Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Placentia Bay 2015: The Church of the Assumption

The former communities of St. Leonard's and St. Kyran's are a kilometer and a half apart and were connected by road along a valley between two rows of hills.  Approximately midway between the communities Father Fames Walsh, formerly of Cappahayden, Ireland, erected a great stone church.

We walked the old road from St. Leonard's while we were land bound due to strong northerly winds.  The road was well defined and only occasionally obstructed by windfalls.  The thickness of the trees meant we didn't see the ruins until we were almost on top of them.  It was an awe inspiring sight as viewed from the entrance defined by the two posts in front.

The church was consecrated on August 15, 1859 as the Church of the Assumption.

I have known about the church for years and often thought about getting there to see it in person.  Finally, I was there.  I felt humbled.

This is the left window which is shown on page 42 of Scott Walden's book "Places Lost, In Search of Newfoundland's Resettled Communities".  His picture was taken in 1998.  Since then a lot of the wall has fallen in as there is now a sizable pile of stone in the opening compared to his shot.  Hopefully, at some point the ruins will stabilize without further destruction.

I took pictures and paced out the sides, as best I could in the cramped space, at 27 paces long and 14 paces wide.  Later, I learned the dimensions of the church were approximately 79 feet long, 39 feet wide, 20 feet high at the sides and 45 feet high at the peak.  The main building material was locally quarried red granite.  The quality of the masonry work is still evident in the sections still standing.

The exact location of the quarry is not known but granite is exposed at only several locations in Placentia Bay.  The closest source would have been Red Island and therefore the logical source.

An inside shot of the same Gothic arch as in the previous previous picture shows the finely cut sandstone framing out the window.  The quoins and door frames were also made from the sandstone which was imported from Ireland.

The church was gutted by fire 20 years later and once funds were raised it was restored and reconsecrated on August 15, 1886.  A second fire on June 2, 1922 completely destroyed the church and it was abandoned.  It was suspected that smouldering incense thrown out by an altar boy was the cause of the fire.

The consecration of the church in 1859 was attended by several hundred parishoners from the surrounding communities as well as Bishop John Thomas Mullock of St. John's and Bishop John Dalton of Harbour Grace as well as other "gentlemen" and the press.

The more I looked around, the more in awe I was.  Not only for the magnitude of the church but for the people who built it.  The census of 1857 shows a total of just under 600 persons in the surrounding communities.  The cost of quarrying the granite, of importing the sandstone from Ireland and of hiring the stone masons must have been a severe financial burden.

One reported wrote at the time: "... when you consider that all this was done by the people of a remote parish, limited in numbers, separated from any centre of trade or population, and who have already subscribed thousands of pounds towards the same object, the facts are positively astounding ...".

The chimney is still standing and towers above the surrounding trees.

The people of the area were Catholic and mainly of Irish descent.  The furthest way community attending the church was Clattice Harbour (Northwest) who had to leave home at 7:00 am and walked over the hills to attend Mass at 10:00.  They swept up people from other communities enroute so church attendance became not only a religious event but also a social gathering.  A three hour return walk saw them home at 2:00 pm.  That was a walk taken in winter and summer.

Here's a poor quality picture taken from articles stapled to the walls of the new church at St. Kyran's which replaced the destroyed Church of the Assumption.  Poor quality but gives a good idea of what it must have looked like at its consecration.

No comments:

Post a Comment