Difference Between Cathedral and Church

Cathedral vs Church

It is the bishop who makes the difference between a cathedral and a church, not their sizes. Before we go on discussing that fact, let use first pay some attention to which religion these building belong to. All religions of the world have their places of worship that are used by followers of the faith to assemble and pray to God, in accordance with the traditions and customs mentioned in the sacred books of the religion. The places are considered holy places, and major festivals of the religion are celebrated with gaiety in these places. Cathedral and church are two such places of worship in Christianity. Though it is basically a church that is a paid visit by the devotees regularly, there are other names, such as the cathedral, chapel, and basilica that confuse those who are not Christians. This article will explain the difference between a church and a cathedral in simple terms to remove all doubts from the minds of the readers.

What is a Church?

A church is run by priests or a group of clergymen. A church is the house of worship Christians go to when they need to pray to their Lord. As a building, a church can be very simple and plain. At the same time, a church can also be very grand with a huge building, decorations and such. A city can have many churches. There is no specialty between one church and the other.

Difference Between Cathedral and Church

Church in Piketberg

What is a Cathedral?

A cathedral is basically run under the authority of a bishop, who is the highest priest in the church and housed inside the cathedral. A cathedral is a much larger place of worship than a church, and usually houses a church inside it. In fact, a cathedral is considered the largest church in a city. It is the chief church of a diocese and houses the throne of the bishop. However, just because you see a large church, you cannot call it a cathedral until you know if it is the throne of the bishop. So a cathedral, is basically a large church, but this is not a feature that distinguishes a cathedral from a church. There are examples, where another church in a city is bigger than the cathedral. What really separates a cathedral from all other churches in a place is the fact that it houses the bishop of the place inside it.

In Christianity, there are many denominations, and cathedral is associated with older and more traditional denominations, such as Roman Catholics or Eastern Orthodox. More recent denominations, such as Baptists or Methodists do not have a cathedral in their faith as their hierarchical structure does not have a bishop. However, there are instances when a cathedral remained a cathedral despite the organization having undergone a change and the bishop not remaining a part of the structure. For example, the Glasgow Cathedral does not have a bishop, yet it is still called a cathedral.

Cathedral vs Church

Exeter Cathedral

There is an interesting fact associated with the classification of church and cathedral. In Britain, the presence of a cathedral in a place amidst scores of churches indicates the fact that the place can be called a city. The practice was started by King Henry VII by founding dioceses in 6 places, and conferring the title of city to these towns. So a place could be called a city only if it had a cathedral. Diocese is an area in Catholicism.

What is the difference between Cathedral and Church?

• Church and cathedral are two of the several places that are used for worship by Christians; others being chapel, basilica, minster, and abbey.

• There may be many churches in a place, but a cathedral is often the largest of them, and houses the bishop of the city. However, a cathedral does not have to be the largest church in the city.

• The distinguishing feature of a cathedral is the throne of the bishop, and not the size of the building. When a church contains this feature, it is known as a cathedral and not as a church.

• A bishop is in charge of a cathedral while a priest or a group of priests is in charge of a church.

• In Britain, a place is classified as a city, if it has a cathedral. This practice began with King Henry VII when he founded dioceses in several places and called them cities.

• A city can have only one cathedral while it can have a number of churches.


Images Courtesy:

  1. Church in Piketberg by Danie van der Merwe (CC BY 2.0)
  2. Exeter Cathedral by  Dilaudid (CC BY-SA 3.0)
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