The words cathedral and church are oftentimes used interchangeably (and sometimes erroneously) to refer to religious Christian buildings. However, as Philip Kosloski explains in this article, whereas all cathedrals are churches, not all churches are cathedrals.
The word “church” is commonly used to refer to any building where Christians gather for worshiping purposes. But the name “cathedral,” Kosloski explains, “is given to churches that are the hub of each diocese, where the bishop typically presides at important liturgies.” The word itself refers to the bishop’s chair, the cathedra in the original Latin. The bishop sits on this cathedra when celebrating any liturgical events.
It should be noted that not all cathedrals are Gothic or even medieval, either. To some, anything built between the much contested “Fall of Rome” and the Renaissance falls under “medieval architecture,” indistinctly. But as The Medieval Podcast explains, this is a blunt simplification, for several different reasons that range from a too-long-held prejudice born in the early 15th century to simple lack of interest.
A little bit of healthy curiosity is enough to challenge the idea that no changes whatsoever occurred, whether in art, science, architecture or any other field, in more than 10 centuries. One of those many changes is the transition from Romanesque to Gothic architecture – the shift from an architectural style inspired by Roman features to another one that (allegedly) assumes and adapts the influence of Goth culture and style.
R. Howard Bloch is the Sterling Professor of French and Humanities at Yale University. His latest book is Paris and Her Cathedrals, published by W.W. Norton.