A church is a building used for worship service or other religious activities in Christianity. In traditional Christian cathedrals such as the famed Notre-Dame de Paris, the church building’s plan view often forms the shape of a cross when viewed from above. Modern church designs often have different layouts.
Churches vary greatly in type and size. The earliest identified Christian church is a simple domestic home, located in the ancient Syrian city of Dura-Europos, which was converted to a church between 233 and 256. This reflects the humble (and often illegal) beginnings of the Christian movement, which frequently met not in public locations but in private homes. Centuries later, the church had grown immensely in size and influence, enabling denominations such as the Catholics, Anglicans, and Eastern Orthodox churches to construct massive cathedrals with seating capacity rivaling that of athletic stadiums.
Largest Churches in the World
The term "largest" can be interpreted multiple ways. One church may be the largest in terms of indoor seating capacity, another may be the largest in terms of interior floor area, and others may be the largest when considering factors such as building height, exterior grounds, or weekly attendance. Moreover, not all data is available for all churches, and in some cases the data that is available is disputed. Finally, terminology can cause confusion, as some sources differentiate between a church (Christian house of worship), a cathedral (a church that serves as the office for a bishop), and a basilica (a church which has additional ceremonial functions). Thus, it is possible to create multiple lists of the world's largest churches, each different but also accurate, depending upon the variables being measured and compared.
Top 10 Largest Churches in the World by Interior Area (m²):
- St. Peter's Basilica (Vatican City) — 15,160
- Cathedral Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady Aparecida (Aparecida, Brazil) — 12,000
- Cathedral of St. John the Divine (New York, NY) — 11,200
- Basilica of Our Lady of Licheń (Licheń Stary, Poland) — 10,090
- Milan Cathedral (Milan, Italy) — 10,000
- Seville Cathedral (Seville, Spain) — 9,800
- Basilica of the Holy Trinity (Fátima, Portugal) — 8,700
- Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls (Rome, Italy) — 8,515
- Liverpool Cathedral (Liverpool, England) — 8,400
- Basilica Cathedral of Our Lady of the Pillar (Zaragoza, Spain) — 8,318
Profiles of the World's Largest Churches
St. Peter's Basilica (Vatican City)
The largest church in the world by interior area and known capacity is St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, which was constructed over 120 years from 1506 to 1626. One of the most famous churches in the world, St. Peter's has an interior area of 15,160 m², an exterior area of 21,095 m², and a visitor capacity of 60,000 people—more than that of many football stadiums. For comparison, Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles is the largest baseball stadium in the United States and can seat 56,000 people.
Basilica of Our Lady of Peace (Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast)
By some measures, this massive church is even larger than St. Peter's Basilica. Although its internal area (7,989 m²) and interior visitor capacity (18,000) are lower, its exterior area of 30,000 m² is notably larger (though it includes a rectory and other structures, which are arguably not part of the church). Yamoussoukro Basilica also boasts a larger and taller dome than St. Peter's.
Basilica of Our Lady Aparecida (Aparecida, Brazil)
The largest cathedral in the world (as St. Peter's is a basilica rather than a cathedral) and the second-largest Catholic church in terms of interior area is Brazil's colorful, blue-roofed Basilica of Our Lady Aparecida. The cathedral is 12,000 m² on the inside and 18,331 m² on the outside and can accommodate 45,000 worshippers. Its parking area can hold 4,000 buses and 6,000 cars.
Milan Cathedral (Milan, Italy)
Italy's Milan Cathedral took nearly 600 years to build, with construction lasting from 1386 to 1965. The cathedral's precise size is a matter of some debate, but most sources place its internal area between 10,000-11,700 m² and its capacity at 40,000 people. One of the cathedral's more unique features is an array of 135 stone spires, each topped by a statue (saints or martyrs in most cases), which led to a creative fund-raising opportunity. Church officials introduced a program in 2012 through which devotees can "adopt" the spire of their choice.
Yoido Full Gospel (Seoul, South Korea)
When it comes to exterior area, Yoido Full Gospel is the largest church in the world, spanning over 44,000 m². Yoido is unusual among large churches in that its denomination is neither Catholic nor Orthodox, but Pentecostal. Located in Seoul, South Korea, Yoidi has the capacity to hold 12,000 worshippers at a time. The Yoido church is also known for its massive congregation, which is the largest in the world. Collectively, the main church and all its satellite churches included 830,000 members in 2007, and even after the spinning off of 20 satellite churches into independent churches in 2010, documented membership remained as high as 480,000 in 2020.