The word cathedral is derived from the Greek noun καθέδρα
(cathedra) which translates as seat and refers to the presence of the bishop's (or archbishop's) chair or
In this sense therefore, the word cathedral, though grammatically used as a noun, is originally the adjective in
the phrase cathedral church, from the Latin ecclesia cathedralis. The seat marks the place set aside in
the prominent church of the diocese for the head of that diocese and is therefore a major symbol of authority.
Although a cathedral may be amongst the grandest of churches in the diocese (and country), especially in the medieval and
Renaissance times, this has never been a requirement and (especially in modern times, where functionality rather than grandeur
is the foremost consideration) a cathedral church may be modest in structure. Certainly the early Celtic and Saxon cathedrals
tended to be of diminutive size, and where they continued in use would have undergone expansion through the development of
Cathedrals have either been founded and built as such, or were originally parish or monastic churches that were elevated
to cathedral status. Missionary activity, ecclesiastical power and, more recently, demographic considerations have determined
the creation or reorganisation of sees.
Medieval Cathedrals were built between 700-1600 C.E. by stonemasons. These skilled people played the roles
of architect, builder, craftsmith, designer and engineer. Using only a set of compassess, a set-square and a staff or
rope marked off in halves, thirds, ans fifths, the mason was able to construct some of the most amazing structures ever built.
Designs for building were worked out at full scale on tracing floors covered in soft plaster. All the stones were
carved on the ground before they were set in place, the larger blocks were carved at the quarry making them lighter to transport.