Celebrating the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul

On Oct. 4, 2004, the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, acting on behalf of the late Pope John Paul II, granted the Church of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston the title of minor basilica.

The word “basilica” can be traced to the Greek “basileos oikos” or “house of the king” and describes the columned, rectangular structures in ancient Greece that served as civic and judicial courts. These buildings eventually developed rounded apses and seats for judges and civic officials, taking on the form that more closely resembles modern churches.

“There is an established process for determining which churches receive this papal designation,” wrote the Rev. Monsignor Marc B. Caron for a Sun Journal article on May 22, 2005. “The title is conferred upon churches that are renowned for their artistic and architectural merit, known for the quality of their liturgical celebrations, and (are) centers of educational and charitable activity.” At the time, Caron was the director of the Office for Worship of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland.

The distinction of “minor basilica” comes with several papal gifts, one of which is a conopaeum, a red and yellow parasol. It is a historic piece of the papal insignia, once used on a daily basis to provide shade for the pope (Galbreath, 27). It stands as a symbol, but is always left partially open in anticipation of the pope’s visit. It has gold and red stripes, the traditional colors of the pontificate (white did not become the traditional papal color until Leo XII in 1823).

Parishioners, Lewistonites and people throughout Maine celebrated the new distinction for the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul with events and festivities that culminated on Sunday, May 22, 2005, with a Mass led by Bishop Richard J. Malone of Portland. The two symbols associated with medieval papal processions — the papal umbrella and the tintinnabulum (a special bell mounted on a particularly ornate staff) — were placed in the church for the first time. The building’s coat of arms was also unveiled for the event.

Alternatively known as the conopaeum, the pavilion and, in modern times, the umbraculum, the red and yellow umbrella is a symbol of the Roman Catholic Church and the authority of the pope over it. It is found in all minor and major basilicas. Fern Fourier fashioned a stand for the umbraculum in our basilica from pieces of a pew. The distinctive woodwork carving can be seen at the base. 

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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