiful work of art, full of dignity and conveying the sense of the serenity which follows the acceptance of God's will and the peace which is a prelude to the glory of the Resurrection. Thorwaldsen, the great Danish master of statuary, claimed it proved Hogan was the best sculptor he left after him in Rome.

Grilled Windows

There are grilled windows set in the east and west walls of the apse. From the small rooms behind these windows, the Sisters of the Presentation and Mercy Congregations can participate in the Parish Masses.

Clerical Stalls

On each side of the Sanctuary are the Clerical Stalls, or Seats, which were installed in 1915, replacing those which dated from the earliest days of the Church.

The Crypt

The Sanctuary is not open to sightseers. However, it is important to note that Archbishop of St. John's, Edward Patrick Roche, and four Bishops - Thomas Scallan, John T. Mullock, Thomas Joseph Power and Michael Anthony Fleming - are buried in the crypt beneath the High Altar.

The Four Evangelists

At the intersection of the nave and transepts, thirty feet above the floor, stand the statues of the four evangelists, St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke and St. John (pictured above). These are of Italian workmanship, and there are indications they were commissioned by Bishop Mullock during the period 1850-55. They are made of marble and are slightly larger than life-size. Each evangelist is shown with his appropriate symbol: St. Matthew with a child, St. Mark with a lion, St. Luke with an ox, and St. John with an eagle. These symbols have their origin in the "four living creatures" of the prophet Ezekiel. Their association with the evangelists dates from about the fourth century.


Stained Glass Windows

From this central point in the Basilica one has the best view of the 26 beautiful stained glass windows which adorn the upper walls and which date from the early years of the church.

In the apse are five windows of English workmanship. Each window consists of three panels, the outer ones being ornamented with fancywork and monograms, while the centre panels each contain three figures, depicting altogether the twelve apostles, Our Lord, Our Lady and St. Joseph. Beneath the windows are paintings of scenes from the life of St. John the Baptist.

The other stained glass windows in the upper walls are of English, French and Irish workmanship. All the windows were the gifts of religious societies, or individuals, and mainly date back to the 1880's and the 1890's.

In the south wall of the Basilica, above the organ gallery, stands the most historically impressive of the stained glass windows, the Pallium Window. It was erected to commemorate the establishment of the Ecclesiastical Province of Newfoundland and the conferring of the pallium on Archbishop Howley on June 23, 1905.

The picture represents three great Prelates of the Church, vested in full pontificals. The central figure, wearing the pallium, is Archbishop Howley. On the Archbishop's right is Bishop McDonald of Harbour Grace, Newfoundland, who conferred the pallium. At the Archbishop's left is Bishop Neil McNeil of St. George's, Newfoundland.

There are over twenty-five figures in the window, including clergymen, dignitaries, altar boys, cross-bearers, etc. The outline of the High Altar forms the background, and an inscription across the window reads, in translation, "Commemorative of the Conferring of the Pallium, Juen 23, 1905."

At the bottom of the window are shown the Arms of the three Dioceses which form the Ecclesiastical Province.

The Window is from the workshop of M. Louis Koch of Beauvais, France, and was presented by the Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The windows in the galleries and nave represent the following: In the East Gallery, North to South - The Nativity and the Presentation, St. Francis of Assisi, Queen of the Holy Rosary, St. Joseph, The Ascension.

In the East Nave, North to South - St. Luke, The Transfiguration, St. Joseph and the Child Jesus, The Annunciation, St. Cecilia.

In the West Gallery, North to South - Melchizedec, St. John the Baptist, St. Patrick, The Immaculate Conception, The Crucifixion.

In the West Nave, North to South - St. Patrick, St. Brigid, St. Francis Borgia, The Resurrection, The Sacred Heart appearing to St. Margaret Mary.

The stained glass windows to the east and west of the Pallium window depict St. Peter (east window) and St. Paul (west window).

Please note: The pallium is a narrow circular band of white wool about two inches wide, with two 12 inch pendants of the same material which hang, one over the front and one over the back of the wearer. Six black crosses are embroidered on the Pallium, one each on the front and back, one on each shoulder, and one on each pendant.The Pallium is specially woven in Rome from lamb's wool which has been blessed. The lambs symbolize Christ as the Lamb of God, and the Good Shepherd. The wearing of the Pallium is significant to the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan in his ecclesiastical province and is a sign of his union with the See of Peter. The Pallium is bestowed by the Pope, or his representative, upon the Archbishop. On an Archbishop's death, the pallium is interred with him.

Sacred Heart Altar

To the west of the High Altar is the Sacred Heart Altar, or Blessed Sacrament Altar, the companion to the Blessed Virgin Altar. The statue of the Sacred Heart stands 6 feet. It was a gift of the League of the Sacred Heart, and was installed and blessed by Bishop M.F. Howley on June 19, 1903. It is made of Carrara marble and is the work of Cailaro Aureli of Rome, one of the greatest sculptors of his time.

The Blessed Sacrament is reserved on the Sacred Heart Altar. The tabernacle was installed in 1955. A Sanctuary lamp burns perpetually before the tabernacle, and the lamp hanging there now is a particularly beautiful one.


The Mullock Memorial

Immediately to the west of the Sacred Heart Altar is a marble tablet, fixed to the wall, which commemorates Thomas Mullock, who died April 14, 1858 at the age of 78. He was the father of Bishop Mullock. His mural monument is 12 feet tall and was created by Italian sculptor Filippio Ghersi.

The pediment of the Mullock Memorial is adorned with a harp, crown, national emblems and floral decorations. In the centre is a niche with a statue of the Archangel with a trumpet, in three quarters relief, illustrating the inscription "Canet Tuba et Mortis Resurgent" ("The trumpet shall sound and the dead arise."). It is believed that Thomas Mullock is buried close by the location of the monument.

Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima

Beyond the Sacred Heart Altar stands the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, comprising a group of nine statues of polychromed and gilt plaster. A gift of the Portuguese people, whose ties with Newfoundland are well documented, the statues were presented to the Basilica during the Centenary Celebrations in 1955. On May 27 of that year the statues were carried in procession by thousands of Portuguese fishermen from their ships on the waterfront to the Basilica. Following a special ceremony, they were transferred to their present location.

This shrine is regularly visited by Portuguese fishermen when their vessels are in port, and is held in high esteem by the Catholic population of St. John's.

Side Altars - West Ambulatory

The West Ambulatory contains two side-altars similar to those in the East Ambulatory. The first in order from the main entrance is the Altar of St. Patrick. The statue of St. Patrick was probably commissioned by Bishop Mullock during the period 1850-55. The sculptor is unknown, but is almost certainly Italian.

Second is the Altar of St. Joseph, sculpted by John Edward Carew (c. 1850). Both statues are of white marble and are larger than life-size.

Other Memorials and Plaques

• On a column in the west transept, facing the Blessed Sacrament Altar, hangs a tablet to the memory of the Hon. Daniel A. Ryan. The author of this memorial plaque is unknown, but it was probably commissioned by the Ryan family. Mr. Ryan, a Newfoundland merchant of high repute, was a benefactor of the Basilica. He died in 1934.

The inscription reads:

to the memory of
Hon. Daniel A. Ryan
Knight Commander, Order of St. Gregory
A Benefactor of the Cathedral
Died July 6, 1934
Requiescat in Pace


• On the west wall of the nave, near the junction of the transept, hangs a tablet. It was erected by Mr. Richard O'Dwyer, a benefactor of the Basilica, in memory of his wife, Frances Mary (nee McKenna) and his infant daughter, Mary Wilhelmina Margaret. It is carved in marble and was likely executed in the 1860s.

The inscription reads:

Sacred to the memory of
Frances Mary
The beloved wife of Richard O'Dwyer
Esquire of Saint John's, Merchant
Who died on the
21st December, A.D. 1852
Aged 26 years
and also
Mary Wilhelmina Margaret, their infant daughter
Who died on the
16th December, A.D. 1852
Requiescat in Pace


• On the west wall of the nave, midway between the apse and the entrance, hangs a Cenotaph in bas-relief depicting the administration of the Last Rites to Bishop Scallan by Bishop Fleming. Carved in Carrara marble by John Hogan, it was posthumously commissioned by Bishop Fleming. It was installed in May, 1854 and is a work of inherent beauty and historic importance.

Memorial in the Basilica of St. John the Baptist in St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada

The inscription reads:

Here lies
Rt. Rev. Dr. Thomas Scallan
Bishop of Drago and Vicar Apostolic
of Newfoundland
He dies in the year of our salvation
1830, in the 69th year of his age and
the 14th year of episcopate.
Erected, in honour of his predecessor, by
Bro. Michael Anthony Fleming O.F.M.
First Bishop of Newfoundland


•  On the east wall of the nave, on a pillar to the right of the transept, is a Cenotaph in memory of Miss Mary Ann Bulger. The patron of this memorial is unknown. Miss Bulger was the unmarried daughter of Captain John Bulger of the Newfoundland Regiment. She was 60 at the time of her passing, and she is buried in the Basilica. She was a generous benefactress of the church, bequeathing one thousand pounds towards its construction. She also directed in her will that her rights and titles to property in Ireland be assigned towards the building of the Cathedral, and her personal belongings be sold for the benefit of the poor.

The inscription of her memorial reads:

This monument
is erected to the memory
Miss Mary Ann Bulger
Who departed this life on the
9th of March 1847
In the 60th year of her age
May she rest in peace


• On the east wall of the nave is a memorial tablet erected by Bishop Mullock to his predecessor, Bishop Fleming. It is the work of the Irish sculptor John Hogan, executed in Carrara marble and erected in 1855. We believe this is one of the most interesting monuments in the Basilica. In this memorial, Bishop Fleming is depicted passing a scroll containing the plans for the completion of the Cathedral to his successor, Bishop Mullock. A child is shown kneeling at the feet of the prelates, which has been interpreted to represent the orphan children of the diocese, who were always a subject of great concern to Bishop Fleming, and whose welfare was now being entrusted to Bishop Mullock.

It is said that the figure of the child was further intended by Bishop Mullock to be symbolic of the Cathedral which, having lost its father in the death of Bishop Fleming, had become, as it were, an orphan.

Features of the Bishops were so faithfully reproduced by the artist of this tablet that they are considered to be portraits in marble.

Bishop Fleming Memorial in the Basilica of St. John the Baptist in St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador

The inscription reads:

Erected by
John Thomas Mullock, O.S.F.
In memory of his friend and predecessor
Michael Anthony Fleming, O.S.F.
Bishop of Newfoundland
He died on the 14th of July, 1850, in the 57th year
of his age and the
21st of his episcopacy
The Cathedral and the Orphanage are enduring monuments
of his zeal and charity.
Requiescat in Pace


Mission Cross

At the rear of the Basilica to the west of the entrance doors is the Mission Cross. This larger-than-life size piece depicts the Crucified Saviour. It was erected in 1882 to commemorate a very successful Mission conducted by the Redemptorist Fathers in December of that year. The Cross (or Crucifix, as it is properly called, as it bears a corpus) was the gift of the Redemporist Fathers, who unveiled and blessed it at the conclusion of the Mission. It was located, at that time, at the right hand side of the Blessed Virgin Altar.

Consecration Tablet

Next to the Mission Cross is a tablet, erected in 1855-56, commemorating the Consecration of the Cathedral. The inscription, translated from Latin, reads:

On September 9, 1855 A.D. this Cathedral and Mother Church of Newfoundland was consecrated in honour of the Blessed and Immaculate Virgin, St. John the Baptist, and St. Francis, by Brother John Thomas Mullock, O.F.M., Bishop of Newfoundland. There were present the following Most Illustrious and Most Reverend Prelates: John Hughes, Archbishop of New York; Armand de Charbonnel, Bishop of Toronto; Colin MacKinnon, Bishop of Arichat; and Thomas L. Connolly, O.F.M., Bishop of Saint John, New Brunswick.

The Organ

The Grand Organ originally installed in the Basilica was, by all accounts, a truly magnificant instrument. It was constructed by Messrs. Robsons of London, England, and was the gift of Bishop Mullock. Its debut on October 9, 1853, saw Thomas Mullock (the Bishop's brother) as the organist.

Due to deterioration over the years, the Grand Organ had to be dismantled in 1938, when it was replaced by a Hammond electronic organ. This, in turn, was replaced in 1954-55.  

The new organ has 66 stops and a total of 4050 pipes. The installation actually comprises two organs - the main organ of 51 stops located in the organ gallery, and the sanctuary organ of 15 stops arranged behind the main altar. Each organ may be played from the main organ gallery either separately, or, if desired, simultaneously with the main organ. The organ was built and installed by Casavant Freres Limited of St. Hyacinthe, Quebec.