A cathedral (Lat. cathedra, "seat") is a Christian church that contains the seat of a bishop. It is a religious building for worship, specifically of a denomination with an episcopal hierarchy, such as the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox and some Lutheran churches, which serves as a bishop's seat, and thus as the central church of a diocese.
In the Greek Orthodox Church, the terms "kathedrikos naos" (literally: "cathedral shrine") is sometimes used for the church at which an archbishop or "metropolitan" presides. The term "metropolis" (literally "mother city") is used more commonly than "diocese" to signify an area of governance within the church.
There are certain variations on the use of the term "cathedral"; for example, some pre-Reformation cathedrals in Scotland now within the Church of Scotland still retain the term cathedral, despite the Church's Presbyterian polity which does not have bishops. As cathedrals are often particularly impressive edifices, the term is often used incorrectly as a designation for any large important church.
Several cathedrals in Europe, such as Strasbourg, and in England at York, Lincoln and Southwell, are referred to as Minster (German: Münster) churches, from Latin monasterium, because the establishments were served by canons living in community or may have been an abbey, prior to the Reformation. The other kind of great church in Western Europe is the abbey.
The word cathedral is derived from the Latin noun "cathedra" (seat or chair), and refers to the presence of the bishop's or archbishop's chair or throne. In the ancient world, the chair was the symbol of a teacher and thus of the bishop's role as teacher, and also of an official presiding as a magistrate and thus of the bishop's role in governing a diocese.
The word cathedral, though now grammatically used as a noun, is originally the adjective in the phrase "cathedral church", from the Latin "ecclesia cathedralis". The seat marks the place set aside in the prominent church of the diocese for the head of that diocese and is therefore a major symbol of authority.
In the Canon law of the Catholic Church the relationship of the bishop to his cathedral is often compared to the relationship of a pastor to the parochial church. Both are pastors over an area (the diocese for the bishop and the parish for the pastor) and both are rectors over a building (the cathedral for the bishop and the parish church for the pastor). In view of this, canon lawyers often extend the metaphor and speak of the cathedral church as the one church of the diocese, and all others are deemed chapels in their relation to it.
Cathedral churches may have different degrees of dignity:
The title of "primate" was occasionally conferred on metropolitan bishops of sees of great dignity or importance, such as Canterbury, York and Rouen, whose cathedral churches remained simply metropolitical.
Lyon, where the cathedral church is still known as La Primatiale, and Lund in Sweden, may be cited as instances of churches which were really primatial. Lyon had the archbishops of Sens and Paris and their provincial dioceses subject to it until the French Revolution, and Lund had the archbishop of Uppsala and his province subject to it.
As with the title of primate, so also that of "patriarch" has been conferred on sees such as Venice and Lisbon, the cathedral churches of which are patriarchal in name alone. The Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano, the cathedral church of Rome, is the only one in Western Europe which possesses a patriarchal character among Roman Catholics, since the Pope is the Patriarch of the Latin Rite church. However, in February of 2006, Pope Benedict XVI ceased the use of the title "Patriarch of the West".
Originally the bishop and cathedral clergy formed a kind of religious community, which, while not in the true sense a monastery, was nevertheless often called a monasterium, the word not having the restricted meaning which it afterwards acquired. In this lies the reason for the apparent anomaly that churches like York Minster and Lincoln Cathedral, which never had any monks attached to them, have inherited the name of minster or monastery. In these early communities the clergy often lived apart in their own dwellings, and were not infrequently married.
In the 8th century Chrodegang, bishop of Metz (743-766), compiled a code of rules for the clergy of the cathedral churches, which, though widely accepted in Germany and other parts of the continent, gained little acceptance in England.
According to Chrodegang's rule, the cathedral clergy were to live under a common roof, occupy a common dormitory and submit to the authority of a special officer. The rule of Chrodegang was, in fact, a modification of the Benedictine rule. Gisa, a native of Lorraine, who was bishop of Wells from 1061 to 1088, introduced it into England, and imposed its observance on the clergy of his cathedral church, but it was not followed for long there, or elsewhere in England.
In Germany and England many of the cathedral churches were monastic. In Denmark all seem to have been Benedictine at first, except Børglum, which was Premonstratensian till the Reformation. The others were changed to churches of secular canons. In Sweden, Uppsala was originally Benedictine, but was secularized about 1250, and it was ordered that each of the cathedral churches of Sweden should have a chapter of at least fifteen secular canons.
In Medieval France monastic chapters were very common, but nearly all the monastic cathedral churches were changed to churches of secular canons before the 17th century. One of the latest to be so changed was that of Seez, in Normandy, which was Augustinian till 1547, when Pope Paul III dispensed the members from their vows, and constituted them a chapter of secular canons. The chapter of Senez was monastic till 1647, and others perhaps even later, but the majority were secularized about the time of the Reformation.
In the case of monastic cathedral churches, the internal government was that of the religious order to which the chapter belonged, and all the members kept perpetual residence.
The alternative of this was the cathedral ruled by a secular chapter; the dignities of provost, dean, precentor, chancellor, treasurer, etc., came into being for the regulation and good order of the church and its services, while the non-residence of the canons, rather than their perpetual residence, became the rule, and led to their duties being performed by a body of "vicars", who officiated for them at the services of the church.
In 1075 a council was held in London, under the presidency of Archbishop Lanfranc, which, reciting the decrees of the council of Sardica held in 347 and that of Laodicea held in 360 on this matter, ordered the bishop of the south Saxons to remove his see from Selsey to Chichester; the Wiltshire and Dorset bishop to remove his cathedra from Sherborne to Old Sarum, and the Mercian bishop, whose cathedral was then at Lichfield, to transfer it to Chester. Traces of the tribal and migratory system may still be noted in the designations of the Irish see of Meath (where the result has been that there is now no cathedral church) and Ossory, the cathedral church of which is at Kilkenny. Some of the Scottish sees were also migratory.
All the English monastic cathedral chapters were dissolved by Henry VIII and, with the exceptions of Bath and Coventry, were refounded by him as churches of secular chapters, with a dean as the head, and a certain number of canons ranging from twelve at Canterbury and Durham to four at Carlisle, and with certain subordinate officers as minor canons, gospellers, epistolers, etc. The precentorship in these churches of the "New Foundation", as they are called, is not, as in the secular churches of the "Old Foundation", a dignity, but is merely an office held by one of the minor canons.
Henry VIII also created six new cathedrals from old monastic establishments, in each case governed by secular canons. Of these, Westminster did not retain its cathedral status. Four more of England's large historic churches were later to become cathedrals, Southwell, Southwark, Ripon and St. Albans Abbey.
In some cases, the office of provost was abolished, but in others it was continued: the provost, who was occasionally archdeacon as well, remaining head of the chapter. This arrangement was most commonly followed in Germany. In England the provost was almost unknown. Bishop Gisa introduced a provost as head of the chapter of Wells, but the office was afterwards subordinated to the other dignities, and the provost became simply the steward of certain of the prebendal lands. The provost of the collegiate church of Beverley was the most notable instance of such an officer in England, but at Beverley he was an external officer with authority in the government of the church, no stall in the choir and no vote in chapter.
In Germany and in Scandinavia, and in a few of the cathedral churches in the south of France, the provost was the ordinary head of the cathedral chapter, but the office was not common elsewhere. As regards France, of one hundred and thirty six cathedral churches existing at the Revolution, thirty-eight only, and those either on the borders of Germany or in the extreme south, had a provost as the head of the chapter. In others the provost existed as a subordinate officer. There were two provosts at Autun, and Lyons and Chartres had four each, all as subordinate officers.
The normal constitution of the chapter of a secular cathedral church comprised four dignitaries (there might be more), in addition to the canons. These are the Dean, the Precentor, the Chancellor and the Treasurer. These four dignitaries, occupying the four corner stalls in the choir, are called in many of the statutes the quatuor majores personae of the church.
For the most part the canons also speedily became non-resident, and this led to the distinction of residentiary and non-residentiary canons, till in most churches the number of resident canons became definitely limited in number, and the non-residentiary canons, who no longer shared in the common funds, became generally known as prebendaries only, although by their non-residence they did not forfeit their position as canons, and retained their votes in chapter like the others.
This system of non-residence led also to the institution of vicars choral, each canon having his own vicar, who sat in his stall in his absence, and when the canon was present, in the stall immediately below, on the second form. The vicars had no place or vote in chapter, and, though irremovable except for offences, were the servants of their absent canons whose stalls they occupied, and whose duties they performed. Outside Britain they were often called demi-prebendaries, and they formed the bachcrur of the French churches. As time went on the vicars were themselves often incorporated as a kind of lesser chapter, or college, under the supervision of the dean and chapter.
In its corporate capacity the chapter takes charge sede vacante of a diocese. In England, however (except as regards Salisbury and Durham), this custom has never obtained, the two archbishops having, from time immemorial, taken charge of the vacant dioceses in their respective provinces. When, however, either of the sees of Canterbury or York is vacant the chapters of those churches take charge, not only of the diocese, but of the province as well, and incidentally, therefore, of any of the dioceses of the province which may be vacant at the same time.
The plan of a cathedral generally takes the form of a cross which has both symbolic meaning and is functional in terms of church worship, allowing space for clergy, choir, chapels, processions a pipe organ and other activities and objects associated with cathedral tradition.
A cathedral, in common with other Christian churches has an altar or table upon which the Eucharist is laid, a lectern for reading the Bible and a pulpit from which the sermon is traditionally preached. Cathedrals also have a baptismal font for the traditional rite of washing that marks the acceptance of a new Christian, (most usually an infant) into the Church. Particularly in Italy, baptism may take place in a separate building for that purpose. Within the church, an area, usually to the eastern end, is set aside for the ceremonial seats of the dignatories of the church, as well as the choir.
Cathedrals of monastic foundation, and some of secular clergy have square cloisters which traditionally provided an open area where secular activities took place protected from wind and rain. Some cathedrals also have a chapter house where the chapter could meet. In England, where these buildings have survived, they are often octagonal. A cathedral may front onto the main square of a town, as in Florence, or it may be set in a walled close as at Canterbury. There may be a number of associated monastic or clergy buildings, a bishop's palace and often a school to educate the choristers.
Cathedrals, because of their large size and the fact that they often have towers, spires or domes, have until the 20th century, been the major landmarks in cities or in views across the countryside. With highrise building, civil action has been taken in some cases, such as the Cologne Cathedral to prevent the vista of the cathedral from being spoiled.
Because many cathedrals took centuries to build and decorate, they constitute a major artistic investment for the city in which they stand. Not only may the building itself be architecturally significant, but the church often houses treasures such as stained glass, stone and wood statues, historic tombs, richly carved furniture and object of both artistic and religious significance such as reliquaries. Moreover, the cathedral often plays a major role in telling the story of the town, through its plaques, inscriptions, tombs, stained glass and paintings.
For these reason, tourists have travelled to cathedrals for hundred of years. Many cathedrals cater for tourists by charging a fee to any visitors outside service times or requesting a donation or making a charge to take photos. Cathedrals that are particularly popular tourist venues sometimes provide guides, leaflets, souvenirs and cafes.