Saint Mary: Welcoming worshippers

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This statue of Mary stands above the front entrance on the Ash Street side of the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul.

Celebrating the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul

On Tuesday, Nov. 26, 1935, the Lewiston Evening Journal featured a front-page photograph of the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, still under scaffolding, with the headline “Point as With Silent Figures to Heaven.” The caption read: “The first published picture of the beautiful front of Saints Peter and Paul church, viewed from Ash Street.”

It’s impossible to know how many times the Lewiston icon has been photographed since its construction 80 years ago. Recently, Sun Journal photojournalist Russ Dillingham captured a rare eye-level closeup image of one of the Basilica’s exterior statues using a drone equipped with a camera.

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The statue of Mary, the mother of Jesus, is one of several “silent figures” pointing to heaven on the structure’s exterior. The statue is within a niche located in the church’s top gable, situated between the Basilica’s two towers and beneath a golden cross, all on the facade facing Ash Street where the main entrance is located.

Although the church’s exterior is primarily North Jay granite, Indiana limestone complements the local rock, particularly on the east-facing front. This limestone, lighter in color than the granite, is most prominent in the building’s front doorway, towers and rose window tracery, and is also used for the statues located on the building’s exterior.

Mary’s central placement among the Basilica’s exterior statuary signifies her importance. In Catholic tradition, Mary is honored as the mother of Jesus Christ, the mother of the Church, and as a saint. She is also revered in prayer – “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.”

Catholics worldwide consider May to be “the month of Mary.” As many of the Basilica’s French-speaking faithful might sing: “C’est le mois de Marie, c’est le mois le plus beau.” Loosely translated, it means: “It’s the month of Mary, it’s the most beautiful month.”

A statue of Mary, the mother of Jesus, is seen high above the main entrance to the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul on Ash Street in Lewiston. 

The statue of Mary on the exterior of the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston is one of several statues on the outside of the structure honoring saints.

Celebrating the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul

The Sun Journal is celebrating the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston, which was completed in 1936-1937. For a year, we are taking a close look at the iconic structure, its history and even some of the people who built it. We will explore rooms behind the high altar, crawl along the catwalk, explore the cellars and rooftop carvings, and peek into drawers and cabinets in the sacristy. We’ll show you historical photos and compare them with current images of the basilica. We’ll also speak with basilica experts and comb through historical documents to uncover some of the 80-year-old church’s enduring myths and mysteries.

If you have any memories, recollections or photographs of the Basilica you’d like to share please contact writer Julie-Ann Baumer at jabaumer@gmail.com or at 207-353-2616.

The entire series is being archived at sunjournal.com/basilica.

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