A Sort Of Celtic da Vinci Code is unfolding in the sleepy little town of renews. Here’s the top five reasons it may just be your most mysterious and mythical baycation this year.
Regina Mundi: Latin words, meaning Queen of the World. Mostly used in Catholic circles today, the fact that this Queen is Mary is simply taken as a matter of fact. And the little town of Renews is about as Irish Catholic as it gets.
So it comes as no surprise that the old high school building, the Regina Mundi Complex, which is now being transformed into a museum and cultural center, is right next to a Catholic Church and grotto sacred to the Blessed Virgin. So sacred a grotto in fact, that water from the holiest of holies for grottos, the healing grotto at Lourdes, France, was once mixed with the little flowing stream to fortify its healing powers.
I’ve visited this grotto before, but I never expected to be touring the building next door, Regina Mundi, with the distinguished Loyola Hearn, former Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, who also served as Ambassador to Ireland.
Loyola has a passion for his hometown, and while my mystical bent is far from the orthodoxy of any church, a mutual love of history and legend made conversation easy. From beloved Newfoundland hero Captain William Jackman, who saved 27 souls from shipwreck off the Labrador coast, to the wreck of the Florizel, the Renews-Cappahayden area has more than its share of historical interest.
History, however, is available all over Newfoundland. What makes Renews really special are the parts we can’t yet be sure of, but pull us in the direction of dreams, romance, and revelations. In a nutshell, here’s what I learned while researching this article.
The site of the oldest European pub in North America may have been discovered in Renews. While Ferryland gets all the glory for archaeological digs, Loyola revealed that a site has been found in Renews with indications it may have been a “tippling house,” or early bar. If so, it may well be the oldest bar built by European settlers. If someone doesn’t put a microbrewery there, I’ll be disappointed.
Like all of the Southern Shore, Renews is maggoty with faerie lore. We understand this belief system today as a coping strategy for the loss of children and an explanation for deformity or insanity in the early days when life was hard and doctors rare outside St John’s. But if you are lucky enough to meet an older person in Renews and can engage them on this subject, their stories will lead you into a different time where some trees could never be felled, as they were gateways to the otherworld, and faeries yielded the power of life and death.
In the days of the rule of English overseers, the Catholics, or Papists as they were called by the Protestant faction, were forbidden the right to formal worship. It is said that the townsfolk of Renews smuggled priests in disguise to a site behind the rock where the grotto now stands and held Mass in secret.
The Masterless Men were believed to be a group of Irish indentured servants press ganged into work on British ships. They escaped to the Butterpots, hills outside Renews, to live life as free men. There were also Masterless Women, the children born were said to have eventually mingled with outlaws in other Southern Shore communities and had their own families, making the area our Sherwood Forest and Peter Kerrivan, their leader, our Robin Hood. While evidence is scarce of the legend, a British Isles’ heather, used as pillow stuffing on British ships, has been found in one remote meadow on the Butterpots, lending credence to the fact that the band of outlaws may have had rough residences there. Stories of a large anchor found at another remote Butterpots’ location fuel the legend, with the belief being that the anchor was removed to such an inaccessible spot to show that no possession of the English masters was truly out of the Masterless Men’s reach.
A stone inscription in a rock on “The Mount,” if you know where to look for it, appears to be written in medieval Latin and denotes the date 500 AD. The script closely resembles monastic Latin works current with this date, and some believe it was written by St. Brendan the Navigator, an early Irish monastic saint, on his journey of the Stepping Stone route of North Atlantic islands. This would make Newfoundland the “The Land of Promise of the Saints,” and would place the Irish here before the Vikings. The work could have been plausibly done on the slate it is inscribed on with tools of the time. Even if it is not that old, it is older than the oldest Renews citizens’ grandparents, begging several questions about who was tagging in medieval Latin, in a time when mostly uneducated fishing folks populated the landscape. Maybe a rebel priest smuggled in for a Mass? Academics are attempting to answer this question.