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cathedrals

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. The counterpart term for such a church in German is Dom from Latin domus ecclesiae or domus episcopalis; also Italian Duomo, Dutch Domkerk and cognates in many other European languages. Churches with the function of “cathedral” are specific to those Christian denominations with an episcopal hierarchy, such as the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, and some Lutheran and Methodist churches. Church buildings embodying the functions of a cathedral first appear in Italy, Gaul, Spain and North Africa in the 4th century, but cathedrals did not become universal within the Western Catholic Church until the 12th century, by which time they had developed architectural forms, institutional structures and legal identities distinct from parish churches, monastic churches and episcopal residences. In respect of the church buildings in the Greek Orthodox Church and Russian Orthodox Church, the English word “cathedral” commonly translates Katholikon and Sobor respectively, both terms having a meaning of “assembly”; but this title is also applied to monastic and other major churches without episcopal responsibilities. When the church at which an archbishop or “metropolitan” presides is specifically intended, the term kathedrikos naos (literally: “cathedral church”) is used. Following the Protestant Reformation, the Christian church in several parts of Western Europe, such as Scotland, the Netherlands, certain Swiss Cantons and parts of Germany, adopted a Presbyterian polity that did away with bishops altogether. Where ancient cathedral buildings in these lands are still in use for congregational worship, they generally retain the title and dignity of “cathedral”, maintaining and developing distinct cathedral functions, but void of hierarchical supremacy. From the 16th century onwards, but especially since the 19th century, churches originating in Western Europe have undertaken vigorous programmes of missionary activity, leading to the founding of large numbers of new dioceses with associated cathedral establishments of varying forms in Asia, Africa, Australasia, Oceania and the Americas. In addition, both the Catholic Church and Orthodox churches have formed new dioceses within formerly Protestant lands for converts and migrant co-religionists. Consequently, it is not uncommon to find Christians in a single city being served by three or more cathedrals of differing denominations. Where a parish church serves temporarily as the cathedral of a diocese, this is termed a Pro-cathedral. The cathedral church of an Archbishop or Metropolitan bishop is termed a Metropolitan cathedral. 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 the Arctic Cathedral in Tromsø, Norway. Ironically the Crystal Cathedral was recently purchased by the Catholic Church and has since been converted into a genuine Cathedral.