The Roman-Catholic Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston, Maine forms a part of the Diocese of Portland and is the second largest church in New England. There is a capacity allowing approximately 2,200 believers to attend Holy Masses held in both French and English.
Franco-Canadian influences in Maine
During the American Civil War the textile industry was flourishing in Lewiston and created jobs which helped the city advance economically. Immigrants from Quebec, attracted by brilliant prospects, found their way to Maine as so many of their Franco-Canadian peers did from the 1860s onwards. With the influx of very religious and French speaking Catholics, the demand for Holy Masses held in French grew immensely. Due to this, there were Holy Masses held in French in the basement of Saint Joseph's Church for the Franco-Canadian immigrants, and from 1870 on in St. John's chapel.
Construction of St. Peter's Church
Due to the constantly increasing number of immigrants, the St. John's Chapel seemed gradually to become too small considering the amount of believers flooding in every Sunday. Therefore, the Franco-Canadian community decided to have their own church built and so the foundation stone for the St. Peter's Church was laid in 1872. Built impressively fast, the inauguration ceremony for the first Franco-Canadian church in Maine was held a year after. From 1881 onwards, the newly created community was taken care of by Dominican monks from Lille and Quebec.
Separation of the Community and the New Building
In 1899, the Franco-Canadian community, also including numerous places outside Lewiston, was mentioned for the first time as “S. Pierre S. Paul de Lewiston”, the community of St. Peter and St. Paul in Lewiston, in the “Album Historique” by Dominican monks.
In 1902, then, the community was separated into the French-speaking Saints Peter and Paul community in Lewiston and the new St. Louis community in Auburn, situated on the other riverbank of the Androscoggin river. By 1905 the community in Lewiston had grown to more than 10,000 believers which made a new building for the community indispensable.
Although the vaults of the the new church were already finished in 1906, it took 27 more years for the construction work of the church to resume due to additional separations of the existing community and a lack of resources.
The edifice was finally finished in 1936 and consecrated the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in 1938.
The Basilica in the Present-Day
In 1983 the basilica became a listed building in the National Register of Historic Places and in 1986 handed over by the Dominican monks to the Diocese of Portland.
The Gothic basilica has many architectural highlights to offer. One example is that you may already see from afar the 168ft (52.2m) high church towers. Another one is the window shaped in the form of roses you will see on the facade of the church. It is modeled on the Cathedral of Chartres in France.
How to get there
Via Maine Highway
Take Exit 80 in Lewiston and continue up to the first traffic lights on the Alfred A. Plourde Parkway. Take a left into Pleasant Street and follow the road for about 2.2mi (3.5km). The church will appear on your left-hand side.
From the direction of Augusta
On St 202 you drive until you get to Lewiston and take a left just after the hospital into Sabattus Street. One block further, you turn into Bartlett Street. You will then find the basilica in the next block on your right-hand side.