Do Italians say "la cattedrale di Milano" or "il duomo di Milano?" Or both? How are these two different?


A cathedral or cattedrale in Italian, is just the Church were a bishop has his cathedra (essentially, a fancy chair -- think throne, but for bishops). Any church can be a cathedral, if the bishop so chooses.

Duomo is a customary name for the main Church of the city. It is often also the cathedral, but not necessarily so: for example in Venice before the Napoleonic conquest the cathedral was the church of San Pietro in Castello, which was not the main church of the city (that would have been St Mark's basilica, which is the current cathedral). For another example, the main church of Rome is St Peter's basilica, but despite what one would think, it is not the city's cathedral, that's the church of San Giovanni in Laterano.

The normal name for the Church of Santa Maria Nascente in Milan is Duomo di Milano. It is also the cathedral of the city, and so referring to it as the Cattedrale di Milano would not be incorrect, but unusual. It seems it is used more often on the website of the Dioceses of Milan (as one would maybe expect, since what's relevant there is the role played by the Duomo).

So, to sum it up:

  • Cattedrale: the bishop's seat.
  • Duomo: an informal designation for an important church.
  • Basilica: a church which has been given particular cerimonial rights by the pope.

Exactly by which name any particular church is designed varies widely.

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  • Isn't basilica also a spice? – Hank Oct 19 '19 at 13:08
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    @Hank Nope, that'd be basilico (basil in English). Don't mix them up! :) – Denis Nardin Oct 19 '19 at 13:08
  • The term basilica has a precise religious meaning, which has nothing to do with architecture: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basilica#Ecclesiastical_basilicas By the way, the “Duomo di Milano” doesn't appear in the list of Italian basilicas and I found no real reference to “Basilica Cattedrale” in the site of the diocese. – egreg Oct 19 '19 at 16:26
  • @egreg Ah thank you! I wasn't aware of that (and this teaches me not to google the stuff before putting it into an answer...). It's very weird that the Duomo is not officially a basilica while the official name (that no one uses) says it is a basilica... – Denis Nardin Oct 19 '19 at 16:54
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    I'd not fully trust Italian Wikipedia. On the other hand, see w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/it/speeches/2012/june/… – egreg Oct 19 '19 at 17:00

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