Significance of the Basilica Designation


The Significance of the Minor Basilica Designation

While somewhat familiar to Catholics, the term basilica originally referred to a specific function and style of building in use during the time of the Roman Empire. A basilica was a public building used by the Emperor or Judges for major events of noble import or significance. The structure was usually distinguished by columns, a long center aisle and an apse within the building. It was into the apse that the Emperor or Judge would be seated.

As Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, basilicas were converted into churches, with the Altar and Tabernacle of Our Lord, Jesus Christ substantially present in the apse, the place once occupied by the Emperor. The basilica thus became the “Royal House” that fulfilled the architectural and canonical functions that raise it to a place of honor and privilege.

There are two types of basilicas – major basilicas and minor basilicas. There are four major basilicas in Rome: the Lateran Basilica of Saint John, the Vatican Basilica of Saint Peter, Saint Mary Major, and Saint Paul-Outside-the-Walls.

Minor basilicas are those churches throughout Christendom that have been given a special designation by the Holy Father. Reasons for bestowing this designation may be granted for architectural beauty, historical significance, liturgical renown, or for any combination of these attributes. A minor basilica shares a special relationship with the Holy See of Rome and with the Holy Father. 

Various privileges and obligations of the minor basilica highlight this important attachment to the Vatican. The papal document, Domus Ecclesiae, spells out the specific privileges granted to a minor basilica. The most important of these is the plenary indulgence, which may be received by the faithful who devoutly visit the basilica and participate in any sacred rite or at least recite the Lord’s Prayer and the profession of faith

  • on the anniversary of the dedication of the same basilica;
  • on the day of the liturgical celebration of the title;
  • on the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles;
  • on the anniversary of the granting of the title of basilica;
  • once a year on a day to be determined by the local Ordinary;
  • once a year on a day freely chosen by each of the faithful.

The Basilica of Ste. Anne de Detroit is one of 89 churches in the United States – and only the third church in Michigan – to hold the title of minor basilica. The Archdiocese of Detroit’s National Shrine of the Little Flower Basilica in Royal Oak was named a minor basilica in 2015 and the Basilica of St. Adalbert in Grand Rapids received the title in 1980.