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Significance and Distinct Symbols of a Minor Basilica

November 28, 2023

The word basilica originated from the Greek word meaning “royal house.” Once designated a minor basilica, Saint Andrew is given special ecclesiastical privileges by the Holy Father. Additionally, the designation provides the opportunity for Saint Andrew to become a place for pilgrimages by visitors and the ability to acquire plenary indulgences on certain days designated by the pope, according to the 1989 Vatican document Domus ecclesiae: Norms for Granting of the Title of Minor Basilica.

This designation means the basilica shares a special bond of communion with the pope and gives special care when celebrating the Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter the Apostle (Feb. 22) among others. If a church receives this special title, it is because of the parish’s historical value, architectural and artistic worth, significance as a center of worship, antiquity and dignity. Here are the basilica symbols to look for when visiting Saint Andrew in Roanoke:



Historically, the ombrellino or Italian for “little umbrella” has been used to shade a pope during a procession. The ombrellino is a silk umbrella or canopy with scalloped-shaped flaps comprised of red and gold stripes—the traditional papal colors.

 All basilicas have the privilege of carrying an ombrellino. For the Basilica of Saint Andrew, the ombrellino is embroidered with four crests or symbols that include the crossed keys of the Holy See, the personal crest of Bishop Knestout, the crest of the Diocese of Richmond and the seal of the basilica. The ombrellno is a visible bond of the distinctive relationship between the Basilica of Saint Andrew and the Holy Father in Rome.



Tintinnabulum is an ancient term for “little bell.” It is a bell mounted on a pole and placed in a basilica to signal the Catholic Church’s link to the Pope.

In medieval times, this item was used to let people know of the Holy Father’s arrival. Today, it continues to be a symbol associated with his authority.


Crossed Keys

The third physical sign of a lesser or minor basilica is the crossed keys which is a papal symbol. A minor basilica has the right to display the crossed keys on banners, the seal of the basilica and other fixtures.