Basilica

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This article is about a type of building and Christianised site. For the Byzantine code of law, see Basilika.

The Latin word basilica (derived from Greek βασιλικὴ στοά, Royal Stoa, the tribunal chamber of a king), has three distinct applications in modern English. The word was originally used to describe an open, Roman, public court building, usually located adjacent to the forum of a Roman town. By extension it was applied to Christian buildings of the same form and continues to be used in an architectural sense to describe those buildings with a central nave and aisles. Later, the term came to refer specifically to a large and important church that has been given special ceremonial rights by the Pope.

Catholic Basilicas are Catholic pilgrimage sites, receiving tens of millions of visitors per year.12 In December 2009 the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe set a new record with 6.1 million pilgrims during Friday and Saturday for the anniversary of Our Lady of Guadalupe.3

Architecture

Remains of the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine in Rome. The building's northern aisle is all that remains.
Floor plan of the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine

The Roman basilica was a large public building where business or legal matters could be transacted. The first basilicas had no religious function at all. As early as the time of Augustus, a public basilica for transacting business had been part of any settlement that considered itself a city, used in the same way as the late medieval covered market houses of northern Europe, where the meeting room, for lack of urban space, was set above the arcades, however. Although their form was variable, basilicas often contained interior colonnades that divided the space, giving aisles or arcaded spaces on one or both sides, with an apse at one end (or less often at each end), where the magistrates sat, often on a slightly raised dais. The central aisle tended to be wide and was higher than the flanking aisles, so that light could penetrate through the clerestory windows.

The oldest known basilica, the Basilica Porcia, was built in Rome in 184 BC by Cato the Elder during the time he was Censor. Other early examples include the basilica at Pompeii (late 2nd century BC).

Probably the most splendid Roman basilica (see below) is the one begun for traditional purposes during the reign of the pagan emperor Maxentius and finished by Constantine I after 313 AD.

Basilicas in the Roman Forum

Palace basilicas

In the Imperial period, a basilica for large audiences also became a feature in the palaces. In the 3rd century AD, the governing elite appeared less easily in the forums. "They now tended to dominate their cities from opulent palaces and country villas, set a little apart from traditional centers of public life. Rather than retreats from public life, however, these residences were the forum made private." (Peter Brown, in Paul Veyne, 1987). Seated in the tribune of his basilica, the great man would meet his dependent clientes early every morning.

A private basilica excavated at Bulla Regia (Tunisia), in the "House of the Hunt", dates from the first half of the 5th century. Its reception or audience hall is a long rectangular nave-like space, flanked by dependent rooms that mostly also open into one another, ending in a semi-circular apse, with matching transept spaces. The "crossing" of the two axes was emphasised with clustered columns.

Christian adoption of the basilica form

Floor plan of a Christian church of basilical form, with the transept shaded.

The remains of a large subterranean Neopythagorean basilica dating from the 1st century AD were found near the Porta Maggiore in Rome in 1915. The ground-plan of Christian basilicas in the 4th century was similar to that of this Neopythagorean basilica, which had three naves and an apse.

In the 4th century, once the Imperial authorities had decriminalised Christianity with the 313 Edict of Milan, and with the activities of Constantine the Great and his mother Helena, Christians were prepared to build larger and more handsome edifices for worship than the furtive meeting-places (such as the Cenacle, cave-churches, house churches such as that of the Roman consuls John and Paul) they had been using. Architectural formulas for temples were unsuitable, for their pagan associations, and because pagan cult ceremonies and sacrifices occurred outdoors under the open sky in the sight of the gods, with the temple, housing the cult figures and the treasury, as a backdrop. The usable model at hand, when Constantine wanted to memorialise his imperial piety, was the familiar conventional architecture of the basilicas.4

There were several variations of the basic plan of the secular basilica, always some kind of rectangular hall, but the one usually followed for churches had a central nave with one aisle at each side and an apse at one end opposite to the main door at the other end. In, and often also in front of, the apse was a raised platform, where the altar was placed, and from where the clergy officiated. In secular building this plan was more typically used for the smaller audience halls of the emperors, governors, and the very rich than for the great public basilicas functioning as law courts and other public purposes.5 Constantine built a basilica of this type in his palace complex at Trier, later very easily adopted for use as a church. It is a long rectangle two storeys high, with ranks of arch-headed windows one above the other, without aisles (there was no mercantile exchange in this imperial basilica) and, at the far end beyond a huge arch, the apse in which Constantine held state. Putting an altar instead of the throne, as was done at Trier, made a church. Basilicas of this type were built in western Europe, Greece, Syria, Egypt, and Palestine, that is, at any early center of Christianity. Good early examples of the architectural basilica include the Church of the Nativity at Bethlehem (6th century AD), the church of St Elias at Thessalonica (5th century AD), and the two great basilicas at Ravenna.

Interior of St. Mary's (German) Church - the only architecturally correct Christian Basilica built in the United States
Old St Peter's, Rome, as the 4th century basilica had developed by the mid-15th century, in a 19th-century reconstruction

The first basilicas with transepts were built under the orders of Emperor Constantine, both in Rome and in his "New Rome", Constantinople:

"Around 380, Gregory Nazianzen, describing the Constantinian Church of the Holy Apostles at Constantinople, was the first to point out its resemblance to a cross. Because the cult of the cross was spreading at about the same time, this comparison met with stunning success." (Yvon Thébert, in Veyne, 1987)

Thus, a Christian symbolic theme was applied quite naturally to a form borrowed from civil semi-public precedents. The first great Imperially sponsored Christian basilica is that of St John Lateran, which was given to the Bishop of Rome by Constantine right before or around the Edict of Milan in 313 and was consecrated in the year 324. In the later 4th-century, other Christian basilicas were built in Rome: Santa Sabina, and St Paul's Outside the Walls (4th century), and later St Clement (6th century).

A Christian basilica of the 4th or 5th century stood behind its entirely enclosed forecourt ringed with a colonnade or arcade, like the stoa or peristyle that was its ancestor or like the cloister that was its descendant. This forecourt was entered from outside through a range of buildings along the public street. This was the architectural ground-plan of St Peter's Basilica in Rome, until in the 15th century it was demolished to make way for a modern church built to a new plan.

In most basilicas, the central nave is taller than the aisles, forming a row of windows called a clerestory. Some basilicas in the Caucasus, particularly those of Georgia and Armenia, have a central nave only slightly higher than the two aisles and a single pitched roof covering all three. The result is a much darker interior. This plan is known as the "oriental basilica".

Gradually, in the early Middle Ages there emerged the massive Romanesque churches, which still kept the fundamental plan of the basilica.

In the United States the style was copied with variances. The only Christian basilica determined to be architecturally correct, St. Mary's (German) Church was demolished in 1997.

Basilicas in Eastern Orthodoxy

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the basilica is a mere architectural description of churches built in the ancient style. It bears no significance with regard to precedence or importance of the particular building or clerics associated with it. Eastern basilicas may be single-naved, or have the nave flanked by one or two pairs of lower aisles; it may have a dome in the middle: in this case it is called a "domed basilica".

Ecclesiastical basilicas

The Early Christian purpose-built basilica was the cathedral basilica of the bishop, on the model of the semi-public secular basilicas, and its growth in size and importance signalled the gradual transfer of civic power into episcopal hands, which was under way in the 5th century. Basilicas in this sense are divided into classes, the major ("greater") basilicas and the minor basilicas; there are three other papal and several pontifical minor basilicas in Italy, and over 1,400 lesser basilicas around the world.

Churches designated as papal basilicas, in particular, possess a papal throne and a papal high altar, at which no one may celebrate Mass without the pope's permission.6

Numerous basilicas are notable shrines, often even receiving significant pilgrimages, especially among the many that were built above a confessio or the burial place of a martyr – although this term now usually designates a space before the high altar that is sunk lower than the main floor level (as in the case in St Peter's and St John Lateran in Rome) and that offer more immediate access to the burial places below.

Ranking of churches

Basilica of Saint Mary in Minneapolis, MN. The first basilica established in the United States.
Basilica of Salta in Argentina.

The papal or major basilicas outrank in precedence all other churches. Other rankings put the cathedral (or co-cathedral) of a bishop ahead of all other churches in the same diocese, even if they have the title of minor basilica. If the cathedral is that of a suffragan diocese, it yields precedence to the cathedral of the metropolitan see. The cathedral of a primate is considered to rank higher than that of other metropolitan(s) in his circonscription (usually a present or historical state). Other classifications of churches include collegiate churches, which may or may not also be minor basilicas.

Major or papal basilicas

Main article: Major basilica

To this class belong only the four great papal churches of Rome, 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. Upon relinquishing in 2006 the title of Patriarch of the West, Pope Benedict XVI renamed these basilicas from "Patriarchal Basilicas" to "Papal Basilicas".

The four papal or major basilicas were formerly known as "patriarchal basilicas". Together with the minor basilica of St Lawrence outside the Walls, they were associated with the five ancient patriarchal sees of Christendom (see Pentarchy): St John Lateran was associated with Rome, St Peter's with Constantinople (present-day Istanbul), St Paul's with Alexandria (in Egypt), St Mary Major with Antioch (the Levant) and St Lawrence with Jerusalem.

Minor basilicas

Main article: Minor basilica

The privileges attached to the status of minor basilica, which is conferred by papal brief, include a certain precedence before other churches, the right of the conopaeum (a baldachin resembling an umbrella; also called umbraculum, ombrellino, papilio, sinicchio, etc.) and the bell (tintinnabulum), which are carried side by side in procession at the head of the clergy on state occasions, and the cappa magna which is worn by the canons or secular members of the collegiate chapter when assisting at the Divine Office.6 In the case of major basilicas these umbraculae are made of cloth of gold and red velvet, while those of minor basilicas are made of yellow and red silk—the colours traditionally associated with both the Papal See and the city of Rome.

Tintinnabulum and conopaeum, one of the privileges granted to a basilica

There are five "pontifical" minor basilicas in the world (the word "pontifical" meaning "papal", referring to the title pontifex maximus): Pontifical Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary of Pompeii, the Pontifical Basilica of Saint Nicholas in Bari, the Pontifical Basilica of Saint Anthony in Padua, the Pontifical Basilica of the Holy House at Loreto, the Pontifical Basilica of St Michael in Madrid, Spain.

Until Pope Benedict XVI, the title "patriarchal" (now "papal") was officially given to two minor basilicas7 associated with Saint Francis of Assisi situated in or near his home town:

The description "patriarchal" still applies to two minor basilicas7 associated with archbishops who have the title of patriarch: the Patriarchal Cathedral Basilica of St Mark in Venice and the Patriarchal Basilica of Aquileia.

Not all Patriarchal cathedrals are minor basilicas, notably: the Patriarchal Cathedral of St Mary Major in Lisbon, Portugal, the Patriarchal Cathedral of Santa Catarina, Old Goa, India.

Basilicas and pilgrimages

The Basilica of Divine Mercy, constructed in 2002 in Kraków, Poland, received 2 million pilgrims in 2011.1

In recent times, the title of minor basilica has been attributed to important pilgrimage churches. In 1999 Bishop Francesco Giogia stated that the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City (constructed in the 20th century) was the most visited Catholic shrine in the world, followed by San Giovanni Rotondo and Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida in Brazil.2 Millions of pilgrims visit the shrines of Our Lady of Lourdes and Our Lady of Fatima. Pilgrimage basilicas continue to attract well over 30 million pilgrims per year.2

Every year, on May 13 and October 13, the significant dates of the Fatima apparitions, pilgrims fill the country road that leads to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fátima with crowds that approach one million on each day.8 In December 2009 the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe set a new record with 6.1 million pilgrims during Friday and Saturday for the anniversary of Our Lady of Guadalupe.3

Ecclesiastical basilicas by region

In 2010, 1587 churches bore the title of basilica.9

Region Basilicas
Europe 1187
Americas 327
Asia 49
Oceania 6
Africa 18
Total 1587

See also

References and sources

References
  1. ^ a b Sacred Travels by Lester Meera 2011 ISBN 1-4405-2489-0 page 53
  2. ^ a b c "Eternal Word Television Network, Global Catholic Network". Ewtn.com. 1999-06-13. Retrieved 2012-02-17. 
  3. ^ a b "Zenith News December 14, 2009". Zenit.org. Retrieved 2012-02-17. 
  4. ^ "Basilica Plan Churches". Cartage.org.lb. Retrieved 2012-02-17. 
  5. ^ Syndicus, 40
  6. ^ a b Wikisource-logo.svg Gietmann, G. and Thurston, Herbert (1913). "Basilica". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 
  7. ^ a b The title of minor basilicas was first attributed to the church of San Nicola di Tolentino in 1783. Older minor basilicas are referred to as "immemorial basilica".
  8. ^ Trudy Ring, 1996, International Dictionary of Historic Places, ISBN 978-1-884964-02-2 page 245
  9. ^ Gcatholic (2010). "Basilicas in the World". Archived from the original on 22 November 2010. Retrieved 12 November 2010. 
Sources

External links


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