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How is a cathedral different from a church?

Isn’t any big church a cathedral?

This book helps explore cathedrals, a religious term for the building which is the base for a bishop who leads the priests and the congregations in churches in a diocese, or area of responsibility. Each bishop will have a chair or throne, called a cathedra (Latin for chair) from which teachings are sent out to the member churches.

By looking at these photographs of cathedrals, one sees that most are unique, come in various sizes and colors, but typically have a cruciform layout. They have been built over the past millennium, and may have been modified, sometimes frequently. Where purpose-built, they usually have a common geographic orientation, with the main axis, the central aisle, running east-west with the main altar at the east (sunrise) and the main doorway to the west (sunset.) The transept crosses north-south. Some have been built over older churches, temples, mosques and/or sacred grounds.

Early cathedrals were built by stone masons who also served as architects and engineers. With primitive tools and deep faith, these humble people with rudimentary skills created some of the world’s greatest buildings, ‘monuments to the glory of God.’

Over centuries, these stone masons developed the various elements that now define classic cathedral architecture: pointed arches, flying buttresses, portals, self-supporting domes, gargoyles, jamb figures, stained glass windows and so much more. 

For over a thousand years, cathedrals have served as a meeting place for Christians. More importantly, they are a home for Jesus Himself. And we are all welcome in every one of them. May these photos inspire you and may they encourage you to visit as many different cathedrals as you can. Just entering a cathedral will lift your spirits and put you in touch with the Divine.

Included within this collection of cathedral photos are other large churches which are magnificent buildings, central to a Christian sect for which the leader is not a bishop. Also, the Roman Catholic Church recognizes special churches worldwide as basilicas. Some cathedrals have this designation, but not most. Then there are churches that are known familiarly as a cathedral, having never been consecrated thus, and never been the home to a bishop. Examples of each are included.

One of the curiosities that arose in my travels were the many socio-ethnic divisions within the Orthodox Christian Church. Mid eleventh century, the four Eastern (Greek) churches split from the Western (Latin) church. I encountered the two Russian orthodox churches, Greek, Ukrainian, Antiochian, and others, including two African Orthodox cathedrals. Then I began noticing different ethnic Catholic cathedrals – Polish, Greek, and Ukrainian. Within the Anglican Communion, there were Episcopalians, Anglicans, Charismatics, and Old/Ancient and Liberal Catholics.

Wikipedia is a tremendously useful resource: I've located cities with churches to explore and photograph. Of the several definitions for cathedral that I found online, this is the one I like best:

A cathedral church is a Christian place of worship that is the principal or "mother" church of a diocese and is distinguished as such by being the location for the cathedra or bishop's seat. In the strictest sense, only those Christian denominations with an episcopal hierarchy possess cathedrals. However, in common use, the term "cathedral" is often used for notable churches which were formerly part of an episcopal denomination.

This collection reflects fewer than 10% of the cathedrals worldwide. This gives me impetus to continue traveling and visiting more cathedrals. Hopefully, this book will do this for you too.

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