Apologia: The Fullness of Christian Truth

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

Types of Ecclesiastical Buildings

Interior, Milan Cathedral (1836) by James Holland


A cathedral is "the Bishop's church" -- the chief church of a diocese. The word is derived from the Greek kathedra through the Latin cathedra, meaning throne or seat, which is the symbol of authority.

A basilica is a church with important canonical status and privileges, usually due to its history. There are two types of basilicas:

Major Basilicas.
Major basilicas have a special "holy door" and a papal throne and an altar at which no one may say Mass except by the Pope's permission. They are also called "patriarchial basilicas" and are associated with the great patriarchates of the world, for ex.:

  • St. John Lateran is the cathedral of the Pope and therefore associated with him as Bishop of Rome and as Patriarch of the West
  • St. Peter's Basilica, the Patriarch of Constantinople
  • St. Paul-without-the-Walls Basilica, the Patriarch of Alexandria
  • St. Mary Major, the Patriarch of Antioch

    (the above 4 Basilicas are the original and primary Basilicas)

  • St. Lawrence-outside-the-Walls, the Patriarch of Jerusalem
  • The church of St. Francis at Assisi
  • The church of the Portiuncula

Minor Basilicas.
Minor Basilicas are specially linked to the papacy and are to be places of pastoral zeal and dedication to the liturgy, including the Divine Office ("Liturgy of the Hours"). They have a sanctuary fixture known as a conopaeum (also called a papilio, pavilion, umbellina, or sinicchio), a tall, umbrella-like canopy made of alternating bands of red and yellow silk -- the colors of the papal government -- and topped with a copper Cross, the original function of which was to shelter the patriarch. Basilicas are also allowed to have their own coat of arms and can have members carry a special tower with a small bell in processions. Some famous Minor Basilicas are Ste. Anne de Beaupré in Québec; Sacré Coeur in Montmartre, Paris; National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., etc.

An oratory is a place other than a parish church where it is canonically permissible to celebrate the Liturgy. Some are totally public, some are semi-public (such as in monasteries, hospitals, prisons, etc.), and some are private (in private homes, private oratories can only be set up by permission of the Pope).

Anyone can set up a chapel -- and there are many varieties of chapels, including chapels inside larger churches. But to be able to celebrate the Mass in a private chapel, permission of the Bishop is required. The word "chapel" (and the word "chaplain") derives from the Latin "cappa," meaning "cloak," in reference to the chapel built to house a certain relic -- the half of the cloak that St. Martin of Tours kept after giving the other half to a beggar.

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