Cathedral Architecture

Cathedral architecture

The history of cathedral architecture begins around the year 312 CE. When the Byzantine emperor, Constantine I, publicly converted to Christianity and legitimized Christianity as a formal religion, the Christian church as we know it was formally organized. Although there were impressive buildings long before, calling these structures cathedrals would be misleading as bishops did not come into play until the 4th century.

With the early Christian church based largely in Rome, their architecture was mostly also based on Roman precedents. In the Roman Empire, local magistrates would hold court in a long, rectangular hall called a basilica. In one end of the hall, the magistrate would legislate and at the other end was generally a small chapel-style temple to worship the Roman gods. Basilicas were important to Romans as they constituted an unrestricted public space, something Romans valued as a right of citizenship. This meant that practically anybody could congregate in a basilica to hold meetings, socialize, or discuss important matters. When early Christians started coming together to practice their religion, they often did so in Roman basilicas.

Parts of a Cathedral

Over time, cathedrals came to share a common adhere to a basic floor plan, although there are always exceptions. Let’s start at the entrance. When you walk through the main front door of the cathedral, generally called the West Door, you enter into the narthex. The narthex is a congregating space, often separated from the main worship area by another set of doors. The narthex has changed quite a bit over the years. At times it was almost non-existent and at others it was massive. Some medieval cathedrals had large seating areas in an elevated narthex reserved for royal patrons, while others used the narthex to hold royal tombs.

Past the narthex is the main part of the church. Generally, this main part has three central aisles. The middle aisle is called the nave. The side aisles were historically used for people passing through the church to get to one of the chapels, while the nave was used for processionals. The front of the nave is intercepted by a long perpendicular section called the transept. If you think of a cathedral like a lowercase t, the transept is the horizontal line. Transepts often contain chapels, small areas meant for private worship. Chapels are often funded by a private donor or family, who also may have had the option to decorate it. In fact, some of the most important paintings in Western history were commissioned for private chapels.

Bom Jesus-Old Goa

The Bom Jesus Basilica, perhaps Goa’s most famous church and among the most revered by Christians worldwide, is partially in ruins but still a model of simplicity and elegance, and a fine example of Jesuit architecture.alt  This is the only church in Old Goa, which is not plastered on the outside, the lime plaster having been stripped off by a zealous Portuguese conservationist in 1950.

Located at Old Goa, 10 kilometres east of Panaji, the Bom Jesus Basilica is a World Heritage Monument.  The foundation stone of this remarkably large church was laid on 24 November 1594 and the church was consecrated by Fr. Alexia de Menezes, the Archbishop of Goa and Primate of India consecrated it when it was completed on 15 May 1605. In 1946 it was raised to the status of a minor Basilica.

The Order of Jesuits was suppressed in 1759 and its property confiscated by the Portuguese State. The church was, however allowed to continue services.  This magnificent edifice stands as a superb example of Baroque architecture in Goa.

The church is called “Bom Jesus” meaning ‘good Jesus’ or ‘infant Jesus’ to whom it is dedicated. The façade has on it, at the top, the letters, “HIS” which are the first three letters of Jesus in Greek.

The imposing facade built out of black granite in an exquisite combination of the Doric, Corinthian and composite styles, is remarkable for its simplicity. It measures 183 ft in length,55 ft in breath, and 61 ft in height. The main altar is 54 ft high and 30 ft broad. The pillars and detail are carved from basalt which was brought from Bassein, some 300 kms away. The interior of the church is built in Mosaico-Corinthian style and is remarkable for its charming simplicity.

The roof was originally tiled. The church is cruciform on plan. The flying buttresses on the northern side of the church are recent additions. A single-storeyed structure adjoining the church on its southern wing connects it with the Professed House.

The three-storeyed facade of the Church shows Ionic, Doric and Corinthian Orders, and has a main entrance flanked by two smaller ones, each having Corinthian columns supporting a pediment. There are two chapels, a main altar and a sacristy besides a choir inside the Church itself. There is a belfry is at the back.

As one enters, beneath the choir, to the right is an altar of St. Anthony and to the left is an exceedingly well-carved wooden statue of St. Francis Xavier. In the middle of the nave on the northern wall is the cenotaph of the benefactor of this church, Dom Jeronimo Mascarenhas, the Captain of Cochin, who died in 1593, bequeathing the resources out of which this church was built. The two columns supporting the choir bear slabs inscribed in Portuguese and Latin the dates of beginning of construction and the consecration.

St. Paul’s- Kolkata

St. Paul’s Cathedral is rich in its history, culture and religious relevance. Being of the major landmarks of the city, the church sees thousands of visitors every year from across the globe.

The church is one of the finest examples of buildings built using Gothic Revival style of architecture. Though the cornerstone of the church was laid in 1839, the structure was complete only by 1847. St. Paul’s Cathedral, the largest cathedral in Kolkata, is also the first cathedral that was built in the overseas territory of the British Empire.  

The church has a close resemblance to the Norwich Cathedral in England. Though the structure had witnessed earthquake twice and ruined partially, the structure was soon rebuilt to the cathedral we see today.  

It is believed that the church was built to replace St. John’s Church due to the increasing European population in the city. Designed by the famous English architect Major W. N. Forbes, the church is a beautiful piece of art with its slender vertical piers, pointed arches and counterbalancing buttresses.  

The interiors of the church has depictions of the life of Saint Paul in pictures, posters and other documents that portray his holy deeds. The ambience of the church is soothing and allows you to stay at peace with yourself, forgetting the noise and chaos around you. A special meditation point has been set up in the church for those who wish to meditate.  

St. Thomas-Chennai

San Thome Basilica is a Roman Catholic (Latin Rite) minor basilica in Santhome, in the city of Chennai (Madras), India. It was built in the 16th century by Portuguese explorers, over the tomb of Saint Thomas, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus. In 1893, it was rebuilt as a church with the status of a cathedral by the British. The British version still stands today. It was designed in Neo-Gothic style, favoured by British architects in the late 19th century. This church is one of the only three known churches in the world built over the tomb of an apostle of Jesus, the other two being St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City and Santiago de Compostela Cathedral in Galicia, Spain.

It is claimed that St. Thomas’s apostolic ministry in India took place specifically at Cranganore along the Malabar coast from 52 A.D to 68 A.D. His journey through Kerala is said to have resulted in numerous conversions. After spending 10 years on the Malabar coast he is said to have travelled Eastwards across the Deccan Plateau, arriving in Mylapore in 68 A.D. The cave at little mount is claimed to be his favourite preaching spot. A 2000 year old never drying, a miraculous stream of water on a rock face are said to be examples of the apostle’s divine exploits. A church atop St. Thomas mount was built by Portuguese in 1547 to mark the spot. It was on this St. Thomas Mount that the apostle was said to be killed by a lance which pierced through his back.

His mortal remains were believed to be buried in the location over which the present day Santhomes Cathedral Basilica stands. Sometime in the 10th century A.D a group of Nestorian Christians from Persia founded the Christian village of San Thomes and proceeded to build a church over the burial site of St. Thomas. This structure fell to ruins between 14th and 15th century. In 1522 the Portuguese moved the apostle’s remains to a new tomb and church which attained the status of Cathedral in 1606.

Pope Pius XII honored the Cathedral Church of the Archdiocese of Madras – Mylapore raising it to the rank of Minor Basilica by apostolic brief dated 16th March 1956. Massive followings and the immense devotion of people to a very ancient image of the Blessed Virgin also known as “Our Lady of Mylapore” was among the motives that prompted the Pope to bestow this honour.


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