With its sale to Brenda O’Reilly and Craig Flynn of Yellowbelly Brewery, some say that Harbour Grace’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is getting a second chance.
The stone structure, which held its last mass in 2014, needed millions in repairs, and officials wondered if the right buyer would appear.
When the Yellowbelly team came along, opinions varied on beer in the cathedral, but community spirit won out. With plans of a brewery, restaurant, beer garden, hotel, and spa on the deconsecrated grounds, up to 100 jobs can be expected to come to the community in the next few years.
Carfagnini’s Curse And The Capital Of Conception Bay
“Second chance,” however, is misleading. The cathedral is a cat with nine lives, and this development is simply the next chapter of its story; a story tightly woven with history of the town itself, and the rise and fall of fortunes.
It starts in 1865, when the dioceses of Harbour Grace and St. John’s were established, splitting what was formerly the diocese of Newfoundland. Occupied haphazardly by European fishermen, Harbour Grace was one of the best fishing harbours in Conception Bay, and by the 1800s, the town was quite prosperous.
So prosperous that it was known as The Capital Of Conception Bay, more important than St. John’s in the Labrador and seal fisheries. Bishop John Dalton, head of the new diocese, was constructing a cathedral that would reflect Harbour Grace’s importance. Modeled after St. Peter’s in Rome, the church took decades to build. Dalton enlisted the help of Father Enrico, or Henry Carfagnini, an Italian priest skilled in architecture. Dalton died before the building was done, and with no consultation with the congregation, Carfagnini was chosen as his replacement.
Disagreeable and authoritarian, Carfagnini scrapped with the Benevolent Irish Society, alienated the Irish Catholic community, and resigned after a decade. Apperently, people drew their blinds as he passed to leave town, and he laid a curse on Harbour Grace upon departing.
The cathedral was still not done. Finished by Bishop Ronald McDonald, it was consecrated in 1884. Fabulously expensive, no one thought to insure it. In 1889 it burnt down, and work on a new cathedral started. By 1892, the elegant Gothic Revival style building, with its two spires flanking the entrance, was consecrated.
The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception fell into disrepair as the town’s fortunes waned in the next century. The waning fortunes, along with various fires and business disasters in Harbour Grace over this time has been attributed to Carfagnini’s curse.
But fortunes change. O’Reilly and Flynn’s cathedral endeavor adds a destination in an area already rich in folklore, stone ruins like the eerie Ridley Hall, and interesting sites like the unmarked , skull adorned grave believed to be that of a local pirate.