What is a Cathedral?

Photo by Bill Murton

January 26, 2008 ~ photo by Bill Murton

A cathedral is a Christian church which contains the seat of a bishop, thus serving as the central church of a diocese, conference, or episcopate. Although the word “cathedral” is sometimes loosely applied, churches with the function of “cathedral” occur specifically and only in those denomination with an episcopal hierarchy, such as the Roman Catholic, Anglican (Episcopal), Orthodox, and some Lutheran and Methodist churches

The word “cathedral” is derived from the Latin word cathedra (“seat” or “chair”), and refers to the presence of the bishop’s or archbishop’s chair or throne. In the ancient world, the chair was the symbol of a teacher and thus of the bishop’s role as teacher, and also of an official presiding as a magistrate and thus of the bishop’s role in governing a diocese. This chair can be found in the apse (also called “the sanctuary”) of The Cathedral of St Luke and St Paul.

Traditionally, the role of the cathedral has been to serve God in the community. A cathedral, its bishop, and dignitaries, have traditional functions which are mostly religious in nature, but may also be closely associated with the civil and communal life of the city and region. As, the cathedral is often a large building, it can serve as a meeting place for many people, and as a center of different activities related to community service, concerts, learning, and decorative arts.  The Radcliffeborough Neighborhood Association holds its monthly gathering here.

Cathedrals also serve as worship centers for the Diocese that they serve. Often this means that in a cathedral you can find expressed the full breadth of worship that you experience across the Diocese. It also means that important occasions such as ordinations of bishops, priests and deacons are generally held within them.

The cathedral is frequently the most imposing and ancient buildings, in its town or city. The Cathedral of St Luke and St Paul is physically the largest building in our Diocese, and seats almost 1000 people. By its physical presence, it symbolizes both the glory of God and of the church. The money and talents expended on the building are seen as honoring God.  This Cathedral also serves as a regular venue for concerts and musical events.

Most cathedrals, including this cathedral, have a bell or bells. These are used to announce that a service is soon to take place. They are also used to convey information and celebration. The ringing of peals signifies a time of rejoicing, such as a wedding. An extended ringing of peals or “changes” conveys a time of great civic celebration. The slow tolling of the deepest bell signifies a death or disaster.

As the Cathedral for the Diocese of South Carolina this community extends hospitality to Diocesan clergy and lay ministry groups- regularly hosting meetings.  The people of the Cathedral serve as host to the Diocesan Staff and their offices are located on the Cathedral Campus.  The Bishop FitzSimons Allison Courtyard and its adjoining playground are used regularly for community events and by our Midtown neighbors.  The Magee Prayer Center located in the parish house serves as a place of prayer that is utilized by healing prayer teams throughout the Lowcountry. The Cathedral also shares offices on the church campus with Missionaries in service to InterVarsity who work on both the College of Charleston campus and to build campus transformation across South Carolina.  The Cathedral at the corner of Coming and Vanderhorst Streets is not as “musty” as you might expect.  Stop in and say hello.  There is nearly always coffee in the pot.