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A cathedral (French cathédrale from Latin. cathedra, "seat" from the Greek kathedra (καθέδρα), seat, bench, from kata "down" + hedra seat, base, chair) is a Christian church which contains the seat of a bishop, thus serving as the central church of a diocese, conference, or episcopate. Although the word "cathedral" is sometimes loosely applied, churches with the function of "cathedral" occur specifically and only in those denominations with an episcopal hierarchy, such as the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, and some Lutheran and Methodist churches. 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 that church's Presbyterian polity that does not have bishops. The same occurs in Germany, where Protestant churches (many with a presbyterian or congregational polity) co-operate under an umbrella organisation, the Evangelical Church in Germany, with some retaining cathedrals or using the term as a merely honorary title and function, void of any hierarchical supremacy. As cathedrals are often particularly impressive edifices, the term "cathedral" is often applied colloquially to any large and impressive church, regardless of whether it functions as a cathedral, such as the Crystal Cathedral in California or figuratively to imply that a church is of outstanding beauty such as St John the Baptist, Tideswell, known as the "Cathedral of the Peak".
Several cathedrals in Europe, such as that of Strasbourg, Essen, Freiburg i.B., 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 word 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.
Though now grammatically used as a noun, the term "cathedral" was 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 parish priest to the parochial church. Both are pastors over an area (the diocese for the bishop and the parish for the parish priest) 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 removal of a bishop's cathedra from a church deprives that church of its cathedral dignity, although often the name is retained in popular use, as for example former cathedrals acquired by the Presbyterian Church of Scotland (which lacks episcopal structure). Technically, such churches are proto-cathedrals.
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 2006, Pope Benedict XVI ceased the use of the title "Patriarch of the West".
The history of the body of clergy attached to the cathedral church is obscure, and in each case local considerations affected its development, however the main features were more or less common to all.
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.
During the 10th and 11th centuries, the cathedral clergy became more definitely organised and were divided into two classes. One was that of a monastic establishment of some recognised order of monks, often the Benedictines, while the other class was that of a college of clergy, bound by no vows except those of their ordination, but governed by a code of statutes or canons: hence the name of "canon". In this way arose the distinction between the monastic and secular cathedral churches. Outside of Great Britain, monastic cathedrals are known only at Monreale in Sicily and Downpatrick in Ireland.
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.
Prior to the Reformation all cathedrals of Western Europe were of the Roman Catholic Church. In England, much of the structure of the monastic and cathedral system was reconstituted during the English Reformation. Although the cathedrals were retained by the now independent and established Church of England, the monastic cathedral chapters were dissolved by King Henry VIII and, with two exceptions, were refounded by him as chapters of canons with a dean as the head and other clergy as minor canons.
In Germany and other parts of Europe, with the spread of the Lutheran Church, some ancient churches, like Nidaros Cathedral, Norway, and Lübeck Cathedral, Germany, became the seats of Protestant bishops, as in England. Many new churches were built which serve the regional administrative function of a cathedral. However, not all churches that function as the seat of a bishop are known as "cathedral", the custom varying from place to place, according to local tradition. Some are simply designated "church", as occurs at Budolfi Church, the Lutheran cathedral of Aalborg in Denmark.
In most of Europe, the earliest head of a secular church seems to have been the provost (praepositus, probst, etc.), who was charged not only with the internal regulation of the church and oversight of the members of the chapter and control of the services, but was also the steward or seneschal of the lands and possessions of the church. The latter often mainly engaged his attention, to the neglect of his domestic and ecclesiastical duties, and complaints were soon raised that the provost was too much mixed in worldly affairs, and was too frequently absent from his spiritual duties.
This led, in many cases, to the institution of a new officer called the "dean", who had charge of that portion of the provost's duties which related to the internal discipline of the chapter and the services of the church.
In some cases, the office of provost was abolished, but in others it was continued: the provost, who was occasionally an 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 Cathedral, 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 Minster 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 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 136 cathedral churches existing at the Revolution, 38 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 Lyon 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.
The role of dean (from decanus) seems to have derived its designation from the Benedictine "dean" who had ten monks under his charge. The role of dean came into existence to supply the place of the provost in the internal management of the church and chapter. In England every secular cathedral church was headed by a dean who was originally elected by the chapter and confirmed in office by the bishop. The dean is president of the chapter, and within the cathedral has charge of the performance of the services, taking specified portions of them by statute on the principal festivals. The dean sits in the chief stall in the choir, which is usually at the west end of the south side.
Next to the dean (as a rule) is the precentor (primicerius, cantor, etc.), whose special duty is that of regulating the musical portion of the services. The precentor presides in the dean's absence, and occupies the corresponding stall on the north side, although there are exceptions to this rule, where, as at St Paul's, the archdeacon of the cathedral city ranks second and occupies what is usually the precentor's stall.
The third dignitary is the chancellor (scholasticus, écoldtre, capiscol, magistral, etc.), who must not be confounded with the chancellor of the diocese. The chancellor of the cathedral church is charged with the oversight of its schools, ought to read divinity lectures, and superintend the lections in the choir and correct slovenly readers. The chancellor is often the secretary and librarian of the chapter. In the absence of the dean and precentor, the chancellor is president of the chapter, and within the cathedral is usually assigned the easternmost stall, on the dean's side of the choir.
The fourth dignitary is the treasurer (custo, sacrisla, cheficier) who is guardian of the fabric, and of all the furniture and ornaments of the church, and whose duty was to provide bread and wine for the Eucharist, and candles and incense. The treasurer also regulated such matters as the ringing of the bells. The treasurer's stall is opposite to that of the chancellor.
In many cathedral churches are additional dignitaries, as the praelector, subdean, vice-chancellor, succentor-canonicorum, and others, whose roles came into existence to supply the places of the other absent dignitaries, for non-residence was the fatal blot of the secular churches, and in this they contrasted very badly with the monastic churches, where all the members were in continuous residence. Besides the dignitaries there were the ordinary canons, each of whom, as a rule, held a separate prebend or endowment, besides receiving his share of the common funds 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. 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.
There was no distinction between the monastic cathedral chapters and those of the secular canons, in their relation to the bishop or diocese. In both cases the chapter was the bishop's consilium which he was bound to consult on all important matters and without doing so he could not act. Thus, a judicial decision of a bishop needed the confirmation of the chapter before it could be enforced. He could not change the service books, or "use" of the church or diocese, without capitular consent, and there are episcopal acts, such as the appointment of a diocesan chancellor, or vicar general, which still need confirmation by the chapter, but the older theory of the chapter as the bishop's council in ruling the diocese has become a thing of the past, in Europe.
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 role of the cathedral is chiefly to serve God in the community, through its hierarchical and organisational position in the church structure. The building itself, by its physical presence, symbolises both the glory of God and of the church. A cathedral, its bishop and dignitaries have traditional functions which are mostly religious in nature, but may also be closely associated with the civil and communal life of the city and region.
The cathedral is frequently the most imposing building, and one of the most ancient buildings in its town. The great size and splendor of the cathedral may be out of all proportion to the town itself. The money and talents expended on the building are seen as honoring God, and may also demonstrate both the devotion and the status of the patrons.
Cathedrals are very often oriented east/west, so that the worshipers look towards the rising sun, symbolizing the Risen Christ. The architectural form of the building most frequently has the ground plan of a cross. This form is both functional and symbolic, its symbolism referring to the cross on which Jesus was crucified. The form is liturgically functional as it allows the building to be divided into sections where different activities take place, or that are occupied by different people, such as the clergy, the choir and the laity.
The main body of the building, making the longer arm of the cross, is called the nave, and is where worshipers congregate; the term is from the Latin word for ship. The cathedral is symbolically a ship bearing the people of God through the storms of life. The nave is also used for major processions, which gather or enter at the furthest door (liturgically generally called the West Door). The aisles on each side of the nave facilitate the movement of people within the building, without disrupting worshipers in the central space.
The arms of the cross are called the transepts and often contain a number of chapels. Farthest from the main entry is the sanctuary where the Blessed Sacrament is laid on the altar or communion table for the consecration. "Sanctuary" means "Holy Place". The word has passed into modern English with an altered meaning because traditionally a criminal who could gain access to this area without capture was thereby given the sanctuary of the church.
Cathedral buildings of the Western European tradition symbolize the progression of the Christian soul towards Salvation. Many cathedrals of Eastern European tradition are centrally planned. These churches are almost always domed. The symbolism in these cathedral structures is of the hierarchy of Earth and Heaven, and often reveals its meaning through the internal decoration of the building with frescoes or mosaics.
Apart from its organisational function as the seat of the bishop, and the meeting place for the chapter of the diocese, the cathedral has a liturgical function in offering daily church services. Most cathedrals have at least three services of worship every day, often taking the form of matins, Holy Communion and an evening service which is often sung by the precentor and choir. There are often additional services on Sunday. Cathedrals generally have an area dedicated to the performance of choral services and with seating specifically for the choir and dignitories of the church and town. This part of the building is called the Choir or Quire, and is generally located between the sanctuary and the nave. Because music often plays an important part in the performance of the liturgy, cathedrals generally have a pipe organ to accompany the choir.
Cathedrals always have a font or water basin at which the rite of Baptism is performed, in which a person is formally accepted into the Christian church. The font is often placed towards the door because the Baptism signifies entry into the community of the church. In some cathedrals, most particularly in Italy, the rite of Baptism is performed in a separate building.
One of the functions of the cathedral is the reading and expounding upon the Holy Scripture. The cathedral generally has a lectern from which the scripture is read. This often takes the form of an eagle of brass or carved wood which supports the book on its outstretched wings and is the symbol of John the Evangelist. However, some cathedrals retain elaborate medieval structures on either side of the church, one for the reading of the Gospel and the other for the reading of the Epistle.
The function of expounding on the scriptures is traditionally performed from the pulpit which is generally constructed in such a way that the voice of the preacher is projected out to the congregation. The pulpit is often decorated with the winged figures of a man, a lion, a bull and an eagle, representing the Gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
The services that are held within the cathedral follow an annual cycle. The designated scriptural readings for each day of the church's year establish a pattern which alternates periods of introspection and penitence with periods of celebration, and is punctuated by the two great celebrations of Christmas and Easter.
Many cathedrals are places of pilgrimage to which people travel in order to worship or venerate a holy object or the reliquary of a saint. Many cathedrals are regarded as places that have provided rewarding religious experiences, where prayers have been answered or miracles have taken place. Pilgrimage was particularly popular in the late medieval period. Some cathedrals such as Santiago de Compostela continue to attract pilgrims.
The formal cathedral services are linked to the cycle of the year and respond to the seasons of the Northern Hemisphere, Christmas falling in the winter and Easter in the spring. Cathedrals often hold a service of thanksgiving called Harvest Festival in the autumn.
Births, marriages and deaths are often celebrated by services at cathedrals and the cathedral often acts as a repository of local history by recording these events. The cathedral marks times of national and local civic celebration and sadness with special services. The funerals of those famous within the community are invariably held at cathedrals. People who have served the community or the church are often buried within the cathedral with which they are associated. Alternatively, they may be commemorated by a memorial. Some cathedrals, such as Aachen and Rheims are the traditional coronation places of monarchs.
Another civic function of the cathedral is the imparting of significant civil information. Announcements may be to the populace from the steps of the cathedral, or within the cathedral itself.
Most cathedrals have a bell or bells. These are used to announce that a service is soon to take place. They are also used to convey information and celebration. The ringing of peals signifies a time of rejoicing, such as a wedding. An extended ringing of peals or "changes" conveys a time of great civic celebration. The slow tolling of the deepest bell signifies a death or disaster. Many cathedrals have a clock with associated chimes which announce the time. The bells of a cathedral are traditionally used to signal the outbreak and the ending of war.
Cathedrals are often associated with significant secular organisations such as the office of the local mayor and council, the local court, the local regiment, schools, sporting organisations and service clubs. The cathedral often has its own school, primarily for the education of choristers, but often including other children as well.
The cathedral, often being a large building, serves as a meeting place for many people. The cathedral often forms a centre of different activities related to community service, youth activities, study, music and decorative arts.
Cathedral buildings, especially those dating from the Medieval period, are frequently the grandest of churches in the diocese (and country). The ancient cathedrals of England, of Northern France, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Germany and Sicily, the Baroque cathedrals of South America, and many individual cathedrals from Italy and other parts of Europe, are among the largest and finest religious buildings. Many are renowned for their architecture or their decorative features such as sculpture, stained glass and frescos.
While cathedral buildings, in general, tend to be large, size and grandeur have rarely been essential requirements. Early Celtic and Saxon cathedrals tended to be of diminutive size, as is the Byzantine so-called Little Metropole Cathedral of Athens. In Italy, with a few notable exceptions such as Florence Cathedral and Milan Cathedral, cathedrals are numerous and are often similar in form and size to monastic or large parish churches. In modern times, where functionality is the foremost consideration, a cathedral church may be a modest structure.
Cathedrals of monastic foundation, and some of secular clergy have 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.
Many cathedral buildings are very famous for their architecture and have local and national significance, both artistically and historically. Many are listed among the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Many 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 objects 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 reasons, tourists have travelled to cathedrals for hundreds 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 which are particularly popular tourist venues sometimes provide guides, leaflets, souvenirs and cafes.
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