The Symbols of a Basilica

Three physical signs to indicate that a church is a Minor Basilica.


  1. The Ombrellino (umbrella)
  2. The Tintinnabulum (bells)
  3. The Papal Cross Keys

Ombrellino (little umbrella)

The Ombrellino is a distinctive symbol used in basilicas throughout the world.  Designed with stripes of yellow and red (traditional papal colors), the silk canopy is a symbol of the Pope’s authority.  During the Middle Ages, the Ombrellino would be carried above the Holy Father during processions. Once placed, the Ombrellino remains partially open in as a symbol of readiness to welcome the Holy Father.

Tintinnabulum (bells)

The Tintinnabulum, like the Ombrellino, indicates that The Basilica of Saint Mary has a special relationship with the Holy Father.  The Tintinnabulum, a bell mounted on a pole, is placed in a Roman Catholic Basilica to signify the church’s link with the Pope. During the Middle Ages and Renaissance, the Tintinnabulum was used to alert the people of Rome of the approach of the Holy Father during papal processions.

Papal Cross Keys

The Papal Cross Keys are the symbol of the Papacy, and represent the keys refer to the promise of Christ to Peter, “I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven.” (Matthew 16:19). The presence of the keys symbolizes the continuous relationship of the Basilica to the Holy Father in Rome.

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