Architectural excellence is not necessarily directly related to the budget since some monstrosities cost a fortune while some very low budget buildings have become icons. Having stated this, vision and awe always add to the wonderful designs of religious buildings, and the Catholic church has invested heavily since the dawn of its freedom till today in building edifices that magnificently glorify the place of prayer.
There are hundreds of amazing cathedrals to chose from, and I am sure that many will mention this fact, pointing out that there are better options than the ones I post here. There is no arguing with personal perception and taste, so this is a personal view of my top 10 cathedrals.
If you have any other cathedrals that you want to add, please feel free to do so in the feedback section of this article. The list is not set in any order, all ten cathedrals are magnificent in every way, and I consider the time and place it was built into my decision.
Saint Peters Basilica
Vatican City, Rome
No serious list of Catholic churches can start without this amazingly designed edifice. A combination of Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini, help build St. Peter’s as the most famous work of Renaissance architecture, and the world’s largest church. It is not the holiest of Catholic sites but is considered to be “The greatest of all churches in Christendom.”
Construction of the church began under Emperor Constantine the Great between 319 and 333 CE. According to tradition, almost three hundred years after St. Peters death, a shrine was built on this site of his burial spot. Saint Peter was put to death by crucifixion under Emperor Nero’ command. In the Circus Maximus in Rome.
Trondheim in Sør-Trøndelag county, Norway
This is a Romanesque and Gothic style cathedral which was built between 1070 and 1300. It is the largest cathedral in Norway and is considered to be a National Shrine and the Norwegian Coronation Church. Together with the Archbishops Palace, the Nidaros Cathedral is the most visited tourist attraction in Trondheim, Norway.
Basílica I Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família (Sagrada Familia)
So much has been said about this famous landmark, its visionary architect Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926) started work on this in 1882, and it was officially consecrated in 2010 by Pope Benedict XVI, who proclaimed it to be a minor Basilica. This UNESCO World Heritage Site attracts millions of tourists every year and rightly so. The immense detail and unusual design make this the world’s most unique Cathedral. (A basilica is ranked higher than a cathedral in Catholicism) The style Gaudi chose is a mixture of Gothic and Art Nouveau. Construction was halted during the Spanish Civil War, and it continued sporadically during the 1950’s. It is expected to be finished in 2026. Once this building is completed, the spires will make this Basilica the tallest church in the world
The completion of the spires will make Sagrada Família the tallest church building in the world as well as the church with the tallest spire in the world.
Notre Dame de Paris (Notre Dame Cathedral)
This fine example of French Gothic architecture was constructed between 1163 and 1345. It is one of the first buildings to incorporate flying buttresses. There is a lot of contrasting elements that make up this amazing structure including the many lifelike sculptures and gargoyles, and the stained-glass windows contrast well with the older Romanesque styles.
Santa Maria del Fiore (Cathedral of Florence)
This is an enormous cathedral, that spans 502 feet long, 124 feet wide, and 295 feet at the crossing. The aisles are 75 feet high, and the dome is 295 feet overhead. Santa Maria del Fiore, the Cathedral of Florence, was built to be a basilica. This includes a wide central nave of four square bays, with an aisle on either side, giving the floor plan the outline of a Cross. Arnolfo di Cambio started construction in 1296. The building was finished in 1436. Filippo Brunelleschi (Supported by Cosimo de Medici) kept all his designs secret, so he could control the completion of the construction. This left a lot of the details of how he constructed the many facets, undocumented.
Hagia Sophia Cathedral
While it is now a museum, the Hagia Sofia started out as Constantinople’s foremost Byzantine Cathedral. It is a huge edifice with a central dome that is 182′-5″ from floor level, supported in part by an arcade of 40 arched windows. This is one of the largest cathedrals in the world, what is amazing is that it was built between 532 and 547 AD. It was constructed under the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I and served as the seat of the Bishop of Constantinople. Only between 1206 to 1261 was it under the power of the Bishop in Rome, during the crusades, and it fell to the Muslim Mehmet the Conqueror, the Ottoman Emperor and was converted into a Mosque between 29 May 1453 until 1931.
While we know the UK to be the first Christian country to separate from the Catholic Church when Henry VIII set himself up as head of the church over an argument involving his many divorces. The cathedral is one of the largest in Europe and is a classic example of Gothic architecture. While construction commenced in 610, it only finished in 1528, and many additional building add-ons and interior designs were carried out over the centuries. It is now an Anglican Cathedral and remains an exceptional building with millions of tourists visiting every year. On interesting fact, Richard I (Lion Heart) had his second coronation here, and Mary I (Queen of Scots) as married here to King Philip II of Spain.
The Cathedral of the Protection of Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat (Saint Basil’s Cathedral)
This is the Iconic Red Square Church sometimes mistaken for the Kremlin. In fact, these amazing multi-colored spires are the result of an architectural style that is totally unique. The church was built between 1555 and 1561 under the order of Ivan the Terrible to commemorate his victory and capture of Kazan and Astrakhan. This is a Russian Orthodox Cathedral, and it actually went through a lot of transformations between 1561 and 1945. The vivid colors of the church were added during several stages from the 1680’s to 1848.
Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul (Washington National Cathedral)
Washington D.C., United States
This neogothic cathedral is young compared to most others but is the second largest in the US and the sixth largest in the world. The construction included inbuilt flaws to show that only God is perfect. Construction started September 29, 1907, and the church opened for prayer in 1912, but the construction only completed in 1990. The cathedral has been used for three presidential state funerals and countless memorials.