AskDefine | Define cathedral

Dictionary Definition

cathedral adj : relating to or containing or issuing from a bishop's office or throne; "a cathedral church"


1 any large and important church
2 the principal Christian church building of a bishop's diocese

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. The principal church of a bishop's diocese which contains an episcopal throne.


the principal church of a bishop's diocese which contains an episcopal throne
  • Bosnian: katedrala
  • Chinese: 大教堂 (dà jiào táng)
  • Croatian: katedrala
  • Czech: katedrála
  • Dutch: kathedraal
  • Finnish: tuomiokirkko, katedraali
  • French: cathédrale
  • German: Kathedrale
  • Hungarian: székesegyház, katedrális, dóm
  • Italian: cattedrale, duomo
  • Japanese: 大聖堂 (だいせいどう, daiseidō)
  • Korean: 대성당 (daeseongdang)
  • Polish: katedra
  • Russian: собор
  • Serbian:
    Cyrillic: катедрала , caбop
    Roman: katedrala , sabor
  • Slovene: katedrala
  • Swedish: domkyrka, katedral

Extensive Definition

This article is about the history and organisation of the cathedral. For architecture, see Main article: Cathedral architecture of Western Europe
A cathedral (Lat. cathedra, "seat") also spelled cathedrale, is a Christian church that contains the seat of a bishop. 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.
In the Greek Orthodox Church, the terms "kathedrikos naos" (literally: "cathedral shrine") and "metropolis" (literally "mother city") are used interchangeably to describe the same thing. "Metropolis" is more common, but both terms are officially used.
There are certain variations on the use of the term "cathedral"; for example, some pre-Reformation cathedrals in Scotland now within the Church of Scotland still retain the term cathedral, despite the Church's Presbyterian polity which does not have bishops. As cathedrals are often particularly impressive edifices, the term is often used incorrectly as a designation for any large important church.
Several cathedrals in Europe, such as Strasbourg, and in England at York, Lincoln and Southwell, are referred to as Minster (German: Münster) churches, from Latin monasterium, because the establishments were served by canons living in community or may have been an abbey, prior to the Reformation. The other kind of great church in Western Europe is the abbey.


The word cathedral is derived from the Latin noun "cathedra" (seat or chair), and refers to the presence of the bishop's or archbishop's chair or throne. In the ancient world, the chair was the symbol of a teacher and thus of the bishop's role as teacher, and also of an official presiding as a magistrate and thus of the bishop's role in governing a diocese.
The word cathedral, though now grammatically used as a noun, is originally the adjective in the phrase "cathedral church", from the Latin "ecclesia cathedralis". The seat marks the place set aside in the prominent church of the diocese for the head of that diocese and is therefore a major symbol of authority.

History and organization


In the Canon law of the Catholic Church the relationship of the bishop to his cathedral is often compared to the relationship of a pastor to the parochial church. Both are pastors over an area (the diocese for the bishop and the parish for the pastor) and both are rectors over a building (the cathedral for the bishop and the parish church for the pastor). In view of this, canon lawyers often extend the metaphor and speak of the cathedral church as the one church of the diocese, and all others are deemed chapels in their relation to it. The role of the cathedral is chiefly to serve God in the community, through its hierarchical and organisational position in the church structure. A cathedral, its bishop and dignatories have traditional functions which are mostly religious in nature, but may also be closely associated with the civil and communal life of the city and region. The formal cathedral services are linked to the cycle of the year and respond to the seasons of the Northern Hemisphere. The cathedral marks times of national and local civic celebration and sadness with special services. The funerals of those famous within the community are invariably held at cathedrals. Some cathedrals, such as Aachen and Rheims are the traditional coronation places of monarchs. The bells of a cathedral are traditionally used signal the outbreak and the ending of war.

The Cathedral building

Although a cathedral may be amongst the grandest of churches in the diocese (and country), especially those dating from Medieval and Renaissance times, size and grandeur have never been requirements and (especially in modern times, where functionality is the foremost consideration) 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.
The plan of a cathedral generally takes the form of a cross which has both symbolic meaning and is functional in terms of church worship, allowing space for clergy, choir, chapels, processions a pipe organ and other activities and objects associated with cathedral tradition.
A cathedral, in common with other Christian churches has an altar or table upon which the Eucharist is laid, a lectern for reading the Bible and a pulpit from which the sermon is traditionally preached. Cathedrals also have a baptismal font for the traditional rite of washing that marks the acceptance of a new Christian, (most usually an infant) into the Church. Particularly in Italy, baptism may take place in a separate building for that purpose. Within the church, an area, usually to the eastern end, is set aside for the ceremonial seats of the dignatories of the church, as well as the choir.
Cathedrals of monastic foundation, and some of secular clergy have square cloisters which traditionally provided an open area where secular activities took place protected from wind and rain. Some cathedrals also have a chapter house where the chapter could meet. In England, where these buildings have survived, they are often octagonal. A cathedral may front onto the main square of a town, as in Florence, or it may be set in a walled close as at Canterbury. There may be a number of associated monastic or clergy buildings, a bishop's palace and often a school to educate the choristers.

Artworks, treasures and tourism

Many cathedral buildings are very famous for their architecture and have local and national significance, both artistically and historically. Many are listed among the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Cathedrals, because of their large size and the fact that they often have towers, spires or domes, have until the 20th century, been the major landmarks in cities or in views across the countryside. With highrise building, civil action has been taken in some cases, such as the Cologne Cathedral to prevent the vista of the cathedral from being spoiled.
Because many cathedrals took centuries to build and decorate, they constitute a major artistic investment for the city in which they stand. Not only may the building itself be architecturally significant, but the church often houses treasures such as stained glass, stone and wood statues, historic tombs, richly carved furniture and object of both artistic and religious significance such as reliquaries. Moreover, the cathedral often plays a major role in telling the story of the town, through its plaques, inscriptions, tombs, stained glass and paintings.
For these reason, tourists have travelled to cathedrals for hundred of years. Many cathedrals cater for tourists by charging a fee to any visitors outside service times or requesting a donation or making a charge to take photos. Cathedrals that are particularly popular tourist venues sometimes provide guides, leaflets, souvenirs and cafes.

See also


Krakow Cathedral, Poland Palayamkottai, Tirunelveli, in India
cathedral in Afrikaans: Katedraal
cathedral in Arabic: كاتدرائية
cathedral in Aragonese: Seo
cathedral in Bulgarian: Катедрала
cathedral in Catalan: Catedral
cathedral in Czech: Katedrála
cathedral in Welsh: Eglwys gadeiriol
cathedral in Danish: Domkirke
cathedral in German: Kathedrale
cathedral in Estonian: Katedraal
cathedral in Spanish: Catedral
cathedral in Esperanto: Katedralo
cathedral in Persian: کلیسای جامع
cathedral in French: Cathédrale
cathedral in Galician: Catedral
cathedral in Korean: 성당
cathedral in Croatian: Katedrala
cathedral in Indonesian: Katedral
cathedral in Icelandic: Dómkirkja
cathedral in Italian: Cattedrale
cathedral in Hebrew: קתדרלה
cathedral in Georgian: საკათედრო ტაძარი
cathedral in Latin: Cathedralis
cathedral in Luxembourgish: Kathedral
cathedral in Lithuanian: Katedra
cathedral in Hungarian: Székesegyház
cathedral in Dutch: Kathedraal
cathedral in Japanese: 大聖堂
cathedral in Norwegian: Katedral
cathedral in Norwegian Nynorsk: Domkyrkje
cathedral in Polish: Katedra (budynek)
cathedral in Portuguese: Catedral
cathedral in Russian: Кафедральный собор
cathedral in Simple English: Cathedral
cathedral in Slovak: Katedrála
cathedral in Slovenian: Katedrala
cathedral in Serbian: Катедрала
cathedral in Finnish: Katedraali
cathedral in Swedish: Katedral
cathedral in Thai: มหาวิหาร
cathedral in Turkish: Katedral
cathedral in Vlaams: Kathedroale
cathedral in Chinese: 座堂

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

accepted, approved, authentic, authoritative, basilica, bethel, cathedral church, church, church house, conventicle, duomo, ex cathedra, house of God, house of prayer, house of worship, kirk, magisterial, meetinghouse, minor basilica, mission, official, patriarchal basilica, place of worship, received, standard
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