What is the difference between basilica, cathedral and church?

12 April, 2016

  • Discover why not all churches are created equal and what sets basilicas, cathedrals, and churches apart.
  • Learn about the unique roles and architectural styles that differentiate cathedrals and basilicas.
  • Find out how a cathedral’s function and a basilica’s title impact their significance in the religious world.
This image visually represents the majestic cathedral, traditional church, and grand basilica in a serene, historically rich setting, emphasizing their architectural grandeur and spiritual ambiance.

If you are a travel enthusiast, you will have entered many, but you may not know exactly the difference between a basilica, a cathedral and a church. Are they the same? Does it depend on the size? Does it depend on the location?

Before we get into it, this sentence will shed a lot of light on the differences between cathedrals, basilicas and churches:

Both cathedrals and basilicas are churches.

So you’ve just discovered that all those times you’ve called a building a church without knowing exactly what it was, you were right, because all cathedrals and basilicas are churches. In fact, even if you called a cathedral a church, you also got it right, because the correct name is cathedral church. Now, let’s specify what peculiarities define each of these buildings and what points they have in common.

What is a Catholic Church?

Churches are Catholic temples, that is, places of worship of the Catholic religion where religious ceremonies take place. They exist in all parts of the world and are usually classified by their architectural style. Within the churches we usually find chapels, which are places of worship dedicated to a particular saint, so they are secondary places of worship.

What is a cathedral or cathedral church?

A cathedral, the complete and correct term would be Cathedral Church as we mentioned before, is a church in which the bishop places his seat, that is to say from where he governs a geographical and administrative region that depends on this cathedral. It is therefore the main church on which the other churches of this region depend, hence the fact that they are usually imposing and richly decorated buildings.

What is a basilica?

A basilica is a church that has been given the honorary title of basilica by the Pope. A basilica is considered to be an outstanding church, due to the fact that a particular event has taken place, that many faithful come on pilgrimage, that it contains unique relics or because of its architectural value.

We can distinguish two groups of Basilicas:

  • Major Basilicas: there are only four in the world and they are in the Vatican and in Rome. They are the Basilicas of St. Peter, St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major and St. Paul Outside the Walls.
  • Minor Basilicas: All other basilicas that have been given the title of basilica by the Pope.

In this short video you can take a virtual tour of the 4 major basilicas of Rome and the Vatican:

Therefore, we can draw the following conclusions:

What is the difference between basilica and cathedral?

In the Cathedral Church lives the bishop or archbishop and the council of clergymen who support him in his tasks (cabildo), while the Basilica has received that title due to circumstances that have made it special, such as outstanding historical events or events of certain religious or historical relevance.

What is the difference between church and cathedral?

The church is any Catholic building in which religious ceremonies take place, while the Cathedral(Cathedral Church) is the residence of the bishop or archbishop together with his chapter.

We hope we have dispelled any doubts you may have on this subject.

Did you know that…? The curious fact

The best known basilica is St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, but the only Archbasilica that exists is St. John Lateran, the residence of the bishop of Rome, i.e. the Pope.

The only Archbasilica in the world, the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, residence of the pope.

By receiving this special title it differs from the other major and minor basilicas and holds the highest rank of all and is also the oldest(it was consecrated by Pope St. Sylvester in 324).

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