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A type of church building in Christianity.It gets its name because it contains thecathedra or "chair" of the bishop.Bishops are religious leaders in Catholic,Orthodox, and some forms of Protestant CHRISTIANITY.They have charge of all the churches in acertain area. In the Roman Catholic and Anglicanchurches the area is known as a diocese. Otherbranches of Christianity use other names.A cathedral is a bishop's home church. It isthe most important church building in a region.That importance is generally refl ected in the sizeof the building. Cathedrals have tended to be monumentalstructures.Until the middle of the 18th century, the cathedralwas one of the most important architecturalstructures in Europe. As a result, up to the mid-1700s the history of European architecture waslargely a history of the changing styles of cathedrals.After the mid-1700s, cathedrals continuedto be built. But developments like the Industrial,American, and French revolutions made them less important. Architects turned their creative energiesto structures like government buildings—thinkof the Capitol Building and the White House inWashington, D.C.—train stations, theaters, museums,and eventually airports, offi ce buildings, andshopping centers.Many of the earliest Christians were Greeksand Romans who converted to Christianity. Theearliest cathedrals, however, were not convertedGreek and Roman temples. They were inspired bylaw courts known as basilicas and certain kindsof bath houses. These kinds of buildings allowedChristians to assemble in large groups for worshipand BAPTISM. Unlike the law courts and bathhouses, Greek and Roman temples were not verywell-suited for such activities.Later cathedrals in many different styles areextremely impressive. Hagia Sophia in Constantinople(sixth century)—now a mosque in Istanbul,Turkey—is a supreme example of a Byzantinecathedral. Its massive, central dome seems tofl oat in the air above a lighted, unearthly space.St. Peter's in Rome contains the chair or throneof St. Peter himself, at least as designed by theRenaissance artist Giovanni Bernini (1598–1680).Built in an early baroque style, the richness of the church's decoration as well as the "arms' that surroundthe plaza in front of it were meant to drawpeople back into the Catholic Church after theProtestant REFORMATION.Many people consider Gothic cathedrals tobe the most sublime cathedrals of all. The Gothicstyle began in the area around Paris, France, inthe mid-1100s. Gothic cathedrals are long, narrow,and tall. On the inside tall columns supportthe roof. On the outside a kind of support calleda fl ying buttress supports the roof and the walls.Gothic cathedrals generally have arches thatcome to a point at their doorways, windows, andinterior roofs. Earlier cathedrals had arches thatwere round. Gothic cathedrals also have largewindows fi lled with stained glass. The cathedralat Chartres, France, is especially renowned for itsstained glass.Two extremely large church buildings in NorthAmerica refl ect the attitude that Gothic is thesupreme form of the cathedral. One is St. John theDivine in New York City; the other is the NationalCathedral in Washington, D.C.

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