Travelers in Europe are often drawn to the monumental beauty of large cathedrals. Whether you are a member of an affiliated church or an avowed non-believer, these historic buildings are testaments to human ingenuity and architectural prowess. As artistic objects, cathedrals are some of the most ornate and complex works in the world. With soaring ceilings, intricate stained glass and the hushed atmosphere of a religious space, there are many cathedrals that are considered indispensable stops for any European tour.
St. Peter’s Basilica
The largest cathedral in the world is also one of Roman Catholicism’s holiest sites. St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City was consecrated in 1626. Some of Europe’s most important architects contributed to its construction, including Michelangelo and Carlo Maderno. The Basilica measures more than 21,000 square meters and its dome rises almost 450 feet into the air. Tradition holds that it is the burial site of Saint Peter, and many subsequent popes are also interred there.
Fans of Gothic architecture should not miss the Seville Cathedral, which is located in Seville, Andalusia, Spain. The world’s largest Gothic structure and second largest cathedral has 11,500 square meters of interior space. This World Heritage Site was completed in the early 16th century, and at the time replaced the Hagia Sophia as the world’s largest church. Famed explorer Christopher Columbus is buried within the cathedral.
Basilica of Our Lady of Lichen
Among the newest of the world’s largest cathedrals, the Basilica of Our Lady of Lichen was constructed between 1994 and 2004. This massive, 10,000 square meter building was funded entirely by the donations of Catholic pilgrims. The nave measures 77 meters wide and 120 meters tall, with a tower that soars to 142 meters in the air.
The world’s largest Anglican cathedral, located in Liverpool, took almost eight decades to build. The Liverpool Cathedral was initially started in 1901, and the project was not completed until 1978. At 189 meters, it is the second longest cathedral, and its height of 101 meters makes it the tallest non-spired church in the world.
Church of the Most Holy Trinity
Located in Fatima, Portugal, the Church of the Most Holy Trinity is the newest of the world’s largest cathedrals and was constructed between 2004 and 2007. Pope John Paul II blessed the first stone placed for the cathedral, which was a piece of marble taken from St. Peter’s tomb. The finalized cost of this 8,700 square meter structure was an estimated 80,000 euros, paid for entirely with pilgrim donations.
Dedicated to Saint Mary Nascent, the Gothic Milan Cathedral took almost six centuries to complete. This cathedral is so important to the layout of Milan that all city streets either encircle or lead directly to it. The seat of the Archbishop of Milan measures 8,400 square meters and rests on a site originally consecrated in 1026. Napoleon Bonaparte ordered the completion of the present cathedral in 1805.
Basilica-Cathedral of Our Lady of the Pillar
Local tradition identifies an apparition of Mary to the Apostle James as the inspiration for the first church built on this site. The current Basilica-Cathedral of Our Lady of the Pillar, named for the apparition, began in Zaragoza, Spain in 1681. This Baroque-style cathedral measures 8,300 square meters and contains a wooden statue of the Virgin supposedly given to James by Mary herself.
Cathedral of Saint Sava
The world’s largest Orthodox church, the Cathedral of Saint Sava in Vracar, Belgrade, Serbia is dedicated to the founder of the Serbian Orthodox Church. The most dominant structure in Belgrade, the church is planned along central lines that bear the form of the Greek cross. A 12-meter tall solid gold cross crowns the 70 meter high dome, and the total structure measures almost 8,200 square meters.
Basilica of the Sacred Heart
Located in Brussels, Belgium, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart has iconic twin towers and an impressive copper dome that rises 89 meters over the ground. Construction on the original Neo-Gothic cathedral was abandoned in 1914 with the outbreak of World War I, and the current Art Deco cathedral was completed in 1969. This enormous structure, in addition to its function as a cathedral, also houses a radio station, restaurant and theatre.
Cathedral of Our Lady of Antwerp
While it has technically never been completed according to the full architectural plans, the final work on the current Cathedral of Our Lady of Antwerp wrapped up in 1521. The largest Gothic cathedral in the Netherlands measures 8,000 square meters and is listed as a World Heritage Site. This cathedral is also notable for the large number of important artworks contained within, including numerous pieces by Peter Paul Rubens.