Intrigue grows over mysterious grave

The Telegram
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Opinions and suggestions about a mysterious grave in Harbour Grace continue to roll in.

On Wednesday, The Telegram published a photo of a grave that involves five grey, concrete surfaces. Two show a skull and crossbones. The others display lambs, crosses and an angel.

The Compass, our sister publication in Bay Roberts, initially ran the image in its Tuesday edition.

It went with a story about a recent cleanup effort involving the local Knights of Columbus group and church parishioners.

The oldest grave at the Roman Catholic cemetery, which is on Bennett’s Lane in Harbour Grace, dates back to 1802.

In Thursday’s edition, The Telegram published a number of reader thoughts on the grave from

Today, we offer some more of that, as well this answer to a question about the grave we posed to Gerald Pocius, a folklore professor at Memorial University.

He wrote: “I saw this grave marker first back in 1974. I am certain it is the fragments of a table tomb, almost certainly it came from Ireland. I would say it dates from around 1800. The skull and crossbones is a typical motif at the time, found on English and Irish funerary art ... Obviously the slab with the funerary details is either destroyed or below ground.”

Andrea Vincent emailed in this anecdote: “I first heard about this grave yard about 10 years ago from a book that I believe is called “The history of Pirates and Outlaws of Newfoundland.” I can't remember if that is the exact title and I can't remember the name of the author, but I'll do some digging and try to find out. The book spoke of the grave yard as being a pirate grave yard, so my friends and I, being in high school and loving spooky things went for a road trip to try to find it.

“It took us FOREVER to find the thing! No one in the town would tell us where it was. We got the same response over and over, that we should turn around and leave, because we didn't need to find it. Anyway we finally found an older man who gave us directions. Those grave stones weren't always lined off like that. It was very clearly a cemetery, and all of those head stones were spread out.

“A year ago when a friend was visiting I decided to take her to the ‘pirate graveyard’. And again, the same thing! No one would tell us where it was! Anyway we found it, and even though it was night time, I'd noticed many of the headstones were no longer standing and were placed on the one grave. We got out of there pretty fast because dogs were howling and it was creepy at night!”

• Bob Stacey commented on the web version of the story: “I once lived across the street from this graveyard and remember reading the inscription “Mary Pendergast” as being buried in this grave, Complete with crossbones. That was about 40 years ago.”

• And Russell Lake emailed in this breakdown of the graves’ symbolism: “At first glance, the skull and crossbones suggest piracy, but for a pirate, the bones should pass behind the skull, and pirates would be hung and not buried. This symbol is either Knights Templar, or Freemasonry, and given a very old grave in Newfoundland in a Roman Catholic cemetery, it probably has to do with Knights Templar. Lambs usually mean innocence or children. Horizontal crosses signify somewhere between heaven and earth, and one wonders about purgatory. There are two lambs on two crosses facing different directions? Two children born and died without being baptized — or stillborn? Angel is flying … rising to heaven. Put it all together. Probably some other symbolism?

Organizations: The Telegram, The Compass, Knights of Columbus

Geographic location: Bay Roberts, Newfoundland, Ireland Russell Lake

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Recent comments

  • Elena
    March 09, 2016 - 16:35

    Skull and crossbones from that era indicate a woman that died in childbirth

  • Curtis
    September 02, 2013 - 20:03 Great picture of a table tomb with skull and crossbones. Sometimes the simplest explanation is the correct one.

  • Mark
    August 29, 2013 - 07:21

    It's interesting that the symbols on the main slab are all different, but point to a common theme at least in the 19th century they did....the Cherub could be seen to mean Justice or Wisdom, the Lamb - Innocence (not necessarily children, but usually) and the Cross - Trail or a Reward...the Crossbones seem to have always meant Death. Put it all together and I'm sure once the person who owns the grave is identified, it will all seem pretty clear why those symbols were chosen.

  • Mike
    August 29, 2013 - 06:54

    Mary Pendercast would be an obvious place to start if there is no other known grave location for her there....according to the census below, which dates from around that same time. Mary Pendergast of Harbour Grace Parish, 1806 (Nfld. Archives HGRC);

  • Don II
    August 23, 2013 - 09:26

    In response to comments from Bob Stacey who remembered that the skull and crossbones tombstone had an inscription bearing the name of "Mary Pendergast" on the stone. I checked the burial record for the cemetery and discovered that there is no "Mary Pendergast" in the burial record. The record shows that an "Anastasia Prendergast" who died on September 27, 1811, was buried in the cemetery. According to the record, Anastasia Prendergast was the wife of James Prendergast, who died in 1849. Anastasia Prendergast was apparently the mother of 9 children. Anastasia Prendergast may have been the mother of James Luke Prendergast who became a merchant and politician from Harbour Grace. However, James Luke Prendergast is not mentioned in the Will of James Prendergast. Further investigation will be necessary to determine who is actually buried beneath the elaborate skull and crossbones tombstone. Despite speculation, it appears that the tombstone has no insignia on it which would identify it as having any connection to the Knights Templar. Considering the violent and treacherous relationship between the Knights Templar and the Roman Catholic Church it would be highly unlikely that a Knights Templar grave would be found in a catholic cemetery in Newfoundland!

  • Cynic
    August 23, 2013 - 08:14

    It's unlikely to be related to the Templars, since they were suppressed in 1312, nearly 300 years before there was any significant settlement in Newfoundland.