The "Year of Joy" and Centenary Renovations to the Cathedral, St. John's, Newfoundland, 1953-55 (1)

By FitzGerald, John Edward | Historical Studies, Annual 2002 | Go to article overview

The "Year of Joy" and Centenary Renovations to the Cathedral, St. John's, Newfoundland, 1953-55 (1)


FitzGerald, John Edward, Historical Studies


In 1955, the Roman Catholic Church in Newfoundland celebrated the centenary of the consecration of the Cathedral in St. John's. Built as the dream of the Irish Franciscan bishop of St. John's, Michael Anthony Fleming, the cathedral was endowed with the finest works of renowned Irish neoclassical and naturalistic artists. For the most part, subsequent additions did nothing to damage the ultramontane character of the building. In 1952, faced with the centenary of the consecration, Archbishop P.J. Skinner decided to give the cathedral a facelift. Unfortunately the renovations undertaken by the Rambusch Decorating Company of New York destroyed a number of key elements of the neoclassical Irish art and liturgical fittings, particularly memorials donated by parishioners. The 1953-55 renovations cast a shadow over the celebrations of the centenary and caused parishioners to regret the destruction of statuary and monuments which represented their Irish-Newfoundland cultural heritage.

En 1955, l'Eglise catholique romaine de Terre-Neuve celebra les cent ans de la cathedrale de Saint-Jean. Construite selon le voeu de l'Eveque de Saint-Jean, le franciscain irlandais Michael Anthony Fleming, la cathedrale flit d'emblee rangee parmi les plus belles oeuvres des artistes neoclassiques et realistes irlandais de renom. Dans la plupart des cas, les ajouts ulterieurs n'altererent pas le style ultramontain de l'edifice. En 1952, l'archeveque P. J. Skinner decida de renover la cathedrale en prevision du centenaire de sa consecration. Malheureusement, les renovations entreprises par la Rambusch Decorating Company de New York detruisirent un certain nombre d'elements cles du style neoclassique irlandais, et des installations liturgiques, dont les monuments commemoratifs offerts par les paroissiens. Ces renovations, qui durerent de 1953 a 1955, assombrirent les celebrations du centenaire, et firent regretter la destruction de la statuaire et des monuments qui constituaient l'heritage culturel irlandais a Terre-Neuve.

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In 1955, the Roman Catholic Church in Newfoundland celebrated the centenary of the consecration of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in St. John's. In 1834 the construction of the largest Irish cathedral in the New World had been the dream of the Irish Franciscan Vicar Apostolic of St. John's, Bishop Michael Anthony Fleming. Opposed by the British government and a small faction within his own congregation, Fleming's plan won overwhelming support among the Irish in Newfoundland. The neoclassical architectural style of the building was to reflect his ultramontanism, a philosophical and ideological spirit which motivated clerics to look to Rome and the papacy for strong leadership, orthodoxy, and resplendent examples in liturgy, architecture, art, and music. Ultramontanism was believed to be the antidote par excellence to the desire of lay elites, trustees, and state officials to influence the Church's temporal affairs, and these troubles plagued Fleming when he first became bishop. (2) He and other Irish cl erics saw ultramontanism as the means of ending Irish Catholics' political and civil disabilities at home and Newfoundland. In 1838, he stated his belief that the cathedral was the pivot in the development of Catholicism in the island, for "the enemies of our Holy Religion" had been "indefatigably employed" to stop him from acquiring the lands, and to disparage the building's construction. (3) Against his enemies in St. John's, Fleming cultivated support in the Irish community there, and at Westminster deployed the Irish politician and emancipator, Daniel O'Connell, who repeatedly advocated Newfoundland reform causes. Hounded by Fleming, the British government capitulated and in 1838 granted land for the cathedral. Fleming secured architectural plans from a Mr. C. Schmidt, the architect of the Danish Government resident at Altona-on-the-Elbe.

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