This year St. Finnan’s was honored to be bestowed the title of Minor Basilica. This honor marks a unique moment in history for us in North Glengarry. Our parish here began as a mission church in Alexandria 189 years ago. In the years that followed what started as a small mission church became a fully fledged parish, a cathedral, and now a Basilica. We who share the faith here in Glengarry today celebrate in thanks to the fruits of almost two hundred years of the Catholic faith in Glengarry.
But what does this honor mean for St. Finnan’s, what does it mean for us to be now a Basilica parish? Well to start, let’s look at what a basilica is. A basilica is a Church granted the honorary title of basilica from the Holy Father himself. A church set apart and honored distinctly. The criteria for such an honor include namely, significant historical significance, and notable beauty. Now without a doubt our parish stands here as a monument of history. Generations of Glengarrians have a found home for their faith within these stone walls. The walls of a church that was raised by the support and the hard work of it’s parishioners. As for beauty, one only needs to walk through those doors to be struck by the incredible sight of just beautiful St. Finnan’s is. It can be easy to become accustomed to or take for granted just how beautiful the parish is. Take a moment when you can to look around. See the gothic pillars towering upwards, the golden angels, stenciled above. See the altars of shining marble, adorned with the relics of saints. See the light pour in through the stain glass. It truly is an incredible church.
It was with joy this year that the parish learned that the Vatican had approved the request and designated the honor to St. Finnan’s of Basilica. Included with this honor come several privileges, including the prestigious right to bear a coat of arms for the basilica.
Now coats of arms have a long standing tradition within our Catholic faith. They were used as symbols to signify popes, bishops, diocese, and even basilica’s. It is with joy then that St. Finnan’s has been tasked to design it’s very coat of arms, a symbol in part of our basilica status. As with anything in our Catholic faith there are traditions that go along with a coat of arms such as these, certain symbols are always included to denote that a parish is a basilica
The first of these is called an Umbraculum. It is a large red and gold canopy that resembles an umbrella. Canopies like these were originally carried to provide shade for Pope whenever he was in procession. In the coat of arms for a basilica the Umbraculum sits above the shield.
Next there are the cross of keys of St. Peter. Perhaps you’ve heard a joke about someone dying and meeting St. Peter at the gates of heaven. Well have you ever wondered why it’s always St. Peter there? Well this a reference to Matthew’s gospel where Jesus says to St. Peter “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” Now St. Peter would go on to become the first bishop of Rome, the very first pope and the symbol of these two keys has long been a symbol for both Peter and the papacy. These keys are featured in a basilica’s coat of arms, behind the shield.
What remains is a little more custom to each basilica. Below the Umbraculum there is a shield displaying symbols typically significant to the identity and history of the basilica. Shields will vary in the symbols and color they display but each one tells a story, a symbolic prestation of the basilica it stands for!
In addition, as with most coat of arms, below the shield there is typically displayed a scroll featuring a motto. The motto is short phrase, typically in Latin that in some way represents the parish.
And so why all this talk of coats of arms you may wonder? Well, the parish is very pleased to announce that with the honor of being a basilica, the parish will be undertaking the task of designing and creating it’s very own coat of arms. In the near future St. Finnan’s will be announcing this project and we will be looking to you-the parishioners for input. Let us know what kind of symbols, colors, ideas, or themes you’d like this new coat of arms to include! Stay tuned to the parish website for details!