A basilica and a cathedral are two different types or categorizations of Christian churches that have existed since the third century AD.
The only way a church can gain the title of the basilica is to have it bestowed by the pope, usually as an acknowledgement of some 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 significant 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).
- A basilica is a church with specific architectural features or historical significance, while a cathedral is the principal Church of a diocese, housing the bishop’s throne.
- Basilicas may be designated by the Pope due to their religious, historical, or architectural importance, while cathedrals are designated by their function within the Church.
- Both basilicas and cathedrals may be large and ornate, but the term “basilica” emphasizes the building’s design or importance, whereas “cathedral” highlights its role within the diocese.
Basilica vs Cathedral
A basilica is a large, rectangular building used for public Christian worship in ancient Rome and later in the Catholic Church. A cathedral is the main church of a diocese and serves as the bishop’s seat. Cathedrals are more ornate and exquisite than basilicas. Cathedrals have more ceremonial and administrative importance.
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|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, with plentiful aisle seating, a standard trading and market ground, and 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 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, most basilicas are given their title due to some cultural significance. Still, the reasons are unique to each basilica; once the crown 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 worldwide 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 a 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 worldwide.
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 roughly three thousand four hundred cathedrals worldwide.
Cathedrals will be spacious due to mass prayer, musical performances, educational sermons, and civic meetings.
As such, cathedrals have come to be misunderstood as simply huge 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.
- Basilicas are generally long and rectangular, with a raised area and high ceiling at the opposite end of the door, whereas cathedrals tend to be huge 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; some cities have up to fifteen. Cathedrals are limited to one or sometimes two in any diocese.
- Today, approximately 1,800 Christian basilicas and 3,400 cathedrals still stand across the globe.
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Chara Yadav holds MBA in Finance. Her goal is to simplify finance-related topics. She has worked in finance for about 25 years. She has held multiple finance and banking classes for business schools and communities. Read more at her bio page.