If you’re wandering through downtown Charlottetown, you’ll find that it’s quaint and somewhat touristy by design. In Canada, there aren’t a super high number of elaborate churches, but Prince Edward Island’s churches have long-established roots in the province’s history and heritage. In many towns, they are the focal point of village and town life. I’ve visited many churches in the world and I always find something unique and captivating about everyone of them … St. Dunstan’s Basilica is no exception. St. Dunstan’s Cathedral Basilica is probably the best known house of worship on the island and it’s named after St. Dunstan, an Archbishop of Canterbury in England.
The present church, the fourth on this downtown site, has its origins in 1913, built from the remains of the previous cathedral damaged by fire. A brochure about the basilica says: “The focal point of the interior, the 37-foot-high altar and 44-foot-long altar screen, houses 23 statues of saints and angels. The German-crafted Rose window, though seemingly petite, spans 14 feet.”
St. Dunstan’s is a popular stop with many tourists, Catholic and non-Catholic. The church is open several hours each afternoon for visitation but I would definitely stay away on Tuesday, since Tuesday is cruise ship day in PEI and you’re not going to get any time to yourself in the basilica.Here’s a couple views of those famous twin spites
If you have a chance to come for an organ concert here, an 89-year-old pipe organ from a decommissioned church in Montreal was installed in 2012 in the choir loft. It definitely makes for an impressive site above the entrance to the basilica.
Aside from the twin gothic spires, impressive altar and fine Italian murals, you’ll find some excellent stained glass windows. I love most stained glass windows for the chiaroscuro that you can get for your pictures.
Given the number of churches, basilicas and shrines I’ve visited over the years, I always have to remind myself about the differences since a Basilica, cathedral and shrine are distinct terms, but not mutually exclusive. For instance, a basilica may be a shrine, and a cathedral may be a basilica. Here’s a great article I found online at the Holy Spirit Interactive ... I’ve distilled the article into some main bullet points.
- A cathedral is the chief church of a diocese and in itself is also a parish church.
- A shrine can be one of the following
- A church or other sacred place where a relic is preserved, like the Shrine of St. Jude in Baltimore;
- Where an apparition has taken place, like the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock in Ireland or the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City
- Where an historical event of faith has taken place, like the Shrine of the Our Lady of the Martyrs in Auriesville, N.Y., where the early Jesuit missionaries were martyred.
- A place designated to foster a belief or devotion; for example, the Basilica Shrine of the Immaculate Conception was built to foster devotion to our Blessed Mother in the United States
- A basilica has some of the following characteristics
- Displayed a conopoeum or pavilion (something looking like a big umbrella) made with alternating silk panels of red and yellow, the colors of the papal government, and topped with a cross; this conopoeum was originally used to shelter the patriarch.
- Other traditional basilica items are the clochetta (a musical kind of device composed of a handle, a bell, and the insignia of the basilica, which is used in procession) and the cappa magna (a violet cape worn by the canons (basilica officials) during liturgical services).
- Each basilica has a “holy door” which is opened only during a time of special pilgrimage as declared by the Holy Father.
- There are seven major basilicas, which are in Rome: St. Peter’s in the Vatican, St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major, St. Paul Outside the Walls, St. Lawrence, St. Sebastian and the Holy Cross in Jerusalem. The first four of these basilicas are technically called the “primary major basilicas.” These seven major basilicas remain the important pilgrimage churches when visiting Rome.