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Differences between Basilica and Cathedral

Differences between Basilica and Cathedral

Are you wondering what the difference is between a basilica and a cathedral? Both are religious buildings, but there is a distinction between the two. A basilica tends to be larger and has more decoration, while a cathedral is typically the most important church in a city. Let’s take a closer look at these two types of churches.

What is Basilica?

A basilica is a large and spacious church with a rectangular plan, typically having a nave, aisle, and clerestory. The word “basilica” comes from the Greek word Basilikos, which means “royal”.

  • In ancient Rome, basilicas were used as public meeting places and were often located near the forum. The Basilica of Maxentius is one of the best-preserved Roman basilicas and ancient monuments in Rome.
  • It was completed in the early 4th century AD by Emperor Maxentius and was dedicated to his son, Romulus Augustus. The Basilica of Constantine is another well-known ancient basilica that was built in the 4th century AD.
  • It is located in Constantinople (now Istanbul) and was named after Emperor Constantine I. Today, the term “basilica” is also used to refer to certain Catholic churches.

The Basilica of St. Peter in Vatican City is one of the four major papal basilicas and is considered to be the mother church of the Catholic world.

What is Cathedral?

A Cathedral is a Christian church that contains the cathedra (seat) of a bishop, thus serving as the central church of a diocese, conference, or episcopate. The equivalent word in German for such a church is Dom. Churches with the function of “cathedral” are usually specific to those Christian denominations with an episcopal hierarchy, such as the Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, and some Lutheran and Methodist churches.

  • Church buildings embodying the functions of a cathedral first appeared in Italy, Gaul, Spain, and North Africa in the 4th century, but cathedrals did not become common in England until the early 12th century.
  • Over time, the design and function of cathedrals have evolved considerably. The word “cathedral” actually derives from the Latin word “cathedra”, meaning “chair” or “throne”.
  • This refers to the fact that the Cathedral is the central church of a diocese, and contains the cathedra or “seat” of the bishop. In Greek, this word is translated as “ecclesia metropolis”, meaning “mother church”.
  • The term ” Cathedral” can also be applied to other large and important churches, such as St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome or Westminster Abbey in London which is not formally headed by bishops.

However, these churches are not normally referred to as “cathedrals” since they do not contain a cathedra. A Cathedral is typically a large and imposing building, often with one or more towers; it serves as a focal point for the local community and as a symbol of faith. Cathedrals are usually located at strategic points within cities – often on high ground – and their size and architecture often make them one of the most prominent landmarks in a cityscape.

Differences between Basilica and Cathedral

Basilicas and cathedrals are both large, ornate buildings that are typically used for Christian worship. However, there are a few key differences between the two.

  • Basilicas tend to be more rectangular in shape, while cathedrals are more triangular.
  • Basilicas also have a flat ceiling, while cathedrals often have a vaulted or arched ceiling.
  • Additionally, basilicas typically have one main aisle down the center, while cathedrals often have multiple aisles.
  • Finally, basilicas are usually built with a floor plan that is based on Roman architecture, while cathedrals often incorporate Gothic features.

These distinctions may seem minor, but they can make a big difference in the overall look and feel of the two types of buildings.


So, what’s the difference between a basilica and a cathedral? The main distinction is that cathedrals are always Anglican churches, while basilicas can be of any denomination. Cathedrals also tend to be larger than basilicas. Beyond that, there are many other differences in style and architecture between these two types of churches.

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