Cathedrals have been an essential part of Catholicism for centuries. They have embodied wealth and power within the church while becoming time capsules of history and keepers of some of the holiest of relics. The significant part about cathedrals is that they exist everywhere Catholicism has touched. If you want to travel far and wide to see these grand structures, you'll know one when you see it. They are so important not only to Catholics but also to the world, so UNESCO has named hundreds of them World Heritage Sites. In fact, there are too many to truly list.
All Cathedrals Lead To Rome
With Rome and the Vatican being the epicenter of Catholicism, it's only natural that most of the cathedrals on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites are located in Europe. Italy has the most, with France and Spain coming in at second and third.
There is the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran in Rome, which is the oldest of the four major papal major basilicas, the oldest public church in Rome, and the oldest basilica in the western world. There are 127 Catholic churches of every kind on UNESCO's list, so it would be hard not to find an impressive cathedral somewhere.
In France, there is, of course, one of the most famous cathedrals in the world, Notre-Dame de Paris, which sits like a crowning jewel in the city. Speaking of crowns, Notre-Dame is home to some of Catholicism and Christianity's most precious relics, including the crown of thorns Jesus allegedly wore during the Crucifixion. Unfortunately, due to the fire in 2019, it has been temporarily shut down.
Spain has Burgos Cathedral, which spares no expense in its French Gothic architecture design and decoration. It has become one of Spain's most identifiable landmarks, with its twin peaks that rival Notre-Dame's.
England, whose religion turned to Anglican during King Henry VIII's reign, is home to some of the most identifiable cathedrals too. Canterbury Cathedral in east England is where the pilgrims of Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales were heading. They were traveling to see Saint Thomas Beckett's shrine, who in real-life was a martyr, killed by King Henry II's followers. Visiting the cathedral is like stepping inside that history, as the shrine and the place where Becket was killed are still there.
Germany also has some impressive cathedrals featured on UNESCO's list. There's Naumburg Cathedral, which towers over the city and combines both Romanesque and Gothic architecture; Cologne Cathedral, the tallest twin-spired church globally, and Aachen Cathedral, one of the oldest cathedrals in Europe, commissioned by Emperor Charlemagne in 796 AD.
Other notable cathedrals are Denmark's Roskilde Cathedral, Russia's St. Basil's Cathedral, one of Moscow's top tourist attractions, Porto Cathedral in Portugal, and Saint Rumbold's Cathedral in Belgium.
There's something so intriguing about cathedrals. They all have different stories to tell, but they are all united under one religion and history. It's good that many of them are protected by UNESCO, who will be their caretakers from here on out. They need to be treasured for more centuries than their makers ever imagined. Which one will be next on your list to visit?