Celebrating the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul

In 1936, Ray Legendre was a 13-year-old living in New Auburn, attending classes at St. Louis School and spending all of his free time after school and on Saturdays and holidays at Enterprise Foundry in Lewiston, which was owned by his father, Cyrille. “I was in there all the time,” Ray said during a recent interview. That year, the foundry got a big commission to craft brass grills to cover the heat vents in the brand-new basilica.

Ray isn’t sure how they got the commission, but his father’s foundry didn’t have a lot of local competition. Founded by Cyrille and his wife, Aurore, in 1921, Enterprise was the only brass foundry in the city at the time, originally operating out of a space on River Road in Lewiston. “We used to do all kinds of work locally,” Ray said.

The crew at Enterprise fashioned the 24 grills for the basilica, each measuring 5 feet by 1 foot. Two grills frame the bottom edge of each of the 10 stained-glass windows in the nave and there are four more on the front pews to help keep parishioners warm during the cold, winter months. 

They were all designed by Cyrille and hand-crafted by the crew, including Ray and his younger brother, Norman. “First of all, to cast something like that, you have to make a pattern out of wood, and my dad did that,” Ray said. The triangular pattern is his father’s design. “Then he made the molds in the foundry and then poured brass,” Ray said.

“When you pour it, the brass causes pressure and the wood would flex a little bit,” Ray said. This flexing often means there are minute flaws in the pattern, called “flash.” Any excess material attached to the forged product must be removed and, no matter how perfectly a mold is calibrated, a little flash always occurs.

It was up to Ray and his brother to remove that excess material. “My younger brother and I, we had to clean out all of the openings.” He laughed wryly, remembering. “We had to dig at each one with a chisel and a hammer. Then file it,” he said.

Next time you’re in the basilica, take a look at those grills. The work is beautiful and elaborate. There are 192 triangles in each one. That’s a lot of after-school chiseling. As soon as they finished one, “Here ya go. Keep going,” Ray said, imitating his father. “We’d be so discouraged! We’d say, ‘Oh jeez!’” When asked if they got paid, Ray laughed again. “Oh, he used to give us something.”

“After those are cleaned out, then I went over with the guy from the shop to install them,” he said. At that time, Ray had a rare insider’s view of the basilica just months before construction was finished. But as a 13-year-old, he was less than impressed. “How did I feel about it?” he asked, making a face. “How do you feel when you go to work?”

Enterprise Foundry was his family’s business for just over 90 years, until Ray, 93, sold it six months ago. “It’s the only thing I’ve ever done my whole life is work in the foundry,” he said. He smiled as he remembered. “It’s intricate work. I used to like that type of work. Hard work, though. Hot work. But still, I loved it.”

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. 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.

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


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