Celebrating the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul

On Sunday, Oct. 14, 1934, over 4,000 people crowded the intersection at Bartlett and Ash streets to watch the blessing of the cornerstone at the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. Priests and parishioners from all over Maine were present, as well as non-Catholic members of the community. Traffic was stopped in both directions and Lewiston police officers were on hand to help manage the many spectators.

Bishop J.E. McCarthy of the Maine diocese traveled from Portland with the retired Rev. Monsignor George Johnson V.G. to officiate the blessing. The Rev. Henri Martin, O.P., pastor of St. Dominique Church, Quebec, said: “Saints Peter and Paul church will give Lewiston a Christian and spiritual character and its bells will proclaim the faith and hope of eternal life upheld by its citizens.”

A Lewiston Evening Journal article published the following Monday said the cornerstone was installed on the Bartlett Street side of the basilica “at such a high level that it will be above the door” of the lower church and easily viewed by any passerby. The “basement church,” as it had been called since its construction in 1906, had served the community for 29 years and the cornerstone marked the advent of construction on the upper church.

The stone itself was engraved with the name of the parish, the date and a cross. Inside of the hollowed stone was placed a solid copper 8-by-12-inch box. Inside of that was placed written records of Bishop McCarthy’s blessing of the stone and historical notes on the parish and church construction prepared by the Rev. M. E. Marchand. There are no written records at the parish that describe the blessings and historical notes in detail.

Also placed inside were two copies of the Lewiston Evening Journal: one, dated May 12, 1934, announced that construction was to begin on the upper church; of the other, all that is known is simply that it was an article “concerning the parish.”

The three-hour event was organized to take place outside, but the day turned bitterly cold by mid-afternoon, according to the Lewiston Evening Journal’s coverage. A spectator told the paper, “The wind became increasingly sharp while the sun rays cooled.” The ceremony was moved to the lower church and 2,000 people followed the procession inside for the religious service.

The cornerstone is a perfectly preserved time capsule containing historical information about the origins and construction of this magnificent structure that the Lewiston community built over 80 years ago. The precise contents, however, will remain a mystery as long as the basilica stands. 

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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