Travel - Locations
By: - at October 28, 2013

Top 15 Largest Cathedrals in the World

St. Peter's Cathedral, Vatican City, Italy

Beautiful places of worship have a way of captivating your imagination, whether you are a believer or not. Time, money and deep thought go into every faith fueled detail of these buildings. Whenever someone mentions the word cathedral, you can imagine how grand it is before seeing it. Many of them date back to the Middle Ages and have stood the test of time with treasures intact for future generations to enjoy. Cathedrals are set apart from many places of worship and contain a cathedra or a bishop’s ceremonial chair. They're centers of power for their diocese, which affords them special status and why you may find certain famous churches lacking from this list of 15 largest cathedrals in the world.

15)  Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral
Mexico City’s cathedral, called the Catedral Metropolitana, in Spanish is the oldest and largest in Latin America. The travel site also mentions much of the stone used to build this structure originally came from the Aztec temples of the area, which the Spanish tore down when they forced the natives to convert to Christianity. This cathedral started being built in 1567 and wasn't finished until over two centuries later. The style draws on both baroque and neoclassical architectural principles as well as the churrigueresque style native to Mexico.

Each of the cathedral’s two towers weighs 127,000 tons and overlook the Zócalo plaza. The combined weight of the roughly 6, 372 square meter building had it slowly sinking into the soft clay soil bed beneath it. This issue had the building on the World Monuments Fund's list of 100 Most Endangered Sites for years but it came off the list in 2000. This is due to the fact that funding was finally provided to reinforce the foundation and hopefully slow it down from sinking more.

Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral
Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral

Inside the cathedral
Inside the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral

14)  All Saints Cathedral, Halifax

All Saints Cathedral
All Saints Cathedral, Halifax, Canada

All Saints Cathedral in Canada is the 14th largest cathedral in the world with an area of 1,760 square meters and a gross volume of 32,162 square meters; it is one of the best examples of perpendicular gothic style in the country. You can find the only example of the wood carver Robert Thompson’s work in Canada when visiting the cathedral; it features his intricate word carvings in the sanctuary, the chancel and on the pulpit. These took over 30 years to complete and the cathedral’s pipe organs are 5,000 strong, making it the second largest in the Canadian Maritimes.

The font at All Saints was donated by England, coming from the St. Bee’s church because they no longer needed it after finding their original font that had been buried under a farmyard for over 300 years. You’ll see each of the church’s beautiful stained glass windows when touring the church; the Great Window was created by glass artist C.E. Kempe and unveiled in 1921. It was heavily damaged due to an explosion at the Bedford Magazine in 1945 but was quickly restored to full glory soon after.

Inside All Saints Cathedral
Inside All Saints Cathedral

Robert Thompson
Wood carver Robert Thompson worked on All Saints Cathedral

St. Bee's Church
The font at All Saints was donated by England, coming from the St. Bee’s church
By John Holmes, via Wikimedia Commons

13)  Amiens Cathedral
Amiens Cathedral is the tallest Gothic church in France with a spire height just under 113 meters and an area of 7,700 square meters. It also earned the title of the 13th largest cathedral in the world and the second largest in France. Amiens Cathedral is a famous work of Classical French cathedral architecture built early in the 13th century and in 1981, its superior construction as well as artifice prompted UNESCO to name it a World Heritage Site.

The first anecdotal history of a church on the site dates back to the 300's but you will find the first cathedral that can be historically documented was consecrated in 1152. The current building was planned in 1206 and workers begun laying the stone in 1220. The impetus behind this construction was to celebrate the head of John the Baptist being brought back to Amiens by the Crusades and the town wanted a proper place to house the relic. Completed before the end of the 13th century, the Amiens Cathedral is unusual in its architecture because its swift construction means the style of the church is pure as well as uninfluenced by later trends.

Amiens Cathedral
Amiens Cathedral is the tallest Gothic church in France

Inside Amiens Cathedral
 Amiens Cathedral is a famous work of Classical French cathedral architecture built early in the 13th century and in 1981
By Benh LIEU SONG, via Wikimedia Commons

12)  Washington National Cathedral
The Washington National Cathedral was completed in 1990 and is the second largest in the U.S. It was originally planned for in 1792 by Pierre L’Enfant and the original proposed site is now the National Portrait Gallery; Congress granted the Episcopalian church a charter for the cathedral  in 1893.

Despite the fact the U.S. recognizes no particular religion or sect as its own, the cathedral has a definite place in national history. Theodore Roosevelt gave the speech for the laying of the cornerstone in 1907 and in 1912 the chapel opened on the unfinished cathedral; construction halted on the cathedral during WWI due to lack of laborers. This church houses the last pulpit Martin Luther King Jr. preached from before his assassination, it has been the site for two presidential state funerals, one memorial service and the funeral for Ronald Reagan. In addition, the cathedral also held an interfaith service as a post September 11th vigil and memorial service.

Washington National Cathedral
The Washington National Cathedral was completed in 1990 and is the second largest in the U.S

Pierre L'Enfant
The Washington National Cathedral was planned for in 1792 by Pierre L’Enfant

Interior of Washington National Cathedral
Interior of Washington National Cathedral

11)  St. Paul's Cathedral
The site of St. Paul's Cathedral in London has been sacred for much longer than Christianity has existed. Ludgate Hill used to be home to a temple of the goddess Diana, aligned with a temple of Apollo at Westminster. Before this, the area within London proper is believed to have held a great megalith. From 604 CE on, the site was Christian. Since that time, three other cathedrals have been erected and destroyed; this one exists to replace an aging St. Paul’s that was destroyed by the Great London Fire. With an area of 7,875 square meters, the building represents a compromise between austerity and extravagance.

The architect charged with designing the cathedral chose an early Baroque style and Sir Christopher Wren had even more elaborate plans than the English Gothic structure that was finally completed. During the course of planning, some of the more modest church officials asked him to tone down his elaborate and ambitious vision. He complied, despite creating touches like the 108 meter high dome meant to mimic St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

St. Paul's Cathedral
St. Paul's Cathedral in London, UK

Inside St. Paul's Cathedral
Inside St. Paul's Cathedral
By Peter Morgan, via Wikimedia Commons

Christopher Wren
Christopher Wren designed St. Paul's Cathedral

10)  Cologne Cathedral
This cathedral is famous for being the greatest example of Gothic architecture in Germany and it holds a gold reliquary said to contain the remains of the Three Magi. Its 7,914 square meters makes for an impressive sized church whose myriad of dark spires has given Cologne its distinctive skyline for centuries and the current cathedral was built in the 13th century to replace the one which had burned in a fire. The side also housed a fourth century Roman temple long before Christianity came to Germany

Construction began in 1238 and the choir was ready for use by 1322 but construction came to a standstill for centuries. It was the Romantic movement of the 19th century that spurred interest in the medieval building and prompted its final completion in 1824. It was subjected to 14 separate bomb hits during World War II but managed to survive and was restored after the war. It made the list of World Heritage sites in 1996 but is now on the list of sites in danger due to its intense need for reconstruction in some areas. Be sure to look for the Gero Cross when you visit the cathedral because it is an unusual depiction for a crucifix. It shows the figure of Christ in neither the agony of dying nor the glory of triumph but dead where he is hanging; it fits the mood of the dark imposing church very well.

Cologne Cathedral
Cologne Cathedral, Germany

Inside Cologne Cathedral
Inside Cologne Cathedral
By Daniel Göhler, via Wikimedia Commons

Gero Cross
The Gero Cross is a Gothic German design
By Elke Wetzig, via Wikimedia Commons

9)  Cathedral of Our Lady of Antwerp
The Cathedral of Our Lady of Antwerp towers over its plaza in Antwerp, Belgium. This Gothic masterpiece consists of 8,000 square feet of floor room and over 10,000 square feet of roof; it is the largest cathedral in the Netherlands that ranks within the top ten worldwide. It has 49 bells, the oldest dates back to 1507 and is heavy enough to require 16 bell ringers. Its single spire has been admired since its completion by many popes and even such figures as Napoleon.

The current cathedral rests on the site of a Romanesque church that replaced a small chapel devoted to Mary. The church was gutted by fire during construction then Protestant Iconoclasts attempted to destroy its works of art and relics. The cathedral still features many wonderful works by Peter Paul Rubens that includes four separate altarpieces, despite all the trouble it's been through. The cathedral is home to Nicolas Rombouts' stained glass window depicting The Last Supper and a very remarkable marble Madonna with child.

Cathedral of Our Lady of Antwerp
Cathedral of Our Lady of Antwerp

Inside the Cathedral of Our Lady of Antwerp
Cathedral of Our Lady of Antwerp interior

8)  Cathedral of Saint Sava
The Cathedral of Saint Sava stands on the site where it is believed that Sinan Pasha burned the remains of St. Sava, who is considered the founder of the Serbian Orthodox church. This cathedral was dedicated to him and is the largest Serbian Orthodox cathedral as well as nearly the largest Orthodox cathedral in the world. Altogether, the structure boasts 8,162 square meters of floor space with the main area alone being 3,500 square meters. The church can hold 10,000 worshippers at one time and its domes are decorated with 18 different gilded crosses.

The Byzantine influenced cathedral is the center of the Serbian Orthodox church, which is an independent branch of the Orthodox faith. The cathedral’s website attributes the success of Christianity in Serbia to the fact that St. Sava and others before him worked to make the church related to the Serbian people, offering services in the common language as well as incorporating local custom. Today, the church offers services in three different languages, such as: Slavic, Serbian and English; to accommodate as many different believers as it can.

Cathedral of Saint Sava
Cathedral of Saint Sava

Interior of the Cathedral of Saint Sava
Interior of the Cathedral of Saint Sava
By George Groutas, via Wikimedia Commons

Saint Sava
Saint Sava founded theSerbian Orthodox church

7)  Basilica Cathedral of Our Lady of the Pillar
The Basilica Cathedral of Our Lady of the Pillar is known to locals as El Pilar and this church is one of two cathedrals in Zaragoza, Spain. It has a floor plan that spans 8,318 square meters and it's an important pilgrimage site. The legend behind the church is that it is named for a pillar given to St. James by the Virgin Mary on the site where the cathedral is located. It is said in 40 CE, as the saint prayed, Mary appeared to him and gave him a jasper pillar as well as a statue of herself. If you visit the church then you’ll see a small wooden hard carved statue of Mary in its shrine; this figure has been with the church since it began as a small chapel on the banks of the Ebro River.

Many notable visitors have been to the cathedral, including Pope John Paul II. Spanish children often make a pilgrimage here after their first communion if they are able to. There is a large annual festival held every year to celebrate the city’s patron saint with music, performances in the street and a procession that brings gifts of flowers as well as fruit to the chapel in the basilica. There's a small museum inside the cathedral that has the jewelry used to decorate the statue of Mary during special events as well as numerous Spanish artwork, including a few pieces by Goya.

Basilica Cathedral of Our Lady of the Pillar
Basilica Cathedral of Our Lady of the Pillar
By Armin Hornung, via Wikimedia Commons

Inside Basilica Cathedral of Our Lady of the Pillar
Inside Basilica Cathedral of Our Lady of the Pillar

6)  Liverpool Cathedral
The Liverpool Cathedral was completed in 1978 in Liverpool, UK and covers 9,687 square meters of space that feature a variety of tourist attractions, such as:  a gift shop and full service restaurant. It is the largest modern Anglican church in Europe and caters heavily to its many visitors. The church offers what it calls the “Tower Experience” that allows you to climb to the top of the church tower via two elevators and sometimes the towers are open around sunset, so you can see the spectacular view. There is also the Elizabeth Hoare Embroidery Gallery that displays beautiful religious embroidery art and a very ornate Lady Chapel. The chapel has its own organ and portraits of many notable Western women from a variety of walks of life.

Liverpool Cathedral
Liverpool Cathedral

Inside Liverpool Cathedral
Inside Liverpool Cathedral
By Dave Hamster, via Wikimedia Commons

5)  Milan Cathedral
Milan Cathedral is one of the most famous cathedrals; it is an ornately decorated and lavishly constructed piece of Gothic architecture with a polychrome statue of the Madonna atop its spires. The Milan Cathedral dominates the central square of the city of Milan, one of Italy’s fashion capitals. It is said to be the largest Catholic cathedral in the world at 8,600 square meters and beaten out only by the Seville Cathedral, depending on how you measure the actual space of the churches. It is certainly the largest cathedral in Italy, as St. Peter’s Basilica doesn’t count for this exercise.

The Cathedral doesn’t have a lot of attractions but one interesting thing for you to check out is the excavated early Christian baptistery. Mark Twain was a fan of this marble overlay cathedral, using it in his book "Innocents Aboard". The cathedral had major renovations done to its many facades that begun in 2009 and they were only recently unveiled. If you were thinking of planning a sight seeing trip that would include this church, now would be the time.

Milan Cathedral
Milan Cathedral

Milan Cathedral Interior
Milan Cathedral Interior
By Mikko Virtaperko, via Wikimedia Commons

4)  Norte Dame de Chartres
The iconic Norte Dame de Chartres Cathedral is one of the most well preserved churches of its style and it's a major pilgrimage site due to its architecture as well as its relics; the church is said to house the blessed tunic of St. Mary that was given to them by Charlemagne. Several cathedrals preceded this present one but were destroyed by fire and each time the people of Chartres built a new church bigger than the last. This current incarnation covers 10,875 square meters in total with its spires climbing into the sky 50 miles from the heart of Paris. It incorporates the crypt, west towers and the western façade of the building that burned down before it; this is why the church has its distinct nearly mismatched look.

The church has appeared in a variety of media that gave inspiration to writers, artists and movie makers alike. One of its most famous uses as a backdrop is in the Victor Hugo novel, and following movie adaptations for, the Hunchback of Notre Dame. The church is an integral part of the story as the home of Quasimodo and as a place of judgment for the protagonists as well as the antagonist of the main plot. Its rose window is a beloved focal point under which sinners can plead their case to the Virgin Mary.

Notre Dame de Chartres Cathedral
Notre Dame Cathedral
By Christopher Kramer, via Wikimedia Commons

Inside the Notre Dame Cathedral
Inside the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris
By Sergiu Dumitriu, via Wikimedia Commons

3)  Cathedral of Saint John the Divine
This New York cathedral is the largest in the Americas and nearly in the world. Still unfinished, its website says the floor plan covers 11,200 square meters and the church has an overall volume of 480,000 cubic meters. The cathedral was created as a way to bring the Catholics of many nations together; this idea was prompted by the major waves of immigration that took place in New York City. Construction began in 1892 and the cathedral has faced a myriad of construction issues. Despite sizable donations, it remains incomplete but serviceable.

The site itself has caused issues in building it and both World Wars have contributed to halts in construction, you can see evidence of this with what is known as the Pearl Harbor archway. The Pearl Harbor archway has incomplete masonry work that shows the stone carver was forced to leave his work for war and never returned to complete it, making a haunting as well as morbid reminder of the way the nation’s history impacts every area of life.

Cathedral of Saint John the Divine
Cathedral of Saint John the Divine

Cathedral of St. John the Divine's inteior
Cathedral of St. John the Divine's inteior

2)  Seville Cathedral
This cathedral is one of the largest in Europe and has been on the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites since 1987. It is a prime example of Spain’s history, particularly in its blending of Islamic and Gothic elements that make a tribute to the wealth as well as power the area flaunted after the Reconquest to prove its strength. It was built over the same 11,520 square meter footprint of the mosque that stood in the spot before but the architects added extra height, giving the building an impressive gross volume of over 500,000 square meters of space. It is easily the largest cathedral in Europe and nearly the largest church that is only outdone by a few basilicas, like St. Peter’s.

The interior of the church is covered in gold and sports elaborate 15th century choir boxes. The tomb of Christopher Columbus, brought over from his original burial place in Havana after unrest in Cuba, is displayed inside. The treasury houses silver reliquaries and a variety of famous artworks by Spanish painters. You can also catch a glimpse of the keys to the city given to Fernando by the Moorish and Jewish communities. The Royal Chapel houses the bodies of Fernando III, his wife Beatrice and his son Alfonso the Wise. The Royal Chapel houses aren't always open, so if you’re interested in seeing them then call ahead to see that it’s available for viewing.

Seville Cathedral
Seville Cathedral
By Adam Jones, Ph.D., via Wikimedia Commons

Inside Seville Cathedral
Inside Seville Cathedral
By Michal Osmenda, via Wikimedia Commons

Lincoln Cathedral
Lincoln Cathedral
By TTaylor, via Wikimedia Commons

1)  Lincoln Cathedral
Often discounted because it is not within continental Europe, Lincoln Cathedral covers an area of 12,186 square meters. William the Conqueror ordered the first cathedral built here and it was erected in only 20 years from 1072 to 1092. Its bishop, Bishop Remigius, died just days before its consecration and at one point the cathedral was destroyed by fire but was rebuilt. It is always being remodeled due to structural issues from being continually expanded over the years with its east wall moved out many times. The construction of the Cathedral was very experimental and Norman builders had to invent a lot of their techniques from scratch to copy the Gothic style.

Patrons give over one million British pounds to support the upkeep of the church, which is a favorite among tourists. The cathedral isn’t just artful but is also important to England’s history. The Magna Carta was signed by the Bishop of Lincoln and the church retains one of only two original copies of the document in existence. The church tower, which rises 271 feet, makes it the tallest church tower in the world without a spire. Another remarkable feature is the Dean’s Eye stained glass window, which contains most of its original medieval stained glass and it's a powerful depiction of the Last Judgment.

Lincoln Cathedral
Lincoln Cathedral
By Lee Haywood from Wollaton, Nottingham, England (Lincoln Cathedral), via Wikimedia Commons

Inside Lincoln Cathedral
Inside Lincoln Cathedral
By TTaylor, via Wikimedia Commons

Final Words
Cathedrals can be representative of many things beyond the scope of their religious purpose, such as: symbols of government, private enterprise, wealth,  power, strength, labor and of the lasting relationship that human nature retains with the immaterial world. The beauty of cathedrals is something that has lasted ages and may last ages to come. Even if their personal legends were to die away, their very construction is a display of art and design not easily ignored nor forgotten. Cathedrals are still representations of culture on the sites they call home and they are full of history as they are the remnant smoke of incense. You can find it carved into their walls, painted on their ceilings and gilded on their arches. Visiting a cathedral, particularly one of the behemoths on this list, invokes awe and transports you to another time as well as place that connects you with thousands of lives from the past.





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