As with all cemeteries, it is a solemn, wistful and, at times, humbling experience to read the inscriptions on the headstones at Mount Carmel cemetery in Placentia, NL. Images of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Handshake symbols, Angels and many more adorn several of the headstones. Each offers a message, less to the spirits on high, than to families and friends still here on earth.
Statue of Blessed Virgin Mary at Mt. Carmel cemetery in Placentia. (Photograph: Lee Everts)
It is a journey into the community’s past as one reads the names of the people who have helped to shape the Placentia area over the decades and centuries. And whether safely tucked away in the memories of their descendants or gracing the pages of our history books, these individuals remain a vital part of the community.
In 1786, a Father Bourke built both a chapel and a Priest’s residence. At the time, he also made place for a graveyard which, as was the custom, surrounded the church. In the subsequent decades, on the same site, Father Morrison built another church in 1829, completing it in 1830. This was subsequently taken down. And then, in 1878, a Father Clancy had the foundation stone laid for a new church. Although work did not begun in earnest until 1886, by 1889, the church was largely complete. This would come to be Sacred Heart, still currently offering services in Placentia.
Sacred Heart church in Placentia, NL. (Photograph: Lee Everts)
And thus, the landscape of Placentia changed with not only the erection of the Sacred Heart Church. It also signalled the construction of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cemetery on Dixon’s Hill. As part of the construction and design of the new church, it was likely Father Clancy who had the graves along the front and side of the church moved to “Our Lady of Mount Carmel” Cemetery. There are actually 2 or 3 headstones with discernible writing that remain in the crawl space below Sacred Heart. Several others are also present; however, they are crushed and more difficult to access.
Although a good number of the headstones are decipherable in Mount Carmel cemetery, others are less so. Those that can be read are primarily from the middle to latter nineteenth century. Although, some of the headstones removed from the previous church no doubt commemorated lives led in the eighteenth century.
However, the priests would have had many of the earlier graves placed near St. Luke’s Anglican church. Prior to 1713 when the British won the War of the Spanish Succession, claiming Newfoundland as a prize, St. Luke’s was a Roman Catholic church.
Photograph at the rear of Mt. Carmel cemetery (Photograph: Lee Everts).
By the twenty first century, time had had its way and, as a result, parts of the cemetery had fallen into disrepair. Bearing this in mind, in 2011, William Barron recognised that the cemetery was in need of some attention. Thus, in that year and the beginning of 2012, Mr. Barron and others from the cemetery committee, partnered with the now defunct Placentia Area Development Association (PADA) to undertake the repairs to the cemetery. Workers filled the ground around 454 graves that had sunk. In addition, they restored 196 headstones, some being either glued or angle-ironed in an erect position.
At the time, alongside, the physical reparations, PADA was also able to document over 200 names. The remaining names will hopefully be similarly archived at a later date. However, since this time, individuals completed substantial work recording both the names and images of headstones across the island of Newfoundland. As would be expected, they included Mount Carmel in this project.
Today, like cemeteries around the world, Mount Carmel receives a frequent stream visitors. Each finds the graves of their family members or friends and soon poignant memories or ones that bring a smile form in their minds. Simply being there is often enough. Just the giving of our time shortens the potent links between the living and the dead.