Cathedrals and Churches

Cathedrals in Europe were the centers of Medieval life.  The Church had heavy infuence on the everyday lives of people through religious observances.  Attending mass in cathedrals and churches was essential to early Christians as it was the only way to guarantee entrance into heaven. Churches guided morals and beliefs. And most imporantly the Church controlled sacramental ritual such as baptism, confirmation, marriage, penance, and last rites.

Pilgrimage was important during the Middle Ages.  By making a pilgrimage and praying at a holy shire might allow a pilgrims' sins to be forgiven and increase their chance of going to heaven.  Many churches and cathedrals competed to attract pilgrims by having the most impressive or most holy religious relics in their possession.

La Cathedrale De Reims

Notre Dame De Reims la Reine des Cathedrals

Amiens Cathedral

Rouen Cathdral Constructed 1400-1500

The Reims Cathedral

Notre-Dame de Reims or Our Lady of Reims holds the seat of the Archdiocese of Reims and was once where the kings of France were coronated.  Clovis I the first king of France was crowned at this location by Saint Remi in 496 AD. The construction of this cathedral began in 1211 after a fire destroyed a church that had occupied that location since 400 AD. Before that church had been there a Roman baths had been at that location. Construction was completed in 1275.  The style of this cathedral is French Gothic.

The church fell under Henry V, King of England's control during the Hundred Years' War.  It was liberated in 1429 by Joan of Arc which allowed Dauphin Charles to be crowned king at the cathedral on July 17th, 1429.  Much of the cathedral was damaged during the First World War when it served as a makeshift hospital. Repairs were made beginning in 1919 and finished in 1938.

 The Amiens Cathedral

Basilique Cathédrale Notre-Dame d'Amiens or the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Amiens is the tallest completed cathedral in France, with the largest interior of any French cathedral.  Its construction began in the early 1200s although no exact date is known.  Construction was completed in 1270.  The style of the cathedral is French Gothic.

The head of John the Baptist prompted the construction of the cathedral in 1206.  The head had been loot from the Fourth Crusade.  Many places throughout the Middle East and Europe have claimed to have the head of John the Baptist.  Although, the Amiens Cathedral's John the Baptist head was lost during the 19th century.  The cathedral has many depictions of John the Baptist during various points in his life.  A replica of the reliquary for Saint John the Baptist still exists in the cathedral today.

The Rouen Cathedral

The Cathédrale primatiale Notre-Dame de l'Assomption de Rouen or the Primatiale Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption of Rouen was at the site of a church that had been built in the late 4th century.  All of the buildings were destroyed during a Viking raid in the 9th century.  Construction of the cathedral began in 1030 and it was not officially completed until 1880.  Because of the length of time it took to construct cathedral it holds many different gothic styles that are both simple and ornate.  The original structure was built in early gothic style although part of it was lost in 1200 when a fire burned part of the cathedral.  A majority of the sections are in a High Gothic style.  The side entrances were constructed in 1300s.

The spire of the cathedral has been destroyed multiple times throughout the cathedral's history.  It was destroyed or damaged when struck by lightning in 1110, 1284, 1625, 1642 and 1822.  It was also destroyed by high winds in 1353 and 1683.  In 1822 the wooden spire was replaced with cast iron one in the Neo-Gothic style.

The Rouen Cathedral was named the tallest building in the world from 1876 to 1880.

City Street with Church

 What is the difference between a church and a cathedral?

The history of cathedrals begins in 313 AD when Roman emperor Constantine the Great converted to Christianity.  Constantine and Licinius also initiated the "Peace of the Church" with the publication of the Edict of Milan.  This allowed christians to openly worship without fear of persecution by the state.

Regardless of size and style the only thing that makes a church into a cathedral is if the church holds the seat of the bishop.  Churches which are specifically labeled cathedrals are normally a part of a larger religion hierarchy.  They exist in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, or Orthodox faiths.  Because cathedrals hold the bishop they are considered the central church of the diocese.

The title of cathedral specifically is derived from the name of the throne of the bishop, the The word is Greek and Latin for "seat" or "chair." The cathedra is raised above the clergy and faces the congregation which reaffirms the importance of the bishop and their role as teacher.



  • Bovey, Alixe. (2016). Church in the Middle Ages: from dedication to dissent.  Retrived from
  • Sorabella, Jean. (April 2011). Pilgrimage in Medieval Europe. Retrived from
Cathedrals and Churches