Wednesday, August 5, 2015

What is a Basilica

Today throughout the world we celebrate the dedication of the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome. We use the word Baslica in two ways. The most common is the honorary title given to a church of some historic or artistic importantance. These basilicas are scattered throughout the world. They are all more specifically minor basilicas. Four in the city of Rome are major basilicas. Each of the five is associated with one of the five centers of Christianity:

St. John Lateran -Rome

St. Mary Major-Antioch

St. Peter- Constantinople

St. Paul outside the Wall - Axelandria


These four churches and there associated cities keep us rooted in the history of the early church.

There is another sense in which we use the term basilica. It describes a particular architectural style.

When the early Christians began to look for something to immulate they did not want their churches to look like pagan temples. And so they chose another large public building, the basilica. It served as a courthouse and for other public business.

It was a roof over a large rectangular building with a wide center isle and either one isle on each side or two isles on each side that would be narrower. The roof would be supported by rows of columns that would create the isles. Any church built in this fashion could be architecturally describes as a basilica.

When someone says a church is a basilica, it can either refer to the architectural design or the title given by the Pope or both. In the case of St. Mary Major it is both. Even now one can see mosaics dating back to the 5th century. This church above all others reminds us of the ancient and constant devotion of Christians to the mother of Jesus, and our Mother. Perhaps it has been a while since you have prayed the rosary. Perhaps today would be the day to find the rosary. No it is not worshiping Mary, it is simply respect for and devotion to the woman God chose to be the one through who he would become incarnate.