Famous Cathedrals

Famous Cathedrals – From Stained Glass to Stone Arches

Many of the most beautiful churches in the world are actually cathedrals, so this article will examine some of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world that also happen to be some of the most famous cathedrals. We will have a look at fifteen different cathedrals and briefly discuss their history and architectural flourishes. So, keep reading to learn more about these famous cathedrals.



15 of the Most Famous Cathedrals in the World

Below, we will look at fifteen different churches, and they are all some of the world’s most beautiful churches. These famous cathedrals come in a wide variety of architectural styles and they’re located in a number of countries across the globe.

So, let’s have a look at some of these cathedrals.


Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran (4th Century – 1735) in Rome

Date Constructed4th Century – 1735
Materials UsedGranite, marble, and cement
LocationRome, Italy

The Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran is one of the most important churches in the world. It isn’t important because of any kind of specific architectural aspects though. This church’s importance is tied to the unique title that it has received. It is the “archbasilica” of the Catholic Church. For those unfamiliar, a cathedral is a church within a hierarchical Christian system like Catholicism that serves as the seat of a bishop whereas a basilica is a type of church that has been granted special privileges because of its unique position. So, a basilica cathedral that also uses the term “arch” must signify a far higher authority.

In this case, it’s because this church is the specific church that serves as the seat of the Bishop of Rome. That person is also known as the Pope.

This church is the seat of the Pope in the Catholic denomination, and as such, it is also the mother church of the Catholic faith. This is essentially the highest-ranking church in Catholicism as well as being one of the oldest churches in the world despite having undergone numerous changes and alterations over the millennia. It has even been entirely rebuilt at points because of natural disasters like earthquakes.

What Are the Most Beautiful Churches In the WorldArchbasilica of Saint John Lateran (4th Century – 1735) in Rome; MrPanyGoff, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Regardless of anything that happens to this archbasilica, it will always remain one of the most important Christian locations in the world. On top of all that, its domed design and two-tier colonnade are some of the earliest examples of this style adopted in Christian architecture. The church is not particularly known for its architecture, but it has stood as an important basilica for centuries, and it will continue to do so.


Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba (785 – 16th Century) in Córdoba

Date Constructed785 – 16th Century
Materials UsedBrick and stone
LocationCórdoba, Spain

The Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba is a very unique kind of structure. Most cathedrals have their origins over the course of hundreds of years of religious settlement where the location of the grand cathedral had been occupied by a succession of smaller churches prior to the present one. That is not the case here. This church was not always a church, hence the name that people use for it. This Mosque-Church is, through and through, a Christian church in the present day, but it did not start its life that way. It was constructed during the Muslim era of control over Spain, and it was built as a Great Mosque.

However, when the area was re-conquered by the Christians in the 13th century, it was converted into a church. This conversion also changed very little about the structure itself.

This piece of Muslim architecture made use of a more fortress-style design with a large courtyard surrounded by a gallery, and this is not particularly common in Christian styles of architecture. So, it’s a fascinating mishmash of Islamic design, such as many of the more geometric decorations that adorn some of the walls and arches that are very unlike Christian styles, and then there are the new additions or reworkings to bring it in line with Catholic design.

Examples of Famous CathedralsMosque-Cathedral of Córdoba (785 – 16th Century) in Córdoba; Toni Castillo Quero, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

One of the primary ways in which this was accomplished was by altering the existing Islamic minaret, which is a standard feature in mosque design, and converting it into a bell tower. This blending of two styles has turned the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba into an important historical site for both Muslims and Catholics.


St Mark’s Basilica (829 – 836 and 1063 – 1094) in Venice

ArchitectDomenico I Contarini (Unknown – 1071)
Date Constructed829 – 836 and 1063 – 1094
Materials UsedStone and marble
LocationVenice, Italy

St Mark’s Basilica is one of the oldest churches in the world, and it has an important historical role in its home of Venice too. Venice was once controlled by a group known as the Doges, and their palace was affixed to the side of this basilica, and they used it as part of their political power base. This church has served as one of the most important sites for the historical and religious development of Venice, and it shows in its presentation. The present church is not the first one. It’s common for cathedrals to have been built on top of the ruins of older cathedrals, and so it’s believed that the present structure started construction in about 1063.

The building was modeled on a different structure, as was also often common, and in this case, it was based on the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople, but there were changes and alterations made to allow the church to fit in with the specific needs of the Venetian city-state.

This third church, as it has come to be known, adopts a blended architectural style in which it uses some Islamic influences alongside Romanesque and Middle-Byzantine architectural features. Later, there were also some Gothic additions made to the structure, and this was done to express the wealth of the city-state for all to see.

Examples of Cathedral InteriorSt Mark’s Basilica (829 – 836 and 1063 – 1094) in Venice; Zairon, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The cathedral interior of this church is especially beautiful with its highly ornate dome, its vaults, and its mosaic-covered walls that depict various images of biblical figures and scenes for churchgoers to peruse. The interior of this building is utterly gorgeous and has contributed to it becoming one of the world’s most beautiful churches.


St. Vitus Cathedral (930 – 1929) in Prague

Date Constructed930 – 1929
Materials UsedStone
LocationPrague, Czech Republic

St. Vitus Cathedral is a stunning example of Gothic architecture, and while it certainly isn’t the first or the last item on this list that is known for its Gothic design, it definitely is one of the most beautiful. This church is also not actually called what it is commonly called, it was renamed in 1997 to be the Metropolitan Cathedral of Saints Vitus, Wenceslaus, and Adalbert. Most still only refer to one of the saints in that list. This church has remained the most important church in the Czech Republic and Prague. It is also the largest church in the city and country and can be found inside Prague Castle alongside the many ancient tombs of the Bohemian Kings and the Holy Roman Emperors.

This church has served a significant non-religious purpose alongside its religious purposes as a burial place for these ancient royals.

This particular church is the third of a series that was constructed in the same location, and the first of those churches had a Romanesque design but it did not ultimately survive and was instead rebuilt.

Ancient CathedralsSt. Vitus Cathedral (930 – 1929) in Prague; Alvesgaspar, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The present version of this church, however, is instead characterized by its incredibly ornate Gothic design and elaborate vaulting methods that have gone on to influence (or be influenced by, as this is a long-standing debate) the English Gothic style known as the Perpendicular Style.


Chartres Cathedral (1126 – 1252) in Chartres

ArchitectMaster of Chartres (Unknown)
Date Constructed1126 – 1252
Materials UsedLimestone
LocationChartres, France

Chartres Cathedral is one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world, and it is also an ancient cathedral that has managed to withstand the test of time far better than many other structures of its kind. This cathedral is a stunning example of Gothic architecture, but it has managed to remain so well-preserved over the years that it still exhibits many of those ancient architectural flourishes without the need for extensive restoration. The stained glass that covers the windows and the extensive use of flying buttresses have stood through the ages and show no signs of collapsing any time soon. There are also two massive spires, that use contrasting styles, atop the structure.

One of them was designed far later in the Flamboyant style that would become prominent in the 19th century while the other is far older.

Other than these standard architectural aspects, Chartres Cathedral is also the supposed home of a holy relic called the Santa Camisa, the tunic supposedly worn by the Virgin Mary when she gave birth to Jesus Christ. The structure also includes an elaborate labyrinth for meditative walking in the cathedral interior, and it is one of the most famous of its kind in the world.

World's Most Beautiful ChurchesChartres Cathedral (1126 – 1252) in Chartres; Robin Poitou, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Notre-Dame de Paris (1163 – 1345) in Paris

ArchitectJean de Chelles (13th Century)
Date Constructed1163 – 1345
Materials UsedWood, iron, limestone, and lead
LocationParis, France

Notre-Dame de Paris is definitely one of the most famous churches in the world. It isn’t necessarily famous for its place in architectural history, although it certainly has stood for many centuries as one of the greatest pieces of Gothic architecture, and many of its attributes helped to establish the French version of this style, such as the use of flying buttresses, rib vaults, rose windows, and an elaborate array of sculptures for both aesthetic and educational purposes, but that isn’t what makes this one of the most famous churches in the world.

Instead, Notre-Dame de Paris is so well-known because of its central place as a Parisian landmark, and a central location in the work of Victor Hugo (who wrote the staggeringly influential text, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame).

It is also because of its prime historical importance as the location for the coronation of Napoleon I and its funerary services for many French presidents over the years. This is one of the most famous ancient cathedrals in the world, and not even a massive 2019 fire could manage to entirely destroy it.

Most Beautiful Cathedrals In the WorldNotre-Dame de Paris (1163 – 1345) in Paris; Ali Sabbagh, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

This building will continue to stand for many generations to come, and it will remain a French cultural artifact, an immensely important historical location because of its prime place in so many aspects of French life over the centuries, and because of its purely aesthetic beauty that has transformed this building into one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world.


Reims Cathedral (1211 – 1345) in Reims

Date Constructed1211 – 1345
Materials UsedLimestone
LocationReims, France

Reims Cathedral is one of the most historically significant cathedrals in France. Not only is Reims Cathedral an utterly beautiful example of French High Gothic architecture, but it has also played a significant role in the lives of the French monarchy for centuries. This all started back in 496 when the Frankish king Clovis I was baptized in this very cathedral, and that started a trend that would continue for a very long time because Reims Cathedral was the location of the coronation of the French kings.

The current version of this cathedral was only constructed in the 13th century, but the site had been used as a church of some kind for much longer than that.

This current version of the church is an exemplary example of High Gothic architecture with its gloriously rendered western façade that pays close attention to the royal family, and the three portal entry and twin tower design provides the entire structure with the kind of architectural unity that was not often found in Gothic structures as they were constructed over such a long period of time that tastes changed during construction.

Examples of the Most Beautiful Cathedrals In the WorldReims Cathedral (1211 – 1345) in Reims; bodoklecksel, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

One of the most notable things about this cathedral is the addition of a complex sculptural program. There are various narratives from the bible that are conveyed around the three different portals, and each of them represents various Christian iconographies, such as the Passion of Christ or even the coming of the Four Horsemen.


Cologne Cathedral (1248 – 1560 and 1842 – 1880) in Cologne

ArchitectGerhard of Reil (1210 – 1271)
Date Constructed1248 – 1560 and 1842 – 1880
Materials UsedSandstone
LocationCologne, Germany

Cologne Cathedral is one of the tallest and most beautiful cathedrals in the world. This cathedral is located in Germany and it includes two grandiose spires that ascend from the structure at a gargantuan height. These two spires are actually slightly unequal, but the tallest is 157 m (or 515 ft) tall. So, this highly vertical building certainly is a sight to behold and an integral part of the Cologne skyline. One of the most important aspects of the Cologne Cathedral is actually not a part of the architecture or history of the building, but instead the fact that it houses an incredibly important artifact. The Shrine of the Three Kings is an elaborate structure that houses the reliquary of the Three Kings.

This is essentially a container that supposedly stores the bones and clothes of the Three Wise Men who visited Jesus Christ on the day of his birth.

While the architectural history of this structure may not be as important to believers as the Shrine of the Three Kings, it is also an interesting story. Cologne Cathedral was initially left entirely unfinished. Work ceased on the building in 1560 and it didn’t resume for nearly 300 years because they ran out of money. Then medieval architecture came back into vogue in the 19th century and suddenly enthusiasm increased, and the structure was finally completed. It only took 600 years, but they eventually did it!

Examples of the World's Most Beautiful ChurchesCologne Cathedral (1248 – 1560 and 1842 – 1880) in Cologne; © Raimond Spekking


Saint Basil’s Cathedral (1555 – 1561) in Moscow

ArchitectPostnik Yakovlev and Ivan Barma (16th Century)
Date Constructed1555 – 1561
Materials UsedWhite stone and red brick
LocationMoscow, Russia

Saint Basil’s Cathedral is one of the most beautiful churches in the world. It is also one of the most famous cathedrals, but it’s a lot more than that. This is one of the most resplendently unique buildings ever made and it’s unlike practically every other piece of Russian architecture. This particular structure has also become a cultural symbol for the Russian people, and it’s often used as a signifier of the country as a whole. The building was first built under the order of Ivan the Terrible as a commemoration of a military victory, and it was the tallest structure in Moscow for some time after its construction.

However, while this elaborate array of church structures was built as a cathedral complex, it underwent a radical secularization effort after the Communist Revolution and became a museum. It still belongs to the Russian government to this day, but church services are now allowed.

The architecture of this amazing structure is quite unlike any other and no one is entirely sure where the architects drew their inspiration, but there are some theories that it was partially designed around a more vernacular wooden church structure that was common in northern Russia.

Cathedral InteriorSaint Basil’s Cathedral (1555 – 1561) in Moscow; Tsy1980, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

However, regardless of where the inspiration came from, the nine domes that are shaped like bonfires have become one of the most striking sights in world architecture that have gone on to be representative of the entire country. This is, by far, one of the most gorgeous church buildings to have ever been constructed.


Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral (1573 – 1813) in Mexico City

ArchitectClaudio de Arciniega (1520 – 1593)
Date Constructed1573 – 1813
Materials UsedStone, tezontle, and chiluca
LocationMexico City, Mexico

The Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral is one of the most ancient cathedrals in the country. It was built to replace an older church that was built by the Spanish conquistadors, and this new church served as a long-running construction project that brought the entire city together. It took a ridiculously long time to build this church, just under 250 years, and so it was used as a way for practically everyone in the city to come together and aid in its ultimate construction.

This lengthy construction period also led to something fairly common in some of the most famous cathedrals; a disparate array of architectural styles being adopted.

There are examples of Gothic, Baroque, Neoclassical, and Churrigueresque architectural styles in this famed Mexican cathedral. The cathedral interior is also adorned with an array of artworks, sculptures, and pieces of furniture from an array of periods and styles. This all contributed to the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral becoming one of the most striking buildings in the country.

Types of Cathedral InteriorMexico City Metropolitan Cathedral (1573 – 1813) in Mexico City; Juan Fernando Ibarra, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The cathedral’s architecture is also comprised of a central dome and three main portals that are richly decorated in sculpted segments that are stunning in their execution. There are also four façades that contain their own portals, statues, and columns to present a famous cathedral more than deserving of the fame it has achieved.


St Paul’s Cathedral (1675 – 1710) in London

ArchitectChristopher Wren (1632 – 1723)
Date Constructed1675 – 1710
Materials UsedStone, wood, iron, and bricks
LocationLondon, United Kingdom

St Paul’s Cathedral is one of the most famous cathedrals in England. This is the mother church of the Diocese of London, and that makes it one of the most important churches in the country and for the Church of England in general. It is, much like many other famous cathedrals, built atop the site of a much earlier church. The present church is constructed around a more restrained Baroque style that was designed by the famed British architect Christopher Wren as part of the reconstruction programs that followed after the Great Fire of London in 1666.

The Gothic cathedral that had stood in its place before was one of the many architectural casualties of the fire, and so it needed to be entirely rebuilt.

St Paul’s Cathedral would be reconstructed with a height of 111 m (or 365 ft) and this made it the tallest building in London until 1963, but the dome within the cathedral interior is still one of the highest in the world. It is also completed with a famous cross at its summit that remained an integral part of the skyline for many centuries after its construction.

What are the World's Most Beautiful ChurchesSt Paul’s Cathedral (1675 – 1710) in London; Mark Fosh, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons


St. Patrick’s Cathedral (1858 – 1878) in New York City

ArchitectJames Renwick Jr. (1818 – 1895)
Date Constructed1858 – 1878
Materials UsedMarble
LocationNew York City, United States

St. Patrick’s Cathedral is one of the most famous cathedrals in the United States, and it can be found in one of the most famous districts in New York City: Manhattan. This church was originally built because of the growing needs of the Catholic population in New York, and there needed to be a church to serve those people. The church’s construction was halted by the American Civil War though, but it was eventually completed. This famous cathedral makes use of a Gothic style that was influenced by several regional Gothic traditions, notably those of England, France, and Germany.

This also makes this particular structure a fantastic example of a Gothic Revival cathedral. It is both the largest and first of its kind in the country.

The entire church was covered in marble and there are many stained-glass windows, and these windows are actually some of the most interesting features in this building. There are 57 separate stained-glass windows on this structure, and 37 of them represent various scenes from Scripture while the remaining 20 are arranged in geometric designs.

15 Famous CathedralsSt. Patrick’s Cathedral (1858 – 1878) in New York City; Photograph by Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net)., CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Aside from the stained glass, St. Patrick’s Cathedral is known for its elaborate pipe organs, crypt, and its northern tower with its nineteen bells. This church may not be one of the classic examples of European churches, but it certainly has become one of the most famous cathedrals in the world because of its place in the middle of one of the most famous cities in the United States.


Westminster Cathedral (1895 – Present) in London

ArchitectJohn Francis Bentley (1839 – 1902)
Date Constructed1895 – Present
Materials UsedBrick and stone
LocationLondon, United Kingdom

Westminster Cathedral is the most important Catholic church in England and Wales because it is the mother church of the Catholic faith in these two countries. It is also the largest Catholic church in the whole of the United Kingdom and one of the most famous Neo-Byzantine cathedrals in the world. England does not have a particularly good history with the Catholic church as the Anglican schism enacted by Henry VIII was a particularly vicious period of English history, but by the late 19th century when this cathedral was constructed, that was mostly in the past.

So, this unreinforced church was designed in a Neo-Byzantine style that uses a striped brick and stone design throughout its construction.

One of the most famous aspects of this church is the use of intricate mosaics throughout the interior. These mosaic designs were not implemented by the architect as he passed away before he could plan any of it out, and so this work needed to be done after he’d died. These mosaics were influenced by the many donors and designers who had come along to aid in the famous cathedral’s construction over the years.

Different Famous CathedralsWestminster Cathedral (1895 – Present) in London; Velela, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Most of these mosaic designs were completed between 1912 and 1916 by members of the Arts and Crafts Movement, and so they have remained as some of the most gorgeous instances of mosaic art in the Western world, and they have contributed to Westminster Cathedral is one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world. In addition, the church is technically not quite done yet. So, there may be more to come.


Cathedral of Brasília (1958 – 1970) in Brasília

ArchitectOscar Niemeyer (1907 – 2012)
Date Constructed1958 – 1970
Materials UsedConcrete
LocationBrasília, Brazil

The Cathedral of Brasília is an example of a far more modern structure than the others on this list, and it is a fairly strange design when considering many of the more common features that one would associate with cathedral architecture. This structure was only built in the late-20th century, and it has remained a rather unique-looking church to this day. Everyone who visits the church enters through a darkened tunnel that then leads into the wide and open space of the cathedral interior. It’s immensely bright and covered with a blue, green, brown, and white stained-glass roof to allow for natural light to filter through.

The interior is also adorned with 16 concrete columns, an array of bronze sculptures that represent the four Evangelists from scripture, and three angels are suspended by steel cables in the center of the church.

While we tend to view church structures as using a very particular kind of architecture, often Gothic, this is not necessarily the case. Any architectural style can be used to create a cathedral, and regardless of the style, any church could theoretically become one of the world’s most beautiful churches. It doesn’t have to be old to attain such a title.

What Are the Most Beautiful Cathedrals In the WorldCathedral of Brasília (1958 – 1970) in Brasília; Tissiana de A. de Souza, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Rio de Janeiro Cathedral (1964 – 1979) in Rio de Janeiro

ArchitectEdgar Fonseca (20th century)
Date Constructed1964 – 1979
Materials UsedBrick
LocationRio de Janeiro, Brazil

Rio de Janeiro Cathedral is another example of a more modern cathedral structure, but this one actually makes use of an incredibly ancient style. Instead of adopting a very traditional Modernist aesthetic, it instead takes on an ancient Mayan pyramidal architectural style. It looks like a Mayan pyramid, and it’s sitting in the middle of Rio de Janeiro. So, it is a rather strange-looking thing, especially when compared to many of the other cathedrals on this list.

Most Beautiful Churches In the WorldRio de Janeiro Cathedral (1964 – 1979) in Rio de Janeiro; Cyro A. Silva from Rio de Janeiro, Brasil, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The tall cathedral stands at 75 m (or 246 ft) and is rather massive inside as it can seat 5,000 people. Furthermore, it has a standing-room capacity of four times the number of seats. This is not a small structure as the cathedral interior is 96 m (or 315 ft) in diameter. So, this is a big church. It also has four colossal stained-glass windows that descend from the ceiling to the floor to provide much-needed light inside this cathedral pyramid.


We have come to the end of our discussion about famous cathedrals around the world. We have examined some of the most beautiful churches in the world, and we have briefly discussed their history and architectural features. Some of them have been ancient cathedrals but some have been far more modern. So, hopefully, you’ve learned a good deal about these famous cathedrals throughout the course of this brief look. All that’s left is to wish you a great day/week/month ahead!




Frequently Asked Questions


What Is a Cathedral?

A cathedral is the name for a church that serves as the seat of a bishop. This means that a cathedral cannot exist in certain Christian denominations. There is a requirement that a cathedral be the seat of a bishop and the denominations that do not have bishops, or any kind of episcopal hierarchy, therefore cannot have a cathedral at all. Ultimately, it’s the name of an important church within a specific denomination.


What Style of Architecture Is Most Associated With Cathedrals?

The style most commonly associated with cathedrals may be the Gothic style. This is clearly not the only type of architecture that was adopted by cathedrals, but the pointed structure, stained glass, and high stature allowed this architectural style to flourish for the design of religious structures.


What Is the Most Famous Cathedral?

This is a difficult one to answer, as a cathedral like the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran is, arguably, the most important church in the Catholic religion, as it is the seat of the Pope, but the Notre-Dame de Paris is probably more famous. While some of the other famous cathedrals in the world will be well-known to religious people, the Notre-Dame de Paris is famous to non-religious people as well. This is likely due to a combination of it being a central landmark in Paris, and being integral to the plot of Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre-Dame and its Disney adaptation.


Cite this Article

Justin, van Huyssteen, “Famous Cathedrals – From Stained Glass to Stone Arches.” artfilemagazine – Your Online Art Source. October 20, 2023. URL: https://artfilemagazine.com/famous-cathedrals/

van Huyssteen, J. (2023, 20 October). Famous Cathedrals – From Stained Glass to Stone Arches. artfilemagazine – Your Online Art Source. https://artfilemagazine.com/famous-cathedrals/

van Huyssteen, Justin. “Famous Cathedrals – From Stained Glass to Stone Arches.” artfilemagazine – Your Online Art Source, October 20, 2023. https://artfilemagazine.com/famous-cathedrals/.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *