Celebrating the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul

In last week’s “Celebrating the Basilica” series, readers may have marveled at the structure’s impressive dimensional statistics. As long as three football or soccer fields and able to seat almost as many as the Androscoggin Bank Colisee (upper and lower churches combined), such a grand sacred building might seem imposing from a distance.

And yet, in the midst of such size and grandeur, one can find seemingly private places to pray, contemplate and rest the spirit.

The side altars, located in the upper church, are two such places.

When the upper church was completed and at the zenith of the Dominican presence in Lewiston, there were as many as 26 priests and brothers between the parish and monastery. While Mass would be said at scheduled times each day at the high altar for parishioners, the two side altars served as spaces to allow the many priests in the parish and monastery to say Mass independently.

Basilica historian Bob Gilbert remembers attending Mass and seeing priests perform private Masses at the side altars with only an altar server to assist. The side altars, subordinate to the high altar, served the same purposes for consecrating the Eucharist. However, the side altars do not contain functioning tabernacles, and a priest saying Mass at the side altars would have gotten unconsecrated hosts from the sacristy.

Gilbert says the side altars look essentially the same today as they did when the upper church opened 80 years ago, with a few minor changes.

The side altars formerly included Solomonic marble columns. These were removed from the side altars and included in the new main altar and the baptismal font. The communion rail (or altar rail) that once extended along the entire front of the church was removed. Parts of it are now incorporated in the side altar space. Finally, banks of votive candles lie between the altar and the altar rail, as the side altars are no longer used for saying Mass.

One side altar features a statue of the Virgin Mary and the other includes Saint Joseph, her husband. Considered in both Catholic and Protestant traditions as the patron saint of workers, Saint Joseph can be easily identified by the carpenter’s square he holds.

Parishioners and visitors to the basilica often light votive candles as part of prayer both before and after Mass. These sacred spaces, in the midst of the busy basilica, are sanctuaries of peace, quiet and prayer.

One of the two side altars at the basilica, this one featuring the Virgin Mary.

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 stories about the basilica you’d like to share, please contact writer Julie-Ann Baumer at [email protected] or at 207-353-2616.

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

One of the two side altars at the basilica. This one features St. Joseph, holding a carpenter’s square.

Comments are not available on this story.