Illustrated Architecture Dictionary


Curia Julia (Senate House), Roman Forum, Rome, Italy
St. Anthony of Padua RC Church

1. A Roman  building, used for public administration, having a large rectangular central nave lit by a clerestory and with an aisle on each side and an apse at the end.

2. The form of the early Christian church, a central high nave with clerestory, lower aisles along the sides only, with a semicircular apse at the end. Often preceded by a vestibule (narthex) and atrium. In larger basilicas, there are often transepts, and sometimes five aisles.

Basilican is a substyle of Romanesque and Romanesque Revival. A distinguishing feature is a flat ceiling.

3. In the Roman Catholic Church today, "basilica" is also a canonical title given to certain churches and carrying special liturgical privileges.

Minor basilica: a Catholic church building that has been granted the title of basilica by the Holy See or immemorial custom.

There are about 85 Catholic Basilicas in the United States.

Cathedral: A church that is home to a bishop. A basilica may refer to anything from a church's architecture to its importance to the pope, depending on its type.


Basilicas or Roman halls of justice probably served the Early Christians as models for their churches, which thus form a connecting link between buildings of pagan Classic times and those of the Romanesque period which followed.

The term " basilica " (Gk. basilikos = kingly), which was applied to a Christian church as early as the fourth century, was a peculiarly appropriate designation for buildings dedicated to the service of the King of Kings...

A basilican church was usually erected over the burial-place of the saint to whom the church was dedicated. and immediately over this burial-place, crypt, or " confessio " was the High Altar covered by a ciborium, also known as a tabernacle or baldachino.

There were thirty-one basilican churches in Rome alone.

- Sir Banister-Fletcher, A History of Atchitecture on the Comparative Method, New York, 1950, p. 214.

The Early Christians followed the basilican model for their new churches  and may also have used old Roman halls...
The campanile or bell-tower dates from this period... 

An isolated circular baptistery was generally attached to the chief basilican church or cathedral of a city.

These were still constructed according to Roman methods of using rubble or concrete, faced with plaster, brick, or stone.

Mosaic decoration was added internally, and sometimes also externally on west facades.

Arcades, doors, and windows were either spanned by a semicircular arch which, in nave arcades, often rested directly on the capitals without any entablatures, or were spanned by a lintel...

Windows, filled in with pierced slabs of marble, alabaster, or plaster, were small; those of the nave were in the walls above the aisle roofs. This system was developed in the wonderful clear-stories of Gothic architecture.

Timber roofs covered the central nave, and only simple forms of construction, such as king and queen post trusses, were employed. It is believed that the decoration of the visible framework was of later date, as at S. Miniato, Florence.

The narrower side aisles were occasionally vaulted and the apse was usually domed and lined with beautiful glass mosaics, which formed a fitting background to the sanctuary.

These differ both in design and size, as they were often taken from earlier Roman buildings, which had either fallen into ruin or been purposefully  destroyed.

- Sir Banister-Fletcher, A History of Architecture on the Comparative Method, New York, 1950, pp. 227-8.

Examples from Buffalo architecture (Basilican Romanesque) :

Other examples:

Photos and their arrangement 2003 Chuck LaChiusa
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