Celebrating the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul

This past Tuesday, Aug. 8, was the feast day of Saint Dominic. Dominic established the Dominican order by the authority of Pope Honorius III in 1216, he was canonized as a saint in 1234, and the Order of Preachers remains active around the world today more than 800 years later.

As explored in this series, the first Dominican friars arrived from Canada in Lewiston in 1881 at the request of Portland’s Bishop Healy. Their passionate zeal to build their own church for the growing Franco population here would lead to the construction of a building that surpassed the size and magnificence of the bishop’s own cathedral in Portland. Their selection of artistic symbols large and small reminded visitors of the Dominican presence.

Bishop Joseph E. McCarthy presided over the church’s opening ceremonies on Sunday, Oct. 23, 1938. McCarthy’s predecessors had played key roles in the many years of political controversy surrounding the Lewiston church’s construction.

A Daily Sun report notes McCarthy first blessed the exterior of the church and then blessed the interior. “The doors of the church will remain closed to the public until after the blessed ceremony, at which time Bishop McCarthy will give orders to admit parishioners,” the Oct. 22, 1938 Daily Sun reported. “Only assisting clergymen will accompany the bishop as he enters the new edifice to bless the interior after officiating at the outdoor ceremony.”

As McCarthy approached the altar, he would have seen five large reminders of the Dominican presence and dominance of the parish. Situated prominently over the high altar, on the back wall beneath the stained-glass Malo window, was a plaster medallion of the Dominican seal. Similarly situated over the side altars were medallions of St. Thomas of Aquinas, St. Albert the Great, Pope Pius V and, of course, St. Dominic.

The saints on these medallions were all priests of the Dominican order. This artwork remains today as a reminder of the Basilica’s long, colorful and complex history.

This plaster medallion of the Dominican seal holds a place of prominence in the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, located above the high altar on the back wall, below the stained-glass Malo window. Along with four other plaster medallions, it identifies and honors the Dominican Orders’ central role in the creation of the Basilica.

This image of St. Dominic is one of four medallions above the side altars at the Basilica.

This image of Pope Pius V is one of four medallions above the side altars at the Basilica.

This image of St. Albert the Great is on one of four medallions above the side altars at the Basilica.

This image of St. Thomas of Aquinas is on one of the four medallions above the side altars at the Basilica.

Share your memories

To help celebrate the Basilica, we’d like to hear from readers about their memories of the Basilica. Please contact writer Julie-Ann Baumer at [email protected] or call her at 207-353-2616.

Celebrating the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul

ABOUT THIS SERIES: 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. The entire series is being archived at sunjournal.com/basilica.

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