cathedral, church in which a bishop presides. The designation is not dependent on the size or magnificence of a church edifice, but is entirely a matter of its assignment as the church in which the bishop shall officiate.
Romanesque cathedrals (see Romanesque architecture and art) were massive, blocklike, domed and heavily vaulted structures based on the traditional basilica form, reflecting the style dominant in Europe from c.1050 to c.1200. The tall, wide nave arcade or colonnade, flanked by shallower, shorter aisles, ran from decorative exterior portals to a large ambulatory and an apse with radiating chapels. The nave was crossed by a transept and illuminated by a clerestory pierced by small windows so as not to diminish the strength of the supporting walls. The Romanesque cathedral is a strong visual whole with interrelated parts that emphasize its basic structural clarity.
The great cathedrals of the 13th and 14th cent. are the culminating expression of Gothic architecture. These buildings are distinctive in their consistent use of ribbed vaults, pointed arches, rose windows, buttresses, geometric tracery, and variegated stained glass. All of these elements were combined into a design of infinite complexity and richness. Gothic interior structure, also based on basilica form, included a long central arcaded or colonnaded nave with flanking aisles, a transept, a choir, ambulatory, and apse with radiating chapels. Stained glass was used to create a light, lacy effect of spiderweb airyness, made possible by buttressing the comparatively thin walls. The exterior facade was ornamented with great portals covered with sculpture and surmounted by double towers. Further towers often rose above transepts and crossing, and the rear portion of the entire edifice was engulfed in a profusion of buttresses and pinnacles. The building's structure is entirely subordinated visually to the intricacy of its details.
Among the most important medieval cathedrals are the following: France —Amiens, Beauvais, Bourges, Chartres, Le Mans, Notre-Dame de Paris, Rouen, Reims, Strasbourg; England— Canterbury, Durham, Ely, Lincoln, Peterborough, Salisbury, Wells, Westminster Abbey, Winchester, York; Germany— Bonn, Cologne, Mainz, Speyer, Ulm, Worms; Belgium— Antwerp, Brussels, Louvain, Ypres; Italy— Como, Florence, Milan, Monreale, Orvieto, Pisa, Siena, Spain— Ávila, Burgos, Barcelona, Salamanca, Seville, Toledo; Sweden— Lund, Uppsala. Among major cathedrals built in modern times and adhering to medieval styles of architecture are St. Patrick's Cathedral and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine (Episcopal) in New York City and the cathedrals of Washington, D.C., and Liverpool, England.
See O. von Simson, The Gothic Cathedral (1956); A. Rodin, Cathedrals of France (1960); G. H. Cook, The English Cathedral through the Centuries (1965); L. Baxter, The Cathedral Builders (1978); J. Gimpel, The Cathedral Builders (tr. 1983); C. Wilson, The Gothic Cathedral (1990).