What’s the Difference Between a Cathedral and a Basilica?

Faint Rainbow over Ta' PinuOne of our guests asked this question, and I had no idea what the answer was. We live within spitting distance of Ta Pinu (though, you know, I wouldn’t dream of spitting on it), a basilica that’s a popular pilgrimage destination.

Wikipedia to the rescue. Apparently there are both architectural and ecclesiastical differences. First, the basilica:

  • “In architecture, the Roman basilica was a large roofed hall erected for transacting business and disposing of legal matters. Such buildings usually contained interior colonnades that divided the space, giving aisles or arcaded spaces at one or both sides, with an apse at one end (or less often at each end), where the magistrates sat, often on a slightly raised dais.”
  • Turning to more spiritual matters, a basilica refers “to a large and important church that has been given special ceremonial rites by the Pope.” You can read more about the specific (and frankly, pretty obscure) rites here. This makes sense, because JP 2 did once visit Ta Pinu.

And here cometh the cathedral:

  • “A cathedral is a Christian church that contains the seat of a bishop. In more detailed terms it is a religious building for worship, specifically of a denomination with an episcopal hierarchy, such as the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox and some Lutheran churches, which serves as a bishop’s seat, and thus as the central church of a diocese.”
  • As for architectural considerations, they apparently vary: “Although a cathedral may be amongst the grandest of churches in the diocese…a cathedral church may be a modest structure. Early Celtic and Saxon cathedrals, for example, tended to be of diminutive size, as is the Byzantine so-called Little Metropole Cathedral of Athens.”

Another of life’s small building-categorizing mysteries solved.


  1. Thanks for this, you have no idea how many circles my head has done trying to figure this out.
    Many thank 😀

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