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Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi
Celebrates Its Elevation Today

ALBUQUERQUE - Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Tuesday, October 4, 2005, 5:30 PM
Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi
Santa Fe, NM

The Basilica…the “Cradle of Catholicism” in the Southwestern United States of America.

Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan will also present the Fourth St. Francis of Assisi Awards to men and women who are considered role models from the 93 parishes throughout the Archdiocese. Pastors of each parish were invited to submit the names of one individual or one married couple to receive prestigious award. Honorees were invited to bring family and guests to this memorable event.


This word from the Greek, meaning "royal hall,” originally applied to the official building in Roman times, but with the conversion of the Roman Empire to Christianity, it came to refer to the dwelling of the King of Kings. Basilica now means a church of particular importance in Rome and abroad, churches honored by the Holy Father with this title, usually because of their importance in the history of spreading of Catholicism.

The distinctive emblem of basilicas is the “umbrollino,” a canopy striped in yellow and red to stand for the papal colors. The umbrollino was formerly carried over the Pope when he would travel on horseback to make official visits to his special churches.

Another insignia of basilicas is the “tintinnabulum,” a bell mounted on a staff. Formerly used to notify people of the Pope’s anticipated arrival.

Papal Coat of Arms with the Two Keys
In the Gospel according to Matthew (16: 18 & 19), Jesus gives Peter the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. One key is gold and one silver. The keys are two parts of the forgiveness and absolution of sins. The Golden Key is the Divine authority and power given to the Church to forgive sins. Won by the Passion and Death of Christ on the Cross, it has the greatest worth. Nevertheless, the Silver Key is also necessary for salvation. It unlocks the heart of the repentant sinner, disentangling the tentacles of sin.

Coat of Arms for Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi in Santa Fe, New Mexico
Basic shield is that of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, which features the Cross of Our Lord Jesustraversing the entire front. The cross in gold on a red background calls to mind the colors of Spain from which the first European settlers of New Mexico came. Over the lower half of the cross, one notes the crossed arms of Jesus and St. Francis of Assisi. Both hands are marked with the stigmata, or wounds of the crucifixion. In the upper left-hand comer of the shield is a castle, symbol of the province of Castilla/La Mancha from where many of the first Spanish pioneers came.

Over the shield is an umbrollino, or canopy, symbol of a Basilica. Apparently, in ancient times when a pope would visit one of his special churches, he would be greeted by such a canopy to escort him in. (He would also be greeted by a bell-ringing device called a tintinnabulum which would be rung to announce His Holiness' arrival.) Both will be present in the Cathedral Basilica. This canopy is striped red and gold and has three dates: 1610 A.D., date of the parish's foundation; 1853 A.D., date of its establishment as a Cathedral by Pope Pius IX; and 2005 A.D., date of its elevation to Basilica by Pope Benedict XVI.

Behind the shield are the crossed keys of St. Peter, preeminent symbol of the Papacy, signifying the powers to bind and loose. Beneath the shield is the Cathedral Basilica's new motto, "Rebuild My Church," from the Lord's admonition to St. Francis of Assisi at the Church of San Damiano in Italy, where the saint began his mission.


Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan brought back history making news from his summer 2005 visit to Rome. …St. Francis of Assisi Cathedral was to be named Basilica by Pope Benedict XVI.

The title represents a papal honor given to select churches throughout the world known for their leadership in the faith life of the people, antiquity, artwork, and/or importance in the history of the Catholic faith. In its announcement regarding the new Basilica status for St. Francis Cathedral, the Vatican’s announcement emphasized that the Santa Fe Cathedral qualified on all levels. Especially noted was the fact that the Cathedral was the “cradle of Catholicism” in the Southwestern United States of America; crucial in the establishment of daughter dioceses (bishoprics) from Denver to El Paso, from Phoenix to Las Cruces. It is also the goal of many religious pilgrimages, especially to honor the famous statue of Our Lady of Peace, brought to Santa Fe in 1625.

Archbishop Sheehan said, “During my visit with the Holy Father, I extended the love and support of the people of the Archdiocese to him. He could not have been more gracious and supportive during the audience with the Bishops present. It was deeply moving for me to meet him personally as our Holy Father.”

St. Francis of Assisi will continue to be called a Cathedral since it is the seat or throne of the local Archbishop. The Cathedral's title will, however, be amplified to the “Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi.” It is the first church in New Mexico’s long history to be so honored.

Being a Basilica will mean not only a change in title. St. Francis will receive a new coat of arms, as well as a canopy specially made in Rome, that is to be used for the occasions of major feasts or for any possible papal visit.

The process of applying for such a status actually began in 2003 when the Archdiocese of Santa Fe celebrated the 150th Anniversary of its foundation. In that year, the Cathedral’s Pastoral Council petitioned the Archbishop to begin the process of having its historic church declared a Basilica, an honor that can only be granted by the Vatican. The Archbishop then took the petition to the Priests’ Council of the Archdiocese, which gave it unanimous support. The petition then proceeded to the United States Catholic Conference in Washington, D.C. where it also received a positive recommendation. Archbishop Sheehan then sent the petition on to Rome, which in turn sent the Archdiocese a lengthy questionnaire to be filled out regarding the Cathedral’s qualifications. “I thought we would never finish filling it out,” said Msgr. Jerome Martinez y Alire, Rector of the Cathedral. “It ended up totaling 180 pages of text, plus a photo album and a sampling of the many books written about our historic church. This was necessary.” The Vatican is reluctant to grant such a title except to truly deserving sites.” Finally, the petition was hand carried by the Archbishop and Msgr. Martinez y Alire to Rome in June 2005 and presented to Archbishop Sorrentino, the Vatican’s Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship. In the decision, Archbishop Sorrentino said that the Archdiocese of Santa Fe had convinced the Congregation to grant our request. Archbishop Sheehan announced that an official ceremony for the naming of the Cathedral to Basilica status would be scheduled soon.

The Cathedral’s history is very rich. Although it has only been a Cathedral (seat of the Archbishop) for 152 years, the parish was founded in 1610 by Spanish Franciscans sent to missionize the New World. This makes one of the oldest established Christian congregations in the United States of America, preceding by 10 years the arrival of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock.

The present church is actually the sixth one built on the spot and was begun in 1869 by Santa Fe’s first Archbishop, Jean Baptiste Lamy. It was designed by French architects, carved by Italian stonemasons and built by the local New Mexican population. It is home to exquisite French stained glass windows (recently restored) and Spanish Colonial paintings. It was the subject of Willa Cather’s famous 19th Century novel, Death Comes for the Archbishop and Lamy of Santa Fe, written by Paul Horgan in the 20th century


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