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Midnight Hill and Grotto de Lourdes on Mass Rock Municipal Heritage Site

Renews-Cappahayden, Newfoundland and Labrador, A0A, Canada

Formally Recognized: 2005/12/06

View of the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes at the foot of Midnight Hill, Renews, NL. Photo taken November, 2005.; HFNL/Andrea O'Brien 2005
Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, Renews, NL
Memorial plaque and section of Mass Rock at the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, Renews, NL. Photo taken December, 2005.; HFNL/Andrea O'Brien 2005
Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, Renews, NL
View from Midnight Hill overlooking Renews Harbour, NL. Photo taken December, 2005; HFNL/Andrea O'Brien 2005
Midnight Hill, Renews, NL

Other Name(s)


Links and documents

Construction Date(s)

1927/01/01 to 1928/01/01

Listed on the Canadian Register: 2006/02/09

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place

Midnight Hill and the Grotto de Lourdes on Mass Rock is located in Renews, NL. Construction of the grotto began in 1927 and was completed in 1928, under the guidance of Reverend McCarthy, an Irish priest who served the parish for many years, and local builder Mr. Pad Dunne. The history of Mass Rock and Midnight Hill is traced back to the early 1700s. The site is centrally located in the community of Renews and Midnight Hill affords a commanding view of the settlement. The designation includes the grotto and Midnight Hill.

Heritage Value

Midnight Hill and the Grotto de Lourdes on Mass Rock has been designated a municipal heritage site by the Town of Renews/Cappahayden due to its historic, cultural, spiritual and aesthetic values.

The historical value of Midnight Hill and the Grotto de Lourdes on Mass Rock lies in its association with the enforcement of Penal Law in the New World up to 1829. While the majority of residents can trace their ancestry back to Irish Catholic settlers, Renews had once been an important English mercantile port, ruled by English appointed overseers. Then a colony of England, Newfoundland was subject to her laws. While those prejudiced to Catholics were not always strictly enforced in Newfoundland, the mid 1700s saw a renewed effort to restrict the practice of Catholicism and enforce Penal Law. Between 1729 and 1776 in particular, governors were ordered to “permit a liberty of conscience to all, except Papists.”

Oral history purports that Mass Rock was the site of secret Catholic gatherings during these days. Disguised priests and settlers would gather here to celebrate mass or say prayers while lookouts were stationed at the crest of Midnight Hill, a great vantage point to spot English authorities. While no official record exists of the activities at Mass Rock and Midnight Hill, a legendary cycle regarding the site exists in Renews and the greater region.

The cultural value of the site is tied to this legend and to the importance of the site for the people of Renews. The Grotto is one of the defining symbols of the community, even though the physical structure is relatively new, considering Renews’ long history. That the site was so valued as to deserve recognition in the form of a grotto is a testament to the strength of the legend of Mass Rock and Midnight Hill. Parishioners contributed to the construction with free labour, creating a physical manifestation of the spirit of a place that calls for traditions to be honoured and publically recognized. Midnight Hill has further cultural value as the site was used for community events, such as school sports days and picnics.

Midnight Hill and the Grotto de Lourdes on Mass Rock has spiritual value because of its ceremonial function and as a physical representation of a system of belief. Following the completion of the grotto, yearly pilgrimages were made to the site by Renews residents and the faithful from other communities. August 15th - also known to Catholics as Lady Day or the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin - saw a large procession to the grotto, particularly by school children and girls who were members of the Children of Mary, a Catholic youth group. This was considered a day of devotion to the Virgin Mary and offerings to her were made at the grotto. Visits to the grotto occurred throughout the year. Intentions were made and blessed water from the site was often bottled and brought home. Oral history records that water from Lourdes, France was mixed with the stream running into the grotto and it was believed to have curative powers.

The site has aesthetic value due to its environmental setting and incorporation of religious metaphors in its design. Midnight Hill has a commanding, unobstructed view of Renews. At its foot, the grotto is in front of a grove of mature trees containing the Stations of the Cross, with a manicured green space to the front and a stream to the left. Crossing a small bridge to access the ivy covered grotto from Holy Apostles Church, the setting evokes a sense of serenity. The site has further aesthetic value due to the use of religious items reminiscent of the grotto at Lourdes, France. These include statues of Bianco marble depicting the Virgin Mary and St. Bernadette, a piece of rock from Lourdes, a perpetual lamp and a spigot providing blessed water.

Source: Town of Renews/Cappahayden Regular Council Meeting December 6, 2005

Character-Defining Elements

All those elements which represent the cultural, spiritual and aesthetic value of the site, including:
-memorial stone describing historical associations of Mass Rock;
-open space atop Midnight Hill;
-two Bianco marble statues and other religious items incorporated into the grotto;
-Stations of the Cross positioned behind grotto;
-grove of mature trees;
-flowering shrubs in green spaces;
-ivy covering of grotto;
-bridge providing access from Holy Apostles Church;
-present size, location and orientation of Mass Rock;
-present size, location and orientation of grotto;
-unobstructed view and open space in front of grotto, and;
-unobstructed view to and from Midnight Hill.



Newfoundland and Labrador

Recognition Authority

NL Municipality

Recognition Statute

Municipalities Act

Recognition Type

Municipal Heritage Building, Structure or Land

Recognition Date


Historical Information

Significant Date(s)


Theme - Category and Type

Building Social and Community Life
Religious Institutions

Function - Category and Type



Religion, Ritual and Funeral
Religious Facility or Place of Worship

Architect / Designer



Patrick Dunne

Additional Information

Location of Supporting Documentation

Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador, 1 Sprindgale Street, PO Box 5171, St. John's, NL, A1C 5V5

Cross-Reference to Collection

Fed/Prov/Terr Identifier




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