Cathedral Basilica to bless special Papal Bell


In 1976, when the Cathedral of Saint Augustine was elevated as a minor basilica, the two special interior appointments that symbolize the church’s new status were not purchased for display. In 2006, the papal ombrellino, or umbrella, was added; and, on Tuesday, March 25, the final appointment will be placed.

A tintinnabulum, a bell mounted on a pole, will be received and blessed during Solemn Vespers for the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord at 7:00 p.m. The tintinnabulum consists of a small gold bell within a hand-carved, wooden frame crowned with the papal tiara and the crossed keys, traditional symbols in the Catholic Church for the papal ministry. If the Pope was to say Mass at the Cathedral Basilica, the tintinnabulum would be used to lead the processions down the Cathedral’s aisle.

“It’s exciting to finally be able to have this special appointment for the Cathedral,” Fr. Tom Willis, the church’s rector, said in making the announcement. “We had three generous families step forward to help us obtain this significant piece of art and we are grateful for their generosity.”

Overall, it stands seven feet in height. On the face of the tintinnabulum is an icon depicting Saint Augustine of Hippo, the patron saint of the Cathedral, City and Diocese of St. Augustine. On the reverse side is the coat of arms of the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Augustine.

Fr. Willis cautioned that the public should not see this as a sign that Pope Francis will be accepting the invitation to visit St. Augustine for the city’s 450th anniversary celebrations. “We had ordered the tintinnabulum long before Bishop Estevez’ invitation was sent. So don’t try to interpret this to mean we know something — believe me, we don’t.”

The tintinnabulum was carved in Italy from a single piece of wood. In addition to the symbols noted above there is also the face of a cherub angel. “Since angels are understood to be messengers of God, the ringing of bells in Catholic churches was sometimes understood to be the call of the angels to be attentive to God’s presence,” Fr. Willis remarked as he further explained the significance of the bell.

When the Vatican began to grant the title of minor basilica to churches outside of Rome, the ombrellino and tintinnabulum were permitted to be displayed as a way of signifying the new basilica’s connection to the ministry of the Pope. If the Holy Father were to come to a minor basilica, in addition to the use of the bell in the procession, the papal umbrella would be completely opened.

The public is invited to come to this event and witness the tintinnabulum’s blessing and placement.