The word basilica comes from the Latin “basilica”, which in turn took it from the Greek “basilika”. For the Greeks “basilike” meant royal, they gave this name to the great throne rooms of some of the western kings, where audiences, tributes and other official tasks were held. The Romans paid attention to these rooms and took them as inspiration for the creation of what we know as the Roman basilica, a rectangular building generally divided by 3 or more naves that are separated by rows of columns and that usually end at least one of its ends with an apse.
The Roman basilica compiles social and political functions, serving as a meeting place for the Roman people when carrying out activities that ranged from commerce to hiring employees through public events such as informative speeches, debates and even trials.
With the Christianization of the empire, many of the Roman basilicas were reconditioned as churches due to their majesty and the monumentality of their architecture, which not only fit but also highlights the properties that were sought in a “Divine building”. This transformation of the pagan Roman basilicas into some of the most imposing Christian churches led over the centuries to the association of the concept of a basilica with that of a Christian church that, due to its architectural properties, historical context or religious importance, stands out above of the rest of the churches.
Currently not all churches are considered a basilica since there are certain conditions to be fulfilled in order to hold that title, conditions that have a somewhat ambiguous tone, mentioning that said temple must be ancient, spacious and artistic, in addition to having a prominent celebrity or venerable among the diocese, or that short courses and conferences are given as a method of liturgical instruction.
Christian Basilicas are distinguished as minor or major, of which only four exist today: San Pedro, San Juan de Letrán, San Pablo Outside the Walls and Santa María la Mayor; places that have a Holy Door that the faithful cross during the Holy Year in the belief that this act will grant them the Plenary Indulgence.
The function of the basilica today is to disseminate the documents of the Holy See, this being a spiritual and evangelistic place; in addition to hosting the church’s sacred treasures such as tombs or relics of saints.
In conclusion, this monument went from a public meeting place to a show of exclusivity and ostentation of the Christian church.