First, a short lesson. The definition of a cathedral – as opposed to a church – is that it must be the seat of the bishop of a diocese. So it’s true to say that all cathedrals are churches but not all churches are cathedrals.
That’s why you may be surprised to find St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City – the world’s largest church – omitted from this list. In fact the cathedral church of the Diocese of Rome is the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran and is the official seat of the Bishop of Rome, otherwise known as the Pope. All clear? Good!
The world’s great cathedrals are wondrous feats of architecture and among the most visited places on the planet. Here are the biggest and largest cathedrals on the planet.
St Paul’s Cathedral
Location: London, UK | Construction started: 1675 | Building area: 7,875m2
One of Britain’s most iconic buildings, the huge Anglican cathedral was designed by Sir Christopher Wren in the English Baroque style, replacing the original cathedral destroyed during the Great Fire of London.
The seat of the Bishop of London has one of the world’s largest domes, believed to weigh a staggering 65,000 tonnes. It was the first church built after the sixteenth century Reformation. At the time, it was a contender for the largest cathedral in the world.
Location: Cologne, Germany | Construction started: 1258 | Building area: 7,914m2
The seat of the Archbishop of Cologne, this Catholic cathedral has stood as an iconic building for centuries. Today, among other accolades, it is the most visited tourist attraction in Germany, it is the world’s tallest twin-spired church, the biggest Gothic church in northern Europe and it has the largest church façade in the world.
It was originally designed as the place suitable for none other than the Holy Roman Emperor to worship, and is one of the world’s biggest cathedrals.
Basilica of Our Lady of Licheń
Location: Licheń Stary, Poland | Construction started: 1994 | Building area: 10,090m2
One of the world’s newest cathedrals, the Basilica of Our Lady of Licheń is also close in size to the world’s biggest cathedral. The Roman Catholic cathedral designed by architect Barbara Bielecka was completed as recently as 2004. With one of the world’s tallest church towers at 141.5 metres, it was built with symbolism at the heart of its construction.
There are thirty-three steps to the main doors representing the years of Jesus Christ’s life, and there are 365 windows, 52 doors and 12 columns representing the days, weeks and months of the year as well as the number of Jesus’ apostles.
Cathedral of St. John the Divine
Location: New York, USA | Construction started: 1892 | Building area: 11,200m2
The world’s largest Anglican cathedral is also home to the largest stained glass window in the USA. It consists of 10,000 individual pieces of glass and was designed by famous artist Charles Connick.
Nicknamed St. John the Unfinished, the cathedral is famously incomplete. The designs were constantly changed and – due to interruptions such as funding shortfalls, a devastating fire and the Second World War – little was done between 1909 and the early 2000s. It was in 2008 that it was eventually renovated and rededicated. However, the western towers, the south transept and steeple are still waiting patiently to be finished.
Location: Milan, Italy | Construction started: 1386 | Building area: 11,700m2
Italy’s largest church and the penultimate entry in the largest cathedral in the world list, Duomo di Milano is the seat of the Catholic Archbishop of Milan.
It famously took almost six centuries to finish – with the final details added as recently as 1965 – and it is one of (if not the) most impressive examples of grand Gothic architecture anywhere in the world. The cathedral is dedicated to Saint Mary and within its walls are some truly wonderful works of art, prompting author Mark Twain to pronounce about the cathedral, ‘What a wonder it is! So grand, so solemn, so vast!’
Cathedral Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady Aparecida
Location: Aparecida, Brazil | Construction started: 1955 | Building area: 12,000m2
The largest cathedral in the world and the second largest church in the world behind St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, it has a capacity for over 30,000 worshippers and was designed in the Romanesque Revival style by renowned architect Benedito Calixto Neto.
As the world’s biggest cathedral, it is the primary pilgrimage location for Brazil’s Catholic community. It has been conferred the Golden Rose, a gold ornament given by popes as a token of affection or reverence, on three occasions – in 1967 by HH Pope Paul VI, in 2007 by HH Pope Benedict XVI, and again in 2017 by HH Pope Francis.