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

St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome

A cathedral is the home church for the bishop or archbishop of a Catholic diocese. It takes its name from the bishop’s chair, called a cathedra in Latin, which traditionally represents the seat of power and authority of the leader of the diocese.

A basilica is simply an important church building designated by the pope because it carries special spiritual, historical, and/or architectural significance. Basilica is the highest permanent designation for a church building, and once a church is named a basilica, it cannot lose its basilica status.

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A basilica may or may not also be the cathedral of the diocese. For example, the University of Notre Dame has the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on its campus, but it is not where the primary cathedral of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend is located.

Here’s a short list of famous cathedrals around the world:

Here’s a short list of famous basilicas around the world:

Updated May 2017

Mike Hayes is the Director of Young Adult Ministry in the Diocese of Cleveland and a candidate for the Diaconate. He’s also the host of 5 Questions with the Paulists and the podcast Question of Faith. Mike is one of the founders of Busted Halo and has worked with young adults his entire ministry career in retreat, spiritual direction, and campus Ministry. He’s the author of "Googling God" (Paulist, 2007) and "Loving Work" (Orbis, 2012). Mike and his wife Marion live in Lakewood, OH with their dog, Vito.