Originally a secular public building in ancient Rome, typically a large rectangular structure with an open hall and a raised platform at one or both ends. In one type, the central hall was flanked by side aisles set off by colonnades, and the raised platform was enclosed by an apse. The early Christians adopted this type for their churches. In the typical early Christian basilica, the columns separating the nave from the lower side aisles carried either arches or entablatures, above which rose clerestory walls that supported the roof. The long nave came to be crossed just before the apse by a shorter transept, creating the cross-shaped plan that remains a standard church form to the present. Basilica is also a title of honor given to a Roman Catholic or Greek Orthodox church distinguished by its antiquity or its role as an international center of worship. See also cathedral.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise.
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