Difference between Church, Cathedral and Basilica

By Mary Smith. Updated: March 6, 2017
Difference between Church, Cathedral and Basilica

Church, convent, cathedral, basilica, shrine, chapel or abbey ...... there are many terms in Christianity to name the buildings that are specific to this religion, and it is not always easy to tell them apart. If you are wondering what the difference between church, cathedral and basilica is, then this oneHOWTO article will dissipate all your doubts and give you all the information you need.


First of all, it is worth pointing out that both cathedrals and basilicas are above all churches. Churches are temples, that is, places of worship of the Christian religion in which religious ceremonies take place. They exist everywhere throughout the world with very varied architectural forms, from the oldest dating back to the origins of Christianity to the most modern and original.


A cathedral, its full name being "cathedral church", is a church in which we find the bishop, who is in charge of a diocese, that is to say, a geographical and administrative region depending on this cathedral. It is therefore the main church on which the other churches of this region depend, hence the fact that they are generally imposing and richly decorated buildings.

The most important and famous cathedrals in the world are Notre-Dame in Paris, St. Paul's cathedral in London, St. Basil in Moscow or Sta. Maria del Fiore in Florence.

Although not very common, a cathedral may also have the title of basilica, since it is above all an honorific and non-administrative title. This is the case for example for the basilica-cathedral of Saint-Denis.

Difference between Church, Cathedral and Basilica - Cathedral


A basilica is a church that obtained the honorary title of Basilica from the Pope, therefore, only catholic churches can be honored with the title of Basilica. A basilica is regarded as a "remarkable church", because a special event took place there, where many pilgrims go through pilgrimage, whether it contains unique relics or due to its architectural value.

The most well-known basilicas in the world are St. Peter's Basilica (Vatican City), the Dantísima Trinidad (Fátima, Portugal) or the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona (which is also an expiatory temple),

Other christian buildings of worship

There are other building names that may also be confusing if you're not familiar with Christian religion., Here are the most common:


A chapel is a church that is much smaller in size. It usually has only one room and differs from a normal church in the fact that it is nondenominational, therefore welcoming people from different confessions.


An Abbey is a type of monastery (where monks live) but that includes both monks, whom live in the monastery building; as well as a convent (where nuns live) and a place of worship for their flock. It is governed by an abbot, whom exercises as a spiritual father; and the abbess (the spiritual mother). Whereas a church is just intended as a place of worship, the Abbey may have different functions. Though it can be a big church, it is not governed by a Bishop, which is why it can't be understood as a Cathedral.


The shrine is the smallest place of worship we can find in Christianity. Not so much of a building, it is a place or object that contains a relic or a figure sacred to a certain branch of Christianity such as Saints, holy objects and others. Though they can be within a church, they don't necessarily have to be placed there but can be placed in nature, on a wall or other spaces. Some of the most important shrines are the Shrine of the Black Madonna (Poland) or the Shrine of the Holy House of Loreto.

If you want to read similar articles to Difference between Church, Cathedral and Basilica, we recommend you visit our Culture & Society category.

Write a comment

What did you think of this article?
1 comment
Why would The Archdiocese of Boston want or need to change St. Anthony's Church of Revere ,Ma. to a Shrine and What is the Difference ? Thanks A lot vmigs32
OneHowTo Editor
Hi Vmigs32,

As far as we can see, there is no plan to change St. Anthony's Church of Revere, MA to a shrine. Is it possible there is some confusion between this church and the St. Anthony Shrine in downtown Boston, MA? They are two different churches with similar names and are relatively close in Massachusetts (Revere is only about 5 miles from downtown Boston).

In terms of what is a shrine and what is a church, a shrine is a place dedicated to a specific martyr, deity, saint, etc. It is usually quite small and can exist anywhere (you often find them on street corners in towns across Europe). However, some larger churches house smaller shrines within them. In the case of St. Anthony's shrine, the whole church is named after the smaller shrine within.

Hope this helps!
Difference between Church, Cathedral and Basilica
1 of 2
Difference between Church, Cathedral and Basilica

Back to top