Do you know what makes a church a cathedral? Anne Michels was kind enough to provide me this article. Eventually, I want to explore in this section the architectural development of the church in Britain.

What makes a church a cathedral? Contrary to popular belief, it is not the size or grandeur of the building, nor does it have anything to do with the presence of stained glass, gilded vessels or an accomplished choir. It all has to do with one piece of furniture called a cathedra. Cathedra is the Latin word for “chair.” In the context of the church, a cathedra is the bishop’s chair, or throne, which is placed in the sanctuary in the apse of the church. The presence of the bishop’s cathedra represents his authority, and thus that particular church becomes his official seat in the diocese—his cathedral. In the Roman Catholic Church, as well as in the Anglican/Episcopal church, geographic jurisdictions called dioceses are created over which a bishop is placed as the spiritual overseer. (The word bishop comes from the Greek for “overseer.”) A bishop is a clergyman of the highest of the three orders of the ministry (bishop, priests, and deacons). The functions of a bishop are to preside over his diocese or missionary district, consecrate other bishops, ordain to the ministry, administer confirmation, consecrate church buildings, and administer ecclesiastical discipline. Bishops are successors of the Apostles.

Thus, a cathedral can be (and probably has been) anything from a simple structure made of mud and straw to a soaring, elaborate Gothic stone building complete with all of the trimmings mentioned above. And some regular churches—called parish churches—can be the latter as well. It all depends on where the cathedra is.

by Anne Michels

Some Cathedrals in England:

Salisbury Cathedral

St. Paul’s Cathedral in London