How a Church Earns the Title of Basilica: A Comprehensive Guide



Have you ever wondered how a church can become a basilica? The process of attaining the title of "basilica" is not as simple as one may think. It involves meeting certain criteria set by the Catholic Church, and has a rich history dating back to ancient Rome.

The term "basilica" originates from the Greek word "basiliké," which means royal or kingly. In ancient Rome, basilicas were public buildings used for administration and judicial purposes. As Christianity spread throughout Europe, many churches began adopting this architectural style to accommodate their growing congregations.

But what qualifies a church to be designated as a basilica? This prestigious title is granted by the Pope himself, who looks at factors such as historical significance, architectural beauty and importance in promoting Christian culture. Curious about what it takes to become a basilica? Read on to discover more about this fascinating topic!

How does a Church become a Basilica?

A basilica is an important and prestigious title bestowed upon certain churches by the Pope. However, not all churches can become basilicas. So, how does a church become a basilica? In this article, we will explore the history and criteria for becoming a basilica.

History of Basilicas

The word "basilica" comes from the Greek "basileus," which means king or royal. Historically, these buildings were used for public gatherings such as law courts or marketplaces in ancient Rome. Later on, during the early Christian era in Rome, they became places of worship.

Pope Pius IX issued an apostolic constitution on November 18th, 1854 that defined three types of churches: major basilicas (also known as papal or patriarchal), minor basilicas (also known as pontifical), and other churches that are simply called parish churches.

Currently there are four major patriarchal/ papal bascillicas:

  1. Saint Peter's Basillica
  2. Saint John Lateran
    3.Saint Paul Outside-the-Walls
    4.St Mary Major

There are also many minor / pontifical bascillicas throughout Italy alone; these buildings have been granted special privileges by Popes over centuries.

Criteria to Become A Major Papal/Patriarchial Basellica

Not every church can become a major papla/patriarchial bascilla though – only certain ones meeting specific criteria:


The first criterion is age; it must be old enough to have historical significance behind its walls.The church must be at least 100 years old before being considered for designation as “papala” . This ensures that it has stood against time through its architecture.Value & importance placed on historic structures should always be preserved


Another criterion relates to size: The interior space must measure at least 2,000 square meters. This requirement ensures that a basilica is large enough to accommodate significant numbers of visitors.


The architecture must be impressive and unique too. The style should be grandiose in order to grant it the prestige of being called a basilica.In some cases ,the church was built as an architectural monument from the onset, whereas in others its already existing architecture has been remodeled or enhanced over time so as to achieve such standards


Significance – A high degree of importance must have been placed on this church throughout history.It would generally have historical significance either locally or internationally. For example, it might have played a key role in Christianity's development within a certain region/country,and/or hosted important events .

Religious Importance

A Basillica may also act as an important religious site for pilgrimage by people who travel far distances because they believe visiting such historic centers brings them closer to God .

Criteria To Become A Minor / Pontifical Basellica

The process is less stringent when it comes down to becoming minor bascilicas; more churches can qualify for this status.. The basic criteria are:

  1. The local bishop applies on behalf of his diocese.
  2. Significant historical and/or cultural importance .
  3. Has special liturgical functions (e.g., hosting Holy Doors during Jubilee years)
  4. Have notable artistic works within their walls.

Once these four conditions are met ,the Pope can then grant them papal designation- following which they will be referred only pontifical "basilicas"

Conclusion: Becoming A Basillica Is No Easy Feat

In conclusion, becoming a basilica requires much more than simply being an old church with beautiful architecture.The building itself needs strong historic/cultural significance not just locally but nationally/internationally ;it should play host o many significant religious ceremonies/rites/modifications too .

It's clear that the process of becoming a basilica is no easy feat. However, being granted this prestigious title can bring many benefits to both the church and its community. These may include greater recognition from pilgrims and tourists, increased funding for preservation efforts,massive donations, higher prestige in religious circles etc…

So what are your thoughts? Do you think there should be more criteria involved in determining whether or not a church becomes a basilica? Share your insights below!


What is a basilica and how does it differ from a regular church?

A basilica is a type of church with a special status conferred upon it by the Pope. In essence, all basilicas are churches, but not all churches can be considered as basilicas. Basilicas are designated because of their historical, artistic and spiritual significance within the Catholic Church.

Basilicas have certain features that distinguish them from regular churches. They typically have grand architecture with high ceilings and ornate decorations such as frescoes and mosaics. Basilicas also have an elevated area at the front where liturgical celebrations take place, called the sanctuary or chancel. This area may be separated from the rest of the church by an altar rail or screen.

How does a church become designated as a basilica?

To become designated as a basilica, there are several requirements that must be met. First and foremost is historical significance; potential candidates must demonstrate significant history in terms of artistry or veneration to qualify for consideration.

The second requirement necessitates architectural excellence in design; potential candidates must display exceptional skillful construction methods used during its original creation so much so that its beauty has stood out over time

Thirdly there should exist ample space accessible for large congregations when holding masses making sure certain aspects were observed like appropriate seating arrangements were made available for example to prevent overcrowding.

Finally religious prominence: The Church's governing bodies will examine if this candidate has any important association with Saints or other religious figures who contributed significantly towards Christianity

Once these criteria are met succession processes follow starting from consultation between Episcopal conference president – Vatican Congregation representatives- Secretariat of State before any announcement on new Basilican congregation can get through

Who decides which churches may receive designation as bascillicas?

The decision on which Churches will receive designation rests solely on Rome-based organizations comprising experts drawn across different fields within catholicism including liturgy experts who ensure that the candidate meets all liturgical requirements as set by Rome. A commission is formed within The Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of Sacraments to oversee this process.

The final decision rests with the Pope, who may designate a church as a basilica through an apostolic letter known as a papal bull (a formal proclamation).

What benefits are there to being designated as a basilica?

There are several benefits associated with being designated as a basilica. Firstly, it signifies that the church is recognized for its historical significance and architectural beauty on both ecclesiastical and secular levels. This can lead to greater visibility, drawing in more visitors from around the world.

Secondly churches designated get special attention from Rome given their “special” status which leads them down significant line ups including papal visits or blessings during Jubilee years

Thirdly financial resources increase due to added tourism interest significantly boosting local economies hence infrastructure growth

Finally recognition usually raises morale among congregants breathing life into what may have been considered dying traditions such like pilgrimage routes etc providing them with reason renew their belief systems while upholding key religious value systems passed down over generations

How many Basilicas exist worldwide?

As of today, there are 77 minor basilicas in existence within North America alone according to research carried out by Catholic News Agency . However when speaking globally numbers extend beyond 400+ Churches located across different continents most especially Europe where most history-rich structures tend be located.. These figures change regularly due new additions made after conferral procedures have been successfully completed

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