LEWISTON – Sts. Peter and Paul Parish was inaugurated as a basilica on Sunday in a celebration filled with pomp and pageantry witnessed by more than 1,000 people.
Bishop Richard Malone, the leader of Maine’s Roman Catholic church and the principal celebrant of the Mass of Thanksgiving, called the event a miracle. The Mass capped five days of events celebrating the church’s elevation to a basilica, making it one of about 50 basilicas in the country and the only one in northern New England.
“Who can doubt that this basilica reflects God’s beauty?” Malone said, stretching out his arms before the congregation. “We are celebrating faith tonight.”
The event featured 22 sword-carrying Knights of Columbus with capes and hats with plumes, a procession of bishops and priests, and the soaring vocals of a 75-voice choir.
Amid the procession, two men hoisted a red and yellow parasol, a symbol of the church’s new status. Made in Rome and a traditional symbol kept in all basilicas, the ombrellino rose at least 10 feet into the air, decorated with gold fringe and topped with a gold cross.
To the side of the pulpit stood another symbol of a basilica: a tintinnabulum, a shining gold bell hanging inside the sculpted handle of a wooden stick.
The crowd, which began arriving two hours before the start of the 5 p.m. Mass, came from across the region. Lifelong parishioners, Catholics from other parishes and non-Catholics filled the massive Gothic structure, which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.
Diane Williams, whose grandfather led the basilica’s construction in the 1930s, was among the early arrivals.
“I’ve been here so many times, but it’s still a thrill,” Williams said. “We don’t want to miss this.”
The church, which was designated as a basilica on Oct. 4, received its new coat of arms at Sunday’s ceremony.
The insignia includes a fleur-de-lis, in recognition of the French Canadian heritage of the people who built the church, which is Maine’s largest. The decree designating the basilica was read during the Mass in both French and English.