Basilicas in the Catholic Church

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Floorplan of San Lorenzo in Damaso, a basilica in Rome. It is built in the basilica style: a rectangular building with a nave flanked by longitudinal aisles.

Basilicas are Catholic church buildings that have a designation, conferring special privileges, given by the Pope. Basilicas are distinguished for ceremonial purposes from other churches. The building need not be a basilica in the architectural sense (a rectangular building with a central nave flanked by two or more longitudinal aisles). Basilicas are either major basilicas, of which there are four, all in the Diocese of Rome, or minor basilicas, of which there were 1,810 worldwide as of 2019.[1]

Numerous basilicas are notable shrines, often even receiving significant pilgrimages, especially among the many that were built above a confessio or the burial place of a martyr; although this term now usually designates a space before the high altar that is sunk lower than the main floor level (as in the case in St Peter's and St John Lateran in Rome) and that offer more immediate access to the burial places below. Some Catholic basilicas are Catholic pilgrimage sites, receiving tens of millions of visitors per year.[2][3]

Churches designated as papal basilicas, in particular, possess a papal throne and a papal high altar, at which no one may celebrate Mass without the pope's permission.[4]

Ranking of churches[edit]

Conopaeum (left), tintinnabulum (right), and a papal chair (middle),[5] one of the privileges granted to a basilica

The papal or major basilicas outrank in precedence all other churches. Other rankings[which?] put the cathedral (or co-cathedral) of a bishop ahead of all other churches in the same diocese, even if they have the title of minor basilica. If the cathedral is that of a suffragan diocese, it yields precedence to the cathedral of the metropolitan see. The cathedral of a primate is considered to rank higher than that of other metropolitan(s) in his circumscription (usually a present or historical state). Other classifications of churches include collegiate churches, which may or may not also be minor basilicas.

The distinction between major basilicas and minor basilicas appears to have arisen in the early 18th century. The earliest document that records the use of the term major basilica dates from 1727.[6]

Major and papal basilicas[edit]

To the category "major basilica" belong only the four great churches of Rome, which among other distinctions have a special holy door and to which a visit is always prescribed as one of the conditions for gaining the Roman Jubilee. Only the major basilicas may prefix their titles with the adjective sacrosancta (most holy).[7]

The four major basilicas, together with the minor basilica of St Lawrence Outside-the-Walls, were formerly known as "patriarchal basilicas" as they were associated with the five ancient patriarchal sees of Christendom (see Pentarchy). Upon relinquishing the title of Patriarch of the West in 2006, Pope Benedict XVI renamed these basilicas from "patriarchal basilicas" to "papal basilicas".

Nominally, the respective patriarchs could avail of accommodation attached to the basilicas should they have business in Rome.[8] These assignments, however, are now purely historical. In some cases, more than one patriarch holds the title for the same patriarchate. For example, each of the Catholic patriarchs of the Melkite, Maronite and Syrian rites holds the title of "Patriarch of Antioch".

Gallery of major basilicas[edit]

Minor basilicas[edit]

The privileges attached to the status of minor basilica, which is conferred by papal brief, include a certain precedence before other churches, the right of the conopaeum (a baldachin resembling an umbrella; also called umbraculum, ombrellino, papilio, sinicchio, etc.) and the bell (tintinnabulum), which are carried side by side in procession at the head of the clergy on state occasions, and the cappa magna which is worn by the canons or secular members of the collegiate chapter when assisting at the Divine Office.[4] In the case of major basilicas these umbraculae are made of cloth of gold and red velvet, while those of minor basilicas are made of yellow and red silk – the colors traditionally associated with both the Papal See and the city of Rome.

Regarding minor basilicas the terms "papal minor basilica", "pontifical minor basilica" and "patriarchal minor basilica" are also in use.

Minor Basilica proclamation of the St. John the Baptist Cathedral in Savannah.

Papal minor basilicas[edit]

There are three papal minor basilicas, one in Rome, Basilica of St Lawrence Outside-the-Walls, and two in Assisi[9][10] associated with Francis of Assisi situated in or near his home town. Architecturally, the Papal Basilica of St Francis of Assisi is an aisleless nave with lateral chapels.

Pontifical minor basilicas[edit]

There are five pontifical minor basilicas in the world (the word "pontifical" referring to the title "pontiff" of a bishop, and more particularly of the Bishop of Rome):

Patriarchal minor basilicas[edit]

The description patriarchal applies to two minor basilicas[10] associated with archbishops who have the title of patriarch – the Patriarchal Cathedral Basilica of St Mark in Venice and the Patriarchal Basilica of Aquileia.

Not all patriarchal cathedrals are minor basilicas. Notably, the Patriarchal Cathedral of St Mary Major (in Lisbon, Portugal) and the Patriarchal Cathedral of Santa Catarina (in Old Goa, India) are not.

Basilicas and pilgrimages[edit]

The Basilica of Divine Mercy, constructed in 2002 in Kraków, Poland, received two million pilgrims in 2011.[2]

In recent times, the title of minor basilica has been attributed to important pilgrimage churches. In 1999 Bishop Francesco Giogia stated that the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City (constructed in the twentieth century) was the most visited Catholic shrine in the world, followed by San Giovanni Rotondo and Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida in Brazil.[3] Millions of pilgrims visit the shrines of Our Lady of Lourdes and Our Lady of Fatima. Pilgrimage basilicas continue to attract well over 30 million pilgrims per year.[3] Ireland contains two pilgrimage basilicas: Knock Shrine and St Patrick's Purgatory (Lough Derg).[11][12]

Every year, on 13 May and 13 October, the significant dates of the Fatima apparitions, pilgrims fill the country road that leads to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fátima with crowds that approach one million on each day.[13] In December 2009 the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe set a new record with 6.1 million pilgrims during Friday and Saturday for the anniversary of Our Lady of Guadalupe.[14]

Ecclesiastical basilicas by region[edit]

As of 31 December 2020, there are 1,881 Roman Catholic churches that bear the title of basilica.[15]

Region Basilicas
West Europe 1,116
East Europe 244
North America 152
Central America 26
South America 240
South and East Asia 59
Central and Southwest Asia 12
Oceania 8
Western and Northern Africa 14
Eastern and Central Africa 9
Southern Africa 1
Total 1,881

St. Mary's Cathedral in Ernakulam, India is the Episcopal See of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church. The cathedral was elevated to the status of basilica by Pope Paul VI on 20 March 1974.[16][17] St. George Forane Church in Angamaly, also of the Syro-Malabar rite, was raised to the status of basilica on 24 June 2009 by Pope Benedict XVI.[18]

On 10 May 1997 Pope John Paul II visited the Basilica of Our Lady of Lebanon in Harissa, Lebanon. The basilica is under the Maronite Catholic Patriarchate.[19] The Basilica and National Shrine of Our Lady of Lebanon in North Jackson, Ohio, US is under the jurisdiction of the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon. The shrine was elevated to the status of a minor basilica by Pope Francis on 8 July 2014.[20]

Gallery of minor basilicas around the world[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Basilicas in the World". 2019. Retrieved 12 December 2019.
  2. ^ a b Sacred Travels by Lester Meera 2011 ISBN 1-4405-2489-0 page 53
  3. ^ a b c "Eternal Word Television Network, Global Catholic Network". 13 June 1999. Retrieved 17 February 2012.
  4. ^ a b Gietmann, G. & Thurston, Herbert (1913). "Basilica" . In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  5. ^ Esconde, Ernie (12 December 2019). "Pope Francis declares Orani Church as 'Minor Basilica'". Philippine News Agency. Retrieved 25 May 2023. He said that basilica symbols like the Papal chair, umbrella, bell, Vatican logo, among others, can be seen in the altar.
  6. ^ Sergio Bianchi, Le Basiliche Minori (Rome: Marianum 1976), 2.
  7. ^ Joachim Nabuco, Ius Pontificalium: Introductio in Cæremoniale Episcoporum (Paris: Desclée & Socii, 1956), 232.
  8. ^ Dictionnaire de droit canonique, vol. 2, s.v. "basilique," p. 242 (1937).
  9. ^ "Book on Basilicas". Retrieved 17 July 2017.
  10. ^ a b The title of minor basilicas was first attributed to the church of San Nicola di Tolentino in 1783. Older minor basilicas are referred to as "immemorial basilica".
  11. ^ "St.Patrick's Basilica".
  12. ^ "Knock Basilica". Roaringwater Journal.
  13. ^ Trudy Ring, 1996, International Dictionary of Historic Places, ISBN 978-1-884964-02-2 page 245
  14. ^ Jaime Septien (14 December 2009). "6.1 Million Pilgrims Visit Guadalupe Shrine". Archived from the original on 13 November 2011. Retrieved 17 February 2012.
  15. ^ "Basilicas in the World". 2019. Retrieved 12 December 2019.
  16. ^ "St. Mary's Cathedral Basilica Ernakulam::Ernakulam - Angamaly Archeparchy:: Syro Malabar Church Parish".
  17. ^ "Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese".
  18. ^ "EDAPALLY ST. GEORGE FORANE CHURCH | Ernakulam District Website | India".
  19. ^ "History & Information". Our Lady of Lebanon. 1 July 2016.
  20. ^ "North Jackson Shrine being consecrated as Minor Basilica".

External links[edit]