Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Word of the Day -- Basilica

The Latin word basilica (derived from Greek βασιλικὴ στοά, Royal Stoa, the tribunal chamber of a king), has three distinct applications in modern English. The word was originally used to describe an open, Roman, public court building, usually located adjacent to the forum of a Roman town. By extension it was applied to Christian buildings of the same form and continues to be used in an architectural sense to describe those buildings with a central nave and aisles. Later, the term came to refer specifically to a large and important church that has been given special ceremonial rights by the Pope.

Catholic Basilicas are Catholic pilgrimage sites, receiving tens of millions of visitors per year. In December 2009 the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe set a new record with 6.1 million pilgrims during Friday and Saturday for the anniversary of Our Lady of Guadalupe.


The Roman basilica was a large public building where business or legal matters could be transacted. The first basilicas had no religious function at all. As early as the time of Augustus, a public basilica for transacting business had been part of any settlement that considered itself a city, used in the same way as the late medieval covered market houses of northern Europe, where the meeting room, for lack of urban space, was set above the arcades, however. Although their form was variable, basilicas often contained interior colonnades that divided the space, giving aisles or arcaded spaces on one or both sides, with an apse at one end (or less often at each end), where the magistrates sat, often on a slightly raised dais. The central aisle tended to be wide and was higher than the flanking aisles, so that light could penetrate through the clerestory windows.

The oldest known basilica, the Basilica Porcia, was built in Rome in 184 BC by Cato the Elder during the time he was Censor. Other early examples include the basilica at Pompeii (late 2nd century BC).

Probably the most splendid Roman basilica (see below) is the one begun for traditional purposes during the reign of the pagan emperor Maxentius and finished by Constantine I after 313 AD.



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