Shrines, Cathedrals, and Basilicas Defined
A shrine is a building or complex that is a pilgrimage destination; the main focus is a cult figure, such as a saint. Lourdes, France, has a famed shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary. There one can bathe in springs that are believed to be miraculous. One can seek spiritual, emotional, or physical healing, and many believe that they find what they seek.
A shrine can also be located in a church, marked by a relic, icon, or statue that the faithful visit for purposes of veneration.
A cathedral is a church where a bishop, archbishop, or cardinal presides. A cathedral serves as the seat of that particular diocese or archdiocese. It is usually, but not always, the most prominent religious edifice of that faith in a particular geographic area.
A basilica is a church with historical significance and one that continues to play a role in the religious life of a region. Basilicas generally have rich liturgical lives, celebrating more historical feast days than other churches and with more solemnity. Basilicas are expected to be models of liturgical celebration as well as places of pilgrimage.
“Major” basilicas are principal papal churches found only in Rome. They are of special historic note. Among them are St. Peter's, St. Mary Major, St. John Lateran, and St. Paul's Outside the Walls.
“Minor” basilicas carry special recognition from the Holy See. In this country they include the Sacred Heart Basilica on the campus of the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, the Cathedral of St. Augustine in St. Augustine, Florida, and the Mission Dolores in San Francisco (one of the chain of missions originally established by Bl. Junípero Serra). Confusing though it may seem, a church does not have to have “Basilica” in its name to be considered a minor basilica.
Figure 17-1: The National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception