Significance of a Cathedral Basilica

Minor basilica is a title given to some Roman Catholic churches. According to canon law, no church building can be honoured with the title of basilica unless by apostolic grant from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

The designation shows the Cathedral’s precedence before other churches. As the church of our Archbishop it is the mother church of the archdiocese and is a place where the faithful have gathered for major feasts and celebrations at the civic, provincial and federal levels for the past 168 years. It is not only an important building for the Catholic faithful. It has also been designated as an important heritage building for the City of Toronto.

The designation imposes on basilicas the obligation to celebrate the liturgy with special care, and requires that a church for which a grant of the title has been given should be liturgically dedicated to God and be outstanding as a centre of active and pastoral liturgy, setting an example for others. It should be sufficiently large and with an ample sanctuary. It should be renowned for history, relics or sacred images, and should be served by a sufficient number of priests and other ministers and by an adequate choir.

An external sign of the basilica can be seen in the ombrellino, made of yellow and red silk and bearing the coat of arms of the Holy See, the Archdiocese of Toronto and St. Michael’s Cathedral, and the tintinnabulum. These are traditionally carried in procession at the head of the clergy when the Pope visits or on important state occasions. Both represent the Cathedral’s association with both the Papal See and the City of Rome. When not in use they are on permanent display in the Cathedral.

Symbolism of the Coat of Arms for St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica


The coat of arms for St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica has at the top of the shield the ombrellino and on each side, the keys of St. Peter. These represent its status as a basilica and its relationship to the Papal See. The elements within the shield represent St. Michael and his four responsibilities in the Christian tradition. The first is to combat Satan, who is shown as a dragon. The second and third are symbolized by the scales. St Michael will first use the scales at the last judgement to weigh the souls of all the people and then escort the faithful to the heavenly kingdom. The fourth is to be a champion and protector of all Christians, and of the Church itself. This is symbolized by the sword piercing the dragon showing his defeat. The symbols are placed on a field of green, representing the early Irish immigrants whose contributions built the Cathedral. The motto “Quis ut Deus” at the base of the shield is in Latin, meaning “Who [is] like God?”, a literal translation of the name Michael.