KEY WEST -- St. Mary Star of the Sea, the oldest Catholic church in South Florida, marked its designation as a minor basilica by the Vatican with a mass and ceremony Thursday evening.
Archbishop of Miami Thomas Wenski and Father John Baker of St. Mary presided over the traditional Solemn Mass With Conferral of the Insignia. More than 1,200 people attended the event.
According to archdiocese officials, "basilica" is a title of honor bestowed on a church of historic and spiritual importance. Established in 1846, St. Mary Star of the Sea is the 73rd minor basilica in the United States.
The process of becoming a basilica involved responding to 120 questions in Latin and demonstrating the church's historical significance, architectural uniqueness and spiritual characteristics.
As well as its other attributes, St. Mary Star of the Sea is renowned for the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, erected in 1922 and said to protect Key West from serious hurricane impacts.
The coat of arms for the new basilica incorporates elements including a conch shell that is the traditional symbol of the Florida Keys.