In 2018, the parish of St. Peter’s Catholic Church petitioned the Vatican to consider bestowing the title of “Minor Basilica” on the church given its historical significance in the Diocese of Charleston, the quality and frequency of the liturgies celebrated here, and the vibrancy of our parish life. Within a few short months, the Vatican responded in the affirmative and The Basilica of Saint Peter became the 85th minor basilica in the United States of America and the only basilica in the state of South Carolina.
SYMBOLS OF A BASILICA
In the church itself, you'll see a few symbols unique to churches with the Basilica title:
Ecclesiastical heraldry, or parish seal, to include use of the papal cross keys
An umbraculum, also known as "ombrellino" or "little umbrella"
A tintinnabulum, or "little bell"
The umbraculum is one of the symbols bestowed by the pope when he elevates a church to the rank of a minor basilica; the umbraculum of a major basilica is made of cloth of gold and red velvet, while that of a minor basilica is made of yellow and red silk. The umbraculum is also represented behind the shield in the coat of arms of a basilica. The umbraculum (Italian: ombrellone, "big umbrella"), is a historic piece of the papal regalia and insignia, once used on a daily basis to provide shade for the pope. Also known as the pavilion, in modern usage the umbraculum is a symbol of the Catholic Church and the authority of the pope over it. It is found in the contemporary Church at all the basilicas throughout the world, placed prominently at the right of their main altars, and is partially opened. Whenever the pope visits a basilica, its umbraculum is fully opened. It is shaped as a Baldachin type canopy with broad alternating gold and red stripes, the traditional colors of the pontificate.
It is incorporated in the official seal of the Basilica of Saint Peter, and the seal is also embroidered on one side of our umbraculum. On the opposite side is the seal of Pope Francis, the pope who bestowed the title of Minor Basilica on our church.
Ecclesiastical heraldry refers to the use of heraldry as a system for identifying individuals and institutions within the Church. Our heraldry was developed in response to our basilica designation in 2018.
Motto: The motto expressed on the banner at the bottom of the seal is Tu es Petrus (“You are Peter”), representing the patron of our Basilica as we hear in Matthew 16:18, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” One might also imagine that the banner creates the shape of a boat, which can remind us of Saint Peter.
Umbraculum/Ombrellino, or “little umbrella”: At the top of the seal is the Ombrellino in its traditional red and gold. Historically, the Ombrellino would be carried above the Holy Father when he visited a Basilica. It represents a unique relationship between the Basilica and the Pope. Atop the Ombrellino we see the Cross of Christ, which is present throughout our Basilica recalling Christ’s crucifixion and the redeeming power of his Passion and death.
Cross-Keys: The keys remind us of Christ’s promise to Peter: “I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.” The gold key alludes to the power of the kingdom of the heavens and the silver key symbolizes the authority of the papacy.
The Shield: On the shield itself, we see:
A celtic knot, the three-leafed shape of which we see in our stained glass and in the engravings on the sides of our pews. The knot also reminds us of the Holy Trinity and of our beginnings as a mission to the Irish servants who built the Columbia canal.
A palmetto tree and a crescent moon. South Carolinians will easily recognize this as a symbol of our State, appropriate because we are the first and only Basilica in the State of South Carolina. But palm trees are also seen in our Nativity and Crucifixion windows behind the altar, symbolizing the fruition of our salvation and are included in Ezekial’s vision of the new temple as well. The crescent moon can also suggest Our Lady.
The tintinnabulum (little bell), like the umbraculum, indicates that the Minor Basilica of Saint Peter has a special relation with the Holy Father. The tintinnabulum, a bell mounted on a wall, is placed in a Roman Catholic Basilica to signify the church's connection with the Pope.
After reviewing the tintinnabulae of minor basilicas around the world, the Basilica of Saint Peter designed a tintinnabulum centered around its patron saint, Peter, seated upon a throne with the crossed keys left to him by Christ Jesus, and signifies the authority left to him to shepherd the early church. It is centered in a temple like structure with the cross of Christ at its apex.
The bell is mounted below, and is an antique Sanctus bell. Sanctus bells are rung by an altar server during the eucharist to emphasize and call attention to particular moments in the liturgy. It is rung during the consecration of the bread and wine by the priest when the holy spirit transforms them into the body and blood of our Lord. The bell is rung 3 times during the eucharistic lifting of the body and blood by the priest signifying the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as well as calling attention to the lifting up of Christ on the cross, His Resurrection, and His Ascension into Heaven.
This Sanctus Bell from Ireland is engraved with symbolic images of aquila (eagle), agnus (lamb), pelicanus (pelican) and leo (lion). The meaning in the Christian context is:
Aquila: The Eagle of St. John. Because St. John stresses the Heavenly nature of our Lord, the eagle is used. On its powerful wings, the eagle soars high toward heaven. In the same way, John soared in the spirit upward toward the heaven of heavens to contemplate the divine nature of Christ and bring back to earth revelations of sublime and awful mysteries.
Agnus: the Lamb; this denotes the supreme sacrifice of the Lord.
Pelicanus: the Pelican. This is the symbol of the atonement; according to legend, the pelican pierces its own breast to feed its young therefore giving its life blood to save its own. The blood of Christ was shed for all people for the remission of their sins.
Leo: the Lion, symbolizing St. Mark, representing the kingly nature of our Lord, the lion being the king of beasts.