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A basilica and a cathedral are two different types or categorizations of Christian churches that have been around in some form since the third century AD.
The only way that a church can gain the title of the basilica is to have it bestowed by the pope, usually as an acknowledgment of some kind of architectural, historical, or cultural significance.
Some of the main basilicas are the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, and the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, all of which are in Rome.
If a church is to be known as a cathedral in the official sense, it must have the presence of a bishop’s chair, known as a cathedra, and be a major church inside that bishop’s diocese.
Some of the most famous cathedrals worldwide are Notre Dame de Paris (France), St. Paul’s Cathedral in London (England), and Cologne Cathedral in Cologne (Germany).
Basilica vs Cathedral
The difference between Basilica and Cathedral is that a Basilica is considered as the higher Church authority and it is divided into Basilicas major and Basilicas minor. A Cathedral is a Church that is run only by the Bishop in an area which comes under the bishop’s jurisdiction.
Comparison Table Between Basilica and Cathedral (in Tabular Form)
|Parameter of Comparison||Basilica||Cathedral|
|Defining Characteristic||Named by the pope||Home to a bishop|
|Typical Architecture||Long rectangle with a raised area opposite the door.||Very large due to events being held|
|Common function||Hold courts, as well as other official and public functions.||Prayer, music, higher learning, civic leadership.|
|Geographic distribution||No limit per city or region||One (sometimes two) per region|
|Number worldwide||Approximately 1,800||Approximately 3,400|
What is Basilica?
In the Roman age, basilicas were most often for public use, and with plentiful aisle seating was a common trading and market ground, while also being used for other business meetings.
However, as time progressed they became used more commonly for court hearings and other official and public functions.
Basilicas are typically designed to be a long rectangle with a raised area and a high domed ceiling at the end opposite the main door.
In the sixteenth century, however, architects and builders started to model many different churches on the basilica design, which continued right up until the nineteen fifties.
The title of basilica must be bestowed upon a church by the pope. There are no specific prerequisites or guidelines, and each decision is made on its merits.
However, the majority of basilicas are given their title due to some sort of cultural significance, but the reasons are unique to each basilica, and once the title is given, it cannot be taken away.
There are four major basilicas, all of which are located in Rome. They are the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, and the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore.
The rest of the basilicas elsewhere in the world are “minor basilicas”, and are not limited to one per city many cities around the world have multiple, including Buenos Aires with fifteen.
While not technically required to be termed a basilica, the word has become synonymous with the architectural style of basilica churches built in the last five hundred years.
What is Cathedral?
For a church to be given the title of the cathedral, it must be the principal building from where a bishop presides over his diocese (the geographic area he looks after and protects).
The Latin name of the bishop’s chair located inside these churches is a cathedral, which in Latin means seat, and must be present to give the title of the cathedral to a church.
Because there is only traditionally one bishop per diocese, cathedrals tend to be more sparsely distributed across the world.
However, there are approximately three hundred and twenty-two co-cathedrals, which are dioceses with two cathedrals for the pope to rule from, out of approximately three thousand four hundred cathedrals worldwide. In general, cathedrals will be built very largely and spacious due to events such as mass prayer, musical performances, educational sermons, and civil meetings taking place.
As such, cathedrals have come to be misunderstood as simply very large churches, however, this is not always the case.
The only prerequisite for a church to be designated a cathedral is for a bishop to be housed there, ruling over his diocese from the cathedra.
Main Differences Between Basilica and Cathedral
- The title of basilica must be bestowed upon a church by a pope, whereas a cathedral is where the bishop of a diocese is located and looks after his subjects.
- In general, basilicas are long and rectangular shaped, with a raised area and high ceiling at the opposite end to the door, whereas cathedrals tend to be very large buildings with a lot of open space.
- Court proceedings and other public and official functions are held in basilicas, and cathedrals are places for prayer, music, higher learning, and civic leadership.
- There is no limit on the number of basilicas in a given region, and some cities have up to fifteen. Cathedrals are limited to one, or sometimes two, in any given diocese.
- Today, across the globe there are approximately 1,800 Christian basilicas and 3,400 cathedrals still standing.
Basilicas and cathedrals are two classifications of Christian churches that denote the type of activities carried out in the church, as well as the generalized architecture and layout of the structure.
A cathedral houses the bishop of a certain diocese and contains a grand chair (or cathedra in Latin), whereas a basilica is simply named so by the pope.
There are almost twice as many Christian cathedrals across the globe as there are basilicas, and many of them are popular tourist attractions or religious sites of pilgrimage still to this day.
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