5 of these Minor Basilicas are dedicated to the Virgin Mary in different titles, 4 are also National Shrines, 2 are Cathedrals, 3 are Parishes, 2 are shrines, 3 belongs to Dioceses of Malolos, Lucena and San Fernando, 2 are under the Archdiocese of Lipa, 4 are under the Archdioceses of Manila and the rest are jurisdictions of the Archdioceses of Tuguegarao, Nueva Caceres and Cebu.
WHAT IS A BASILICA?
The term “basilica” can indicate either the architectural style of a church, or its canonical status.
BASILICA IN THE “ARCHITECTURAL SENSE”
In architecture, the term basilica signifies a kingly, and secondarily a beautiful, hall. The name indicates the Eastern origin of the building, but it is in the West, above all in Rome, that the finest examples of the basilica are found. Between 184 and 121 B.C. there were built in the Forum at Rome the basilicas of Porcia, Fulvia, Sempronia, and Opimia; after 46 B.C. the great Basilica Julia of Caesar and Augustus was erected. These buildings were designed to beautify the Forum and to be of use both for market purposes and for the administration of justice. They were open to the public and were well lighted. According to Vitruvius, who in this certainly agrees with Greek authorities, the usual construction of a basilica was the following:
The ground plan was a parallelogram in which the width was not greater than one-half of the length and not less than one-third of it. When there was more space in the length, porticoes were built on the short sides. The middle space was separated by columns from a lower ambulatory or portico; the width of the ambulatory equalled the height of the columns and measured one-third of the width of the central space. Above the columns just mentioned stood others, giving entrance to the light, which were shorter and slighter, in order that, as in organic structures, a tapering effect upwards should be given (De architectura, V, i, or ii). A basilica erected by Vitruvius himself showed a decided variation from this plan. It had two ambulatories, one above the other. Part of the columns of the middle space was left free so that light might enter. These columns rose up to the rafters. Pilasters leaning against the columns served to carry the flat roof of the ambulatories, the length of the middle nave was double its breadth and six times the breadth of the ambulatory. One of the long sides of the parallelogram spread out into an apse where legal cases were tried, but it was separated by the width of the ambulatory from the space for merchants (the ancient exchange).
The same writer speaks (VI, viii or v) of half-public basilicas in the houses of distinguished statesmen which served as council-chambers and for the settlement of disputes by arbitration. Vitruvius compares these (VI, v or iii) with the Egyptian halls because the latter had also covered ambulatories around a middle space supported by columns and openings for light between columns above. These are the distinctive features of a basilica which we may venture to define as an oblong structure with columns, having an ambulatory of lower height, receiving light from above, and possessing a projecting addition designed to serve a particular purpose.
The form of the basilica of the early Christian church corresponds so exactly to the shape of the basilica of the Forum or of the house that it does not seem necessary to seek another model, as for instance, the atrium or the cemetery cells. The dark, narrow temple was entirely unsuited for the holding of the Christian church services. These services, which began with the Last Supper, were often held in large rooms in the dwellings of prosperous Christians. When these facts are considered it cannot be a matter of surprise that as early as the time of Constantine the style and name of the basilica seem to have been in common use for the Christian place of worship. Moreover, the chief deviations from the general type of the ancient basilica, such as five aisles, pillars, angular form of the apse, omission of the portico, etc., have been used as well in the Christian basilica to which the original meaning of the word basilica, “the hall of the king”, could now again be applied.
As a rule, the building at this time was divided into three parts by columns, the well-lighted central part rose higher than the other divisions, and there was an apse. Only, in place of the former surrounding portico, or ambulatory, there was a side aisle to the right and left. There were also basilicas with five and seven aisles. The old construction of the basilica with an apse was well suited to the service of the altar. A transept extending more or less towards both sides was often placed between the nave and the apse both to serve practical needs and on account of its symbolism. The roofing of the transept together with the apse and portico produced variety in the exterior of the basilica. Vaulting, in the West, was used only at times in the side aisles; nothing beyond a flat roof was ventured upon for the very broad middle nave, and often, at the beginning, the rafters of the roof were left uncovered.
It was only after the fifth century that round or square side-towers came into use. These towers were first incorporated in the main building in Syria. The early Christian basilica showed a high, yet light construction, and was roomy and well lighted. The arcades with slender columns which led up to the altar were a particularly beautiful feature. The round form of the arches, of the window-heads, and the ground plan of the basilica were the first indications of the Romanesque style. The idea of a room in which the King of Kings gave audience naturally led to rich ornamentation. The back wall of the apse and the “arch of triumph”, which opened into the transept, were decorated with mosaics. The altar stood in, or before, the apse under a decorated baldacchino (ciborium). The walls were often adorned with pictures, and the floor was made of mosaic. Much use was made in the rich churches of beautiful woven stuffs and of fine goldsmith-work. If the employment of these symbols had a tendency to inspire pride, other observances produced humility of mind, as, for example, the symbolic washing at the fountain.
BASILICA IN THE “CANONICAL SENSE”
Basilica, as a term used by canon lawyers and liturgists, is a title assigned by formal concession or immemorial custom to certain more important churches, in virtue of which they enjoy privileges of an honorific character which are not always very clearly defined. Basilicas in this sense are divided into two classes, the greater or patriarchal, and the lesser, basilicas.
To the former class belong primarily those four great churches of Rome (St. Peter’s, St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major, and St. Paul-without-the-Walls), which among other distinctions have a special “holy door” and to which a visit is always prescribed as one of the conditions for gaining the Roman Jubilee. They are also called patriarchal basilicas, seemingly as representative of the great ecclesiastical provinces of the world thus symbolically united in the heart of Christendom.
Moreover, a few other churches, notably that of St. Francis at Assisi and that of the Portiuncula, have also received the privilege of ranking as patriarchal basilicas. As such they possess a papal throne and an altar at which none may say Mass except by the pope’s permission.
The lesser basilicas are much more numerous, including nine or ten different churches in Rome, and a number of others, such as the Basilica of the Grotto at Lourdes, the votive Church of the Sacred Heart at Montmartre, the Church of Marienthal in Alsace, etc. There has been a pronounced tendency of late years to add to their number. Thus the “Acta Apostolicae Sedis” for 1909 contain six, and the “Acta” for 1911 eight, such concessions.
In the Brief of erection the pope declares:
We, by our apostolic authority . . . erect (such and such a church) to the dignity of a lesser basilica and bestow upon it all the privileges which belong to the lesser basilicas of this our own cherished city.
These “privileges”, besides conferring a certain precedence before other churches (not, however, before the cathedral of any locality), include the right of the conopaeum, the bell, and the cappa magna. The conopaeum is a sort of umbrella (also called papilio, sinicchio, etc.), which together with the bell is carried processionally at the head of the clergy on state occasions. The cappa magna is worn by the canons or members of the collegiate chapter, if seculars, when assisting at Office. The form of the conopaeum, which is of red and yellow silk, is well shown in the arms of the cardinal camerlengo (see vol. VII, p. 242, coloured plate) over the cross keys.
The minor basilicas form the vast majority, including some cathedrals, many technically parish churches, some shrines, some abbatial or conventual churches. Some oratories, semi-private places of worship, have been raised to the status of a minor basilica, While the great majority of ecclesiastical basilicas are found in Western Europe, there are basilicas in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Australasia and the Americas.
In the Philippines alone, Vatican granted the only catholic country in Asia 12 minor basilicas. These Basilicas are the following (in order of their institution):
1. Minor Basilica of San Sebastian also the National Shrine of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel – Under the Archdioces of Manila located at Plaza Del Carmen, Quiapo, Manila. Raised as a minor basilica on 1890.
2. Minor Basilica of Sto. Nino also as Parish of the Immaculate Conception – Under the Archdioces of Lipa located at Batangas City, Batangas. Raised as a minor basilica on February 13, 1948.
3. Minor Basilica of St. Martin of Tours – Under the Archdioces of Lipa located at Taal, Batangas. Raised as a minor basilica on October 22, 1948.
4. Minor Basilica of St. Nino also as the National Shrine of the Child Jesus – Under the Archdioces of Cebu located at Cebu City, Raised as a minor basilica on April 1, 1965. The Basilica including the icon of the Sto. Nino is under the care of the Augustinian Friars (Order of Saint Augustine).
5. Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception also as the Metropolitan Cathedral of Manila (official church of the Archbishop of Manila) – Under the Archdiocese of Manila located at Cabildo St., Intramuros, Manila. Raised as a minor basilica on April 27, 1981.
6. Minor Basilica of Our Lady of Charity – Under the Diocese of San Fernando La Union located at Agoo, La Union. Raised as a minor basilica on July 15, 1982.
7. Minor Basilica of Our Lady of Penafrancia also a National Shrine of Our Lady of Penafrancia – Under the Archdiocese of Nueva Caceres located at Naga City, Camarines Sur, Bicol Region. Raised as a minor basilica on May 2, 1985.
8. Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene of Quiapo – Under the Archdiocese of Manila located at Plaza Miranda Mall, Quiapo, Manila. Raised as a minor basilica on December 11, 1987.
9. Minor Basilica of St. Michael the Archangel – Under the Diocese of Lucena located at Tayabas City, Quezon Province. Raised as a minor basilica on October 18, 1988.
10. Minor Basilica of San Lorenzo Ruiz also as Parish of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary and also the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary – Under the Archdiocese of Manila located at Plaza Lorenzo Ruiz, Binondo, Manila. Raised as a minor basilica on July 23, 1992.
11. Minor Basilica of Our Lady of Piat, Nuestra Senora de Visitacion – Under the Archdiocese of Tugegarao located at Piat, Cagayan. Raised as a minor basilica on March 10, 1997.
12. Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception also a Cathedral – Under the Diocese of Malolos at Malolos City, Bulacan, Central Luzon. Raised as a minor basilica on April 9, 1999.
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Romuald Matthieson: a.k.a. "bluepanjeet" has been writing in cyber space since 2005. In 2006, he jump-started his Catholic blogging a few years before the Catholic Church utilized social networks and blogs in spreading the Gospel. In 2007, in response to a realization of the growing need for Catholic Bloggers online, he officially launched his own self-hosted Catholic blog and called it "On The Wings Of My Dream" or simply OTWOMD which is a metaphor of his favorite psalm in the Bible, Psalm 63. Since then he has been blogging, (and sometimes podcasting) for the Catholic Church using his enthusiasm in the New Media, his inclination on visual and digital arts, his passion for the written word and his love for the Catholic Church. You can follow Rom's tweets on Twitter @rommatthieson