Major basilica

Last updated
A former papal cathedra in the cloister of the Basilica of Saint John Lateran, Rome. SanGiovanniChiostro2.JPG
A former papal cathedra in the cloister of the Basilica of Saint John Lateran, Rome.
Shield ornaments of a major basilica COA basilica.svg
Shield ornaments of a major basilica

A major basilica (Latin : Basilica maior; plural: Basilicae maiores) is one of the four highest-ranking Roman Catholic church buildings, all of which are also papal basilicas: [1] the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran, St. Peter's Basilica, the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls, and the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. All of them are located within the diocese of Rome: St. Peter's Basilica is located in Vatican City and thus within the territory and sovereign jurisdiction of the Holy See. The other three are geographically located in Italian territory, but enjoy extraterritorial status under the Lateran Treaty. The Archbasilica of Saint John in the Lateran is the seat of the Pope and the site of the Papal Cathedra, and is the oldest and first in rank of the major basilicas.

Catholic Church Largest Christian church, led by the Bishop of Rome

The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the largest Christian church, with approximately 1.3 billion baptised Catholics worldwide as of 2017. As the world's oldest continuously functioning international institution, it has played a prominent role in the history and development of Western civilisation. The church is headed by the Bishop of Rome, known as the pope. Its central administration, the Holy See, is in the Vatican City, an enclave within the city of Rome in Italy.

Church (building) Building used for Christian religious activities

A church building or church house, often simply called a church, is a building used for Christian religious activities, particularly for Christian worship services. The term is often used by Christians to refer to the physical buildings where they worship, but it is sometimes used to refer to buildings of other religions. In traditional Christian architecture, the church is often arranged in the shape of a Christian cross. When viewed from plan view the longest part of a cross is represented by the aisle and the junction of the cross is located at the altar area.

Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran Church in Rome, Italy

The Cathedral of the Most Holy Savior and of Saints John the Baptist and the Evangelist in the Lateran – also known as the Papal Archbasilica of Saint John [in] Lateran, Saint John Lateran, or the Lateran Basilica – is the cathedral church of the Diocese of Rome in the city of Rome and serves as the seat of the Roman Pontiff.


All other churches that have the title of basilica are minor basilicas (Latin : basilica minor). [2]

Basilica Building used as a place of Christian worship

The Latin word basilica has three distinct applications in modern English. Originally, the word was used to refer to an ancient Roman public building, where courts were held, as well as serving other official and public functions. It usually had the door at one end and a slightly raised platform and an apse at the other, where the magistrate or other officials were seated. The basilica was centrally located in every Roman town, usually adjacent to the main forum. Subsequently, the basilica was not built near a forum but adjacent to a palace and was known as a "palace basilica".

Minor basilica title given to some Roman Catholic churches

A minor basilica is a Catholic church building that has been granted the title of basilica by the Holy See or immemorial custom. Presently, the authorising decree is granted by the Pope through the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.


The title of "major basilica" was introduced in 1300 by Pope Boniface VIII. With the promulgation of the bull Antiquorum fida relatio, he instituted the Holy Year and set the conditions for its indulgences. Boniface VIII renewed certain "great remissions and indulgences for sins" which were to be obtained "by visiting the city of Rome and the venerable basilica of the Prince of the Apostles". He offered "not only full and copious, but the most full, pardon of all their sins" to those who fulfilled certain conditions: First, as truly penitent, they had to confess their sins, and, second, they had to visit on pilgrimage the basilicas of St. Peter and Saint Paul, the respective burial sites of the apostles Pope Saint Peter and Saint Paul.

Pope Boniface VIII 193rd Pope of the Catholic Church

Pope Boniface VIII was pope from 24 December 1294 to his death in 1303. Caetani was of baronial origin with family connections to the papacy. He spent his early career abroad in diplomatic roles.

Papal bull type of letters patent or charter issued by a Pope of the Catholic Church

A papal bull is a type of public decree, letters patent, or charter issued by a pope of the Roman Catholic Church. It is named after the leaden seal (bulla) that was traditionally appended to the end in order to authenticate it.

Indulgence A way to reduce the amount of punishment one has to undergo for sins

In the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, an indulgence is "a way to reduce the amount of punishment one has to undergo for sins". It may reduce the "temporal punishment for sin" after death, in the state or process of purification called Purgatory.

In the second jubilee year in 1350, Pope Clement VI designated as a third major basilica Saint John in the Lateran, the Cathedral of Rome. He encouraged the faithful to make daily visits to Saint John in the Lateran, besides those to the basilicas of St. Peter and Saint Paul. Finally, for the next jubilee year in 1390, the Basilica of Saint Mary Major, the oldest church in Rome dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, was added to the list. Visiting these four churches has remained one of the conditions for gaining the Roman Jubilee indulgence.

Pope Clement VI (1291–1352) fourth of the Avignon Popes, 1342–1352

Pope Clement VI, born Pierre Roger, was Pope from 7 May 1342 to his death in 1352. He was the fourth Avignon pope. Clement reigned during the first visitation of the Black Death (1348–1350), during which he granted remission of sins to all who died of the plague.

Jurisdiction thereof pursuant to the Lateran Treaty

Pursuant to the Lateran Treaty of 1929 between the Vatican City State and Italy, the three major basilicas located in Rome, but not within the territory of the Vatican City itself (as is the Major Basilica of St. Peter's), are within Italian territory and not the territory of the Vatican City State. [3] However, the Holy See fully owns these three Major Basilicas not within the territory of the Vatican City, and Italy is legally obligated to recognize its full ownership thereof [4] and to concede to these three properties "the immunity granted by International Law to the headquarters of the diplomatic agents of foreign States". [5] Thus, while of the major basilicas, the Basilica of St. Peter's alone is within the territory and sovereign jurisdiction of the Vatican City, the other three major basilicas enjoy extraterritorial status similar to that of foreign embassies while being within Italian territory. Consequently, all four of the major basilicas are patrolled internally by police agents of Vatican City State. These properties, located across Rome, are legally deemed to be essential institutions necessary to the character and mission of the Holy See for which extraterritoriality is justified.

Lateran Treaty Treaty between the Holy See and Italy establishing Vatican City State

The Lateran Treaty was one of the Lateran Pacts of 1929 or Lateran Accords, agreements made in 1929 between the Kingdom of Italy and the Holy See, settling the "Roman Question". They are named after the Lateran Palace, where they were signed on 11 February 1929. The Italian parliament ratified them on 7 June 1929. It recognized Vatican City as an independent state, with the Italian government, at the time led by Benito Mussolini as prime minister, agreeing to give the Roman Catholic Church financial compensation for the loss of the Papal States. In 1947, the Lateran Treaty was recognized in the Constitution of Italy as regulating the relations between the state and the Catholic Church.

Vatican City Independent city-state within Rome, Italy

Vatican City, officially Vatican City State, is an independent city-state enclaved within Rome, Italy. Established with the Lateran Treaty (1929), it is distinct from yet under "full ownership, exclusive dominion, and sovereign authority and jurisdiction" of the Holy See. With an area of 44 hectares, and a population of about 1,000, it is the smallest sovereign state in the world by both area and population.

Italy republic in Southern Europe

Italy, officially the Italian Republic, is a European country consisting of a peninsula delimited by the Italian Alps and surrounded by several islands. Located in the middle of the Mediterranean sea and traversed along its length by the Apennines, Italy has a largely temperate seasonal and Mediterranean climate. The country covers an area of 301,340 km2 (116,350 sq mi) and shares open land borders with France, Slovenia, Austria, Switzerland and the enclaved microstates of Vatican City and San Marino. Italy has a territorial exclave in Switzerland (Campione) and a maritime exclave in the Tunisian Sea (Lampedusa). With around 60 million inhabitants, Italy is the fourth-most populous member state of the European Union.

Papal basilicas

The four major basilicas, together with the Minor Basilica of Saint Lawrence outside the Walls, all of which are in Rome, were formerly known as "patriarchal basilicas", along with a few other churches outside of Rome. Upon relinquishing the title of "Patriarch of the West" in 2006, Pope Benedict XVI officially renamed the "patriarchal basilicas" as "Papal basilicas". [6] The five, formerly styled "patriarchal basilicas" of Rome, were previously assigned to and associated with the five ancient patriarchates of the Latin Church, or the Pentarchy: [7]

Pope Benedict XVI 265th pope of the Catholic Church

Pope Benedict XVI is a retired prelate of the Catholic Church who served as head of the Church and sovereign of the Vatican City State from 2005 until his resignation in 2013. Benedict's election as pope occurred in the 2005 papal conclave that followed the death of Pope John Paul II. Benedict chose to be known by the title "pope emeritus" upon his resignation.

Patriarch ecclesiastical title

The highest-ranking bishops in Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, the Catholic Church, and the Church of the East are termed patriarchs.

Latin Church Automonous particular church making up of most of the Western world Catholics

The Latin Church is the largest particular church of the Catholic Church, employing the Latin liturgical rites. It is one of 24 sui iuris churches, the 23 others forming the Eastern Catholic Churches. It is headed by the bishop of Rome, the pope – traditionally also called the Patriarch of the West – with cathedra in this role at the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran in Rome, Italy. The Latin Church traces its history to the earliest days of Christianity, according to Catholic tradition, through its direct leadership under the Holy See.

As indicated, the title of "patriarchal basilica", now replaced with "Papal basilica", was also officially given to two churches associated with St. Francis of Assisi and situated in or near his home town of Assisi, Italy:

Thus there are four papal major basilicas and three papal minor basilicas. In addition, there is a multitude of minor basilicas throughout the world which have not been granted the official appellation "Papal" as the aforementioned three have.

List of major basilicas

Location map Italy Rome.png
Red pog.svg
Red pog.svg
Red pog.svg
Red pog.svg
Map of Rome with locations of major basilicas marked.

To this class belong the four great ancient churches of Rome:

Privileges and attributes

These four major basilicas are distinguished by their having a holy door and for being prescribed destinations for visits as one of the conditions for gaining the Roman Jubilee. Only the Pope and his delegates may celebrate Mass at the high altar. Until recently, the four churches were open 24 hours a day; their staff included a college of priests to be continually available to hear confessions.

See also

Related Research Articles

Holy See Episcopal jurisdiction of the Catholic Church in Rome, Italy

The Holy See, also called the See of Rome, refers to the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome, known as the pope, which includes the apostolic episcopal see of the Diocese of Rome, and the universal ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the worldwide Catholic Church. Founded in the 1st century by Saints Peter and Paul, by virtue of Petrine and papal primacy according to Catholic tradition, it is the focal point of full communion for Catholics around the world. As a sovereign entity of international law representing papal jurisdiction, the Holy See is headquartered in, operates from, and exercises "exclusive dominion" over the independent Vatican City State enclave in Rome, Italy, of which the pope is sovereign. It is organized into polities of the Latin Church and the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches, and their dioceses and religious institutes.

Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls Church in Rome, Italy

The Papal Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls, commonly known as Saint Paul's Outside the Walls, is one of Rome's four ancient, papal, major basilicas, along with the basilicas of Saint John in the Lateran, Saint Peter's, and Saint Mary Major.

Santa Maria Maggiore Church in Rome, Italy

The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, or church of Santa Maria Maggiore, is a Papal major basilica and the largest Catholic Marian church in Rome, Italy.

Prisoner in the Vatican phrase describing status of the Pope during the 59-year dispute with Italy

A prisoner in the Vatican or prisoner of the Vatican is how Pope Pius IX was described following the capture of Rome by the armed forces of the Kingdom of Italy on 20 September 1870. Part of the process of Italian unification, the city's capture ended the millennial temporal rule of the popes over central Italy and allowed Rome to be designated the capital of the new nation. The appellation is also applied to Pius' successors through Pope Pius XI.

The properties of the Holy See are regulated by the 1929 Lateran Treaty signed with the Kingdom of Italy. Although part of Italian territory, some of them enjoy immunities, similar to those of foreign embassies.

Lateran Palace Ancient palace of the Roman Empire and the main papal residence in Rome

The Lateran Palace, formally the Apostolic Palace of the Lateran, is an ancient palace of the Roman Empire and later the main papal residence in southeast Rome.

The papal household or pontifical household, called until 1968 the Papal Court, consists of dignitaries who assist the pope in carrying out particular ceremonies of either a religious or a civil character.

Seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome Pilgrimage route in Rome

As the home of the Pope and the Catholic curia, as well as the locus of many sites and relics of veneration related to apostles, saints and Christian martyrs, Rome had long been a destination for pilgrims. The Via Francigena was an ancient pilgrim route between England and Rome. It was customary to end the pilgrimage with a visit to the tombs of Sts Peter and Paul. Periodically, some were moved to travel to Rome for the spiritual benefits accrued during a Jubilee. These indulgences sometimes required a visit to a specific church or churches. Pilgrims need not visit each church.

Catholic Church in Europe

The Catholic Church in Europe, also known as Roman Catholic Church in Europe, is part of worldwide Catholic Church in full communion with the Holy See in Rome, including represented Eastern Catholic missions. Demographically, Catholics are the largest religious group in Europe, while church attendance has declined in the past decades.

Agostino Vallini Catholic cardinal

Agostino Vallini is an Italian prelate of the Catholic Church. He has been a cardinal since 2006. From 2008 to 2017 he served as Vicar General of Rome. He is also the Archpriest emeritus of the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran.

The Special Administration of the Holy See was a dicastery of the Roman Curia from 1929 to 1967. It was established by Pope Pius XI on 7 June 1929 to manage the ₤it. 750 million in cash and 1,000 million in Italian government bonds transferred to the Holy See in implementation of the Financial Convention attached to the Lateran Treaty of 1929.

Administration of the Property of the Holy See was a commission that, until 1967, administered the property of the Holy See other than the money in cash and Italian government bonds received when the Financial Convention attached to the Lateran Treaty of 1929 was implemented.

Diocese of Rome Diocese of the Catholic Church in Rome, Italy

The Diocese of Rome is a diocese of the Catholic Church in Rome. The Bishop of Rome or the Roman Bishop is the Pope, the Supreme Pontiff and leader of the Catholic Church. As the Holy See, the papacy is a sovereign entity with diplomatic relations, and civil jurisdiction over the Vatican City State located geographically within Rome. The Diocese of Rome is the metropolitan diocese of the Province of Rome, an ecclesiastical province in Italy. The first Bishop of Rome was Saint Peter in the first century. The incumbent since 13 March 2013 is Pope Francis.

This is an index of Vatican City-related topics.

The Cappella Giulia, officially the Reverend Musical Chapel Julia of the Sacrosanct Papal Basilica of Saint Peter in the Vatican, is the choir of St. Peter's Basilica that sings for all solemn functions of the Vatican Chapter, such as Holy Mass, Lauds, and Vespers, when these are not celebrated by the Pope. The choir has played an important role as an interpreter and a proponent of Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony.

<i>Misericordiae vultus</i> papal bull convoking a holy year

Misericordiae vultus is a papal bull of indiction issued on April 11, 2015 by Pope Francis, proclaiming an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy from 8 December 2015, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, to 20 November 2016, the Feast of Christ the King..


  1. Wikisource-logo.svg Gietmann, G. and Thurston, Herbert (1913). "Basilica"  . In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia . New York: Robert Appleton Company.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  2. For ancient basilicas, it is common to refer to them as immemorial basilicas.
  3. Lateran Treaty of 1929, Article 15 (The Treaty of the Lateran by Benedict Williamson (London: Burns, Oates, and Washbourne Limited, 1929), pages 42-66)
  4. Lateran Treaty of 1929, Article 13 (Ibidem)
  5. Lateran Treaty of 1929, Article 15 (Ibidem)
  6. "Basilicas in Italy, Vatican City State, San Marino". Retrieved 2017-07-15.
  7. Wikisource-logo.svg Adrian Fortescue (1913). "Patriarch and Patriarchate"  . In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia . New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  8. Archbasilica Papale di San Giovanni in Laterano – Arcibasilica del Salvatore e dei Santi Giovanni Battista ed Evangelista al Laterano - Cattedrale di Roma (Annuario Pontificio 2012, ISBN   978-88-209-8722-0, p. 1293).
  9. Basilica Papale di San Pietro in Vaticano (Annuario Pontificio 2012, ISBN   978-88-209-8722-0, p. 1291).
  10. Basilica Papale di San Paolo fuori le mura (Annuario Pontificio 2012, ISBN   978-88-209-8722-0, p. 1294).
  11. Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore (Annuario Pontificio 2012, ISBN   978-88-209-8722-0, p. 1295).