Description of Historic Place
The Blessing of the Fleet and Homily Site is located directly off the waterside of Windgap Road in the Town of Flatrock, across the road from St. Michael’s Church and Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto, and is oriented towards the Flatrock harbour. A stone monument on the site includes a plaque and an image recording the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1984. The designation includes the entire stone monument structure and the land immediately surrounding it, including the space between Windgap Road and the monument which makes it publically accessible.
The Blessing of the Fleet and Homily Site, also referred to locally as “the lookout,” has historic, spiritual, cultural and aesthetic significance.
The site has historic and spiritual significance because Pope John Paul II used that location between the harbour and the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes on the grounds of St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Church, during his visit to Flatrock on September 12, 1984. The Pontiff’s visit marked the 200th anniversary of the official establishment of the Roman Catholic faith in Newfoundland. After praying at the Grotto, Pope John Paul II delivered a homily and blessed boats in the harbour, most of which were fishing dories and skiffs at anchor in the form of a cross.
The Blessing of the Fleet and Homily Site has cultural significance as a landmark in Flatrock, and through its representative association with the fishing industry and the deep connection of the people of Newfoundland to the sea, as highlighted in the activities during the Pope’s visit. Much of the event during Pope John Paul’s visit to Flatrock had a fishery theme, particularly the homily and blessing of the fleet. The Pope addressed his homily to the people of Newfoundland, saying, “It was from their boats on the Sea of Galilee that Jesus called Simon, Peter and James and John to share His mission.... I am immensely pleased to be with you, the members of the fishing community.” He went on to talk about how many Newfoundlanders, still like their ancestors, “wrest a living from the sea” and quoted from a poem by E.J. Pratt, ending with the lines: “It took the sea an hour one night,/ And hour of storm to place/ The sculpture of these granite seams/ Upon a woman’s face.” The Pontiff carried on to speak about local economic and social issues, and to express concern for fishing families, the management of food resources such as the fishery, and the world food supply.
To commemorate Pope John Paul II’s historic visit and the significance of the spot from which he gave his homily and blessed the boats, a monument was erected using funds held by the community-based, volunteer Flatrock Grotto Committee. Local mason Angus Maher did the stonework. The monument includes an engraved image on slate of the event, depicting the Pope addressing the crowd with the harbour in the background. It also has a slate plaque inscribed with the words: “Site of/ the blessing of the fleet/ and homily/ by His Holiness/ Pope John Paul II/ September 14th 1984.” The plaque also bears an engraving of an emblem which was created especially for the Pope’s visit, upon the 200th anniversary of the Catholic faith in Newfoundland. The emblem’s design elements include a cross; Newfoundland’s official provincial plant; and a graphic based on the Pope’s Fishermen’s Ring, which shows St. Peter hauling fishing nets, chosen because of the Newfoundland connection with the Catholic faith and the Pope, and the fishing industry.
The Blessing of the Fleet and Homily Site has aesthetic significance because the monument is placed and designed to highlight the view of the harbour, which was key on the day that Pope John Paul II blessed the fleet. And, it is composed of stone set with concrete, in keeping with the landscape and the materials of the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes. This creates a sense of cohesion which underscores the physical, spiritual and historic relationship between two of Flatrock’s chief cultural landscape features.
Source: Town of Flatrock Council Meeting 2005/12/19.
The physical location and dimensions of the site and the related significant viewplanes:
-the site in its boundaries as defined at least by the width of the entire monument and the space between it and Windgap Road, at the location where Pope John Paul II gave a homily and blessed the fleet in 1984;
-the unimpeded viewplane directly towards the ocean from the site, which underscores its historic, cultural and spiritual significance;
-the unimpeded viewplane towards Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto from the site, which underscores its historic, cultural and spiritual significance;
-and the unimpeded viewplane towards the site from the portion of Windgap Road in front of it.
The commemorative elements and function of the stone monument including:
-its placement and orientation;
-the image on slate depicting Pope John Paul II and the scene during the blessing of the fleet;
-the plaque with the emblem and wording recording the historic event of Pope John Paul II’s visit;
-and public accessibility to the monument.
The aesthetic elements of the stone monument at the site, including:
-stone masonry composition, similar to elements of Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto;
-and the design with a central piece flanked by sections of attached, symmetrical stone wall of matching material, drawing attention towards the harbour and thereby underscoring the site’s historic, cultural and spiritual significance.