Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Aleteia
Wednesday 22 September |
Saint of the Day: St. Maurice and the Theban Legion
home iconSpirituality
line break icon

What is a “major” basilica?

TravelSH | Shutterstock

Philip Kosloski - published on 08/05/21

The word "major" does not refer to its size, but to the church's historical importance in the city of Rome.

Throughout the liturgical calendar, there are a handful of feasts for the dedication of various “major” basilicas.

These basilicas are located in Rome and have been celebrated by the Church for many centuries.

The word “major,” doesn’t distinguish its size or architectural beauty, but it’s historical importance.

The Catholic Encyclopedia gives a brief explanation.

To the former class belong primarily those four great churches of Rome (St. Peter’s, St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major, and St. Paul-without-the-Walls), 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. They are also called patriarchal basilicas, seemingly as representative of the great ecclesiastical provinces of the world thus symbolically united in the heart of Christendom.

  • St. John Lateran is the cathedral of the pope, the Patriarch of the West.
  • St. Peter’s is assigned to the Patriarch of Constantinople,
  • St. Paul’s to the Patriarch of Alexandria,
  • St. Mary Major to the Patriarch of Antioch.
  • St. Lawrence-outside-the-Walls is also reckoned as a greater basilica because it is specially attributed to the Patriarch of Jerusalem.

Furthermore, since they are so closely tied to the pope, “they possess a papal throne and an altar at which none may say Mass except by the pope’s permission.”

These major basilicas are also some of the oldest churches in Rome, dating back to the 4th and 5th centuries.

There exists no other major basilicas outside Rome, though there are many “minor” basilicas scattered on nearly every continent.

Tags:
ArchitectureDevotions and Feasts
Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read Aleteia.org every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...




Top 10
1
ANMOL RODRIGUEZ
Domitille Farret d'Astiès
Attacked with acid as a baby, Anmol Rodriguez overcomes and inspi...
2
ARGENTINE CHILDREN
Esteban Pittaro
Argentine “Mother Teresa” was a former model and actress who embr...
3
RESURRECTION
Philip Kosloski
Your body is not a “shell” for your spirit
4
Our Lady of La Salette
Philip Kosloski
How Our Lady of La Salette can give us hope in darkness
5
PRAY
Philip Kosloski
Pray this Psalm when you successfully recover from an illness
6
OUR LADY
Philip Kosloski
An alternative Hail Mary to Our Lady of Sorrows
7
PIER GIORGIO FRASSATI
Cerith Gardiner
12 Habits of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati that every young adult...
See More
Newsletter
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.