What is a Basilica?

Holy See Elevates Saints Peter and Paul Church to Status of Basilica

The Vatican raised Saints Peter and Paul Church to the Status of Basilica.  This honor is bestowed upon specific churches throughout the world because of their historical importance or significance as a place of worship within the diocese, their artistic value, and the quality of the liturgical prayer, educational initiatives, and service which take place there.  There are approximately fifty-four churches in the United States that enjoy this distinction.  Some of these include the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. and the Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala in San Diego, California.  Churches in Canada which enjoy this privilege are the Shrine of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, Quebec, St. Joseph's Oratory of Mount Royal in Montreal, and the Notre-Dame Basilica of Montréal. A series of celebrations took place in May of 2005 to mark the bestowal of this honor.  These included conferences, concerts, special times of prayer, and Mass celebrated by the Most Reverend Richard J. Malone, Th.D., Bishop of Portland.

What are the responsibilities of a Basilica?

Bestowing the title of “Basilica” on a church establishes a particular bond with the Holy Father.  Therefore, Basilicas have the responsibility to promote the study of the documents of the Holy Father and the Holy See, especially those concerning the Sacred Liturgy.

Also, certain days in the liturgical year are to be celebrated with added solemnity:  The Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter (February 22), the Solemnity of the Apostles Saint Peter and Saint Paul - which is our patronal feast (June 29) - and the anniversary of the election or installation of the Pope. 

What are some of the other privileges of a Basilica?

The Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston is permitted to display the crossed keys, which indicate its connection with the Holy See, on all its printed materials and insignia.  This outward sign and privilege conferred upon a Basilica is a prominent feature of the Papal Seal.  The “keys” symbolize the keys to the kingdom which were symbolically entrusted to Saint Peter by the Lord himself.  The crossed keys may also be displayed on the facade (exterior) of the Basilica; they may be used in banners and in the seal of the Basilica itself.  A special Parasol - the ombrellino - in the Papal colors of yellow and red is displayed half-open in or near the sanctuary and may be carried in procession on special occasions.  A special bell mounted on a pole - the tintinabulum - (right) is also kept in the sanctuary and could be carried in on solemn occasions.  These two items are special, visible symbols which link the Basilica with the Holy Father.  These items indicate the church's readiness to announce and to welcome the Pope should the occasion ever arise.

What is a Basilica?

The Honorary title of “Minor Basilica” is granted by the Holy See to certain churches outside Rome because of their historical and architectural value as well as their contributions to the community.  Basilicas are expected to be centers of worship that are recognized throughout the diocese.  They are to promote the teaching of the Holy See and the Holy Father, to provide liturgical formation, to be exemplary centers of worship, especially in regards to sacred music, and to make ample provisions for the celebration of Sacraments and various approved devotions.


The ombrellino or conopaeum - a symbolic umbrella or parasol in the Papal colors of yellow and red - is displayed half open in or near the sanctuary.  At Saints Peter and Paul, it is usually located in the left front of the upper church.  Originally, it served to protect the Pope and other dignitaries from the elements.  The tintinabulum is a special bell mounted in a small belfry atop a pole.  It also is kept in or near the sanctuary.  In the past, the ombrellino and the tintinabulum were carried processionally over the head of the clergy on state occasions.  These two items are special, visible symbols which link the Basilica with the Holy Father.

The Formal Coat of Arms of Saints Peter and Paul,
Minor Basilica of the Holy Roman Church in the Diocese of Portland in Maine

This ancient papal insignia shows the crossed keys of Saint Peter and the pilgrim's canopy - the ombrellino.  For the new Lewiston Basilica, green was selected to represent both Saint Peter and the State of Maine.  On this field appears the crook of a crozier (a pastoral staff; a processional staff with the head in the form of a shepherd's crook) representing Saint Peter, the first Bishop of Rome.  The blue field on the right is in honor of Saint Paul - Apostle to the Gentiles and inspired writer and teacher.  The deep blue represents the Blessed Virgin Mary, Patroness of the Diocese of Portland under her title of the Immaculate Conception.  Blue is also a symbol of the truth of the Gospel that Saint Paul taught in his Letters.  The book represents the Latin version of the Bible opened to Saint Paul's letter to the Romans which begins with the words:  Ad Romanos Caput Primum (“To the Romans, First Chapter”).  At the base is a smaller gold field.  Gold is a symbol of wisdom and truth.  On it appears the Fleur-de-Lys - the oldest image for Mary, Mother of the Church.  Known as the Lily of Mary, It was selected for two other reasons:  the great French Canadian heritage of the people who built the Church of Saints Peter and Paul and, when depicted half silver and half black, is also one of the most important emblems of the Order of the Preachers of Saint Dominic.

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