LEWISTON — The upper church of the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul is seen by many, but only a few get to see the treasures behind the closed doors of Maine’s largest religious building. 

As immigrants from Canada settled in Lewiston, the number of parishioners quickly outgrew the lower church of Saints Peter and Paul. The upper church and towers that loom over the city were added in 1936.

As many as 15,000 people worshipped at Saints Peter and Paul back then and, as a result, the church is crooked, said Monsignor Marc Caron, pastor for the Prince of Peace Parish.

As the congregation grew, building plans kept changing. The upper church needed to be bigger than the basement to accommodate the number of parishioners and the center axis of the church had to be adjusted to keep the building off Bartlett Street.

When Caron stands in the Dominican choir chapel, he can see how crooked the church is. The space behind the high altar is a full football field away from the basilica’s front door. The 26 Dominican friars who lived in the attached house would sing psalms as they prayed five times per day while standing in the red oak choir stalls.

The friars relinquished control of the church to the Diocese of Portland in 1986, and the choir chapel has seen little use since. “Maybe six times a year,”Caron said. Good Friday morning and Holy Saturday will be the next time the hidden area will be used.

“There is not any space like this in any Catholic church in Maine,” Caron said.

The pipe organ in the choir loft is one of two  built by Casavant Freres that provide music for the Basilica of  Saints Peter and Paul. The other pipe organ is in the Dominican friar choir chapel used maybe six times a year. 

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