"Dom", "Kathedrale" and "Münster" all translate as "cathedral" in English. When I searched online, all explanations were in German and I could not quite understand them.

Is there any difference in meaning between these three words, or is it just a matter of habit which one is chosen?

  • 2
    Dom == Kathedrale ("Kölner Dom",e.g., is translated as "Cologne Cathedral") -> episcopal church. Münster is translated as minster. It's not connected to bishops, it's a "monastery church".
    – Em1
    Apr 19, 2013 at 10:31
  • Ich frage mich, ob ein Münster nicht auch eine Bauform mit nur einer Spitze/einem Turm ist, und ob ein Dom nicht zwingend eine runde Kuppel haben muss. Apr 21, 2013 at 22:55
  • 1
    @user unknown so wie der Kölner Dom z.B? ;)
    – tofro
    Feb 25, 2016 at 13:38
  • @tofro: Eben. Die meisten Döme die ich in Deutschland kenne, haben keine Kuppel - aber säkulare Veranstatlungsorte mit Kuppel werden gelegentlich Dom genannt. Feb 25, 2016 at 22:01
  • "Dom" ist ein Teekessel. - Einmal als Bezeichnung für ein grosses Kirchengebäude, zum andern ein technischer Begriff für eine kuppelartige Konstruktion, z.B. der "Dampfdom" an einer Lokomotive. Dieser Begriff wurde wahrscheinlich mit ebenderselben aus dem Englischen re-importiert.
    – tofro
    Feb 25, 2016 at 22:33

7 Answers 7


I would translate "Münster" as Minster, "Dom" as Duomo and "Kathedrale" as Cathedral. The difference is:

  • A Münster is a old german word for 'big church' and is not used today, execpt in proper names.
  • A Dom (or Domkirche) is used for special and important churches (it also occurs in proper names but not only).
  • A Kathedrale is a church which contains the seat of a bishop.
  • Trier ist ein Bischofssitz, und dort redet man ausschließlich vom Trierer Dom, nicht von der Kathedrale. Feb 25, 2016 at 4:52
  • Kann sein, sagt aber nichts aus da "Trierer Dom" ein Eigenname ist. Der Stephansdom in Wien wird auch ausschließlich Stehpansdom genannt, obwohl er schon seit mehreren Jahrhunderten eine Kathedrale ist. Mar 10, 2016 at 10:23
  • Und wie erkenne ich ob ein Name einfach nur eine Benennung ist, und wann ein Eigenname, und wieso sich die Eigennamen nicht an Deine Regeln halten? Mar 10, 2016 at 15:16
  • Ich verstehe das Problem nicht. Der Trierer Dom ist eine Kathedrale und ein Dom (hat auch Dom in der Bezeichnung). Die Votivkirche in Wien ist auch ein Dom, obwohl sie nicht das Wort Dom im Namen hat. Wie etwas im Endeffekt genannt wird, hat nichts per se damit zu tun welcher Typ von Kirche es ist. Oder glaubst du weil eine Kirche, nennen wir sie mal "XYZ Dom", zu einer Kathedrale wird, tauft man sie automatisch auf "XYZ Kathedrale" um? Mar 14, 2016 at 11:58
  • Was soll denn ein automatisches Umtaufen sein? Wer versteckt sich hinter diesem 'man', welches diese Umtaufe vornimmt? Was soll das 'im Endeffekt' vor dem 'genannt wird'? Gibt es eine wahre Schattensprache unter der Sprache, die benutzt wird? Mar 14, 2016 at 17:25

They are quite similar, but the etymology is different.

A "Kathedrale" is a church of a bishop's see. "Münster" and "Dom" not necessarily, like the Ulmer Münster and the Petersdom (St. Peter's basilica).

"Dom" comes from Latin "domus dei" - "house of God". "Münster" was derived from Latin "monasterium" - monastery. In English, it formed the word "minster" (at least in British English).

Basically, most churches simply have their names and there just happen to be 3 names for bigger churches. When you talk about churches in general, you still call them "Kirche", sometimes "Kathedrale" if you want to stress that it's a monumental building. So this should answer the habit part of your question. In everyday talking, people might even call a "Dom" or a "Münster" a "Kathedrale" - just because this is the most common word.

  • 2
    In my experience oftentimes it's the other way around: People call the seat of a bishop a "Dom", even if the term "Kathedrale" would be correct as well. So maybe it's a regional thing which term is used more often?
    – 0x6d64
    Apr 19, 2013 at 12:50
  • Like I said, people use whatever they like - most of the time. Maybe it also depends on your religion... The German wikipedia agrees with what I wrote: de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kathedrale#Benennungen
    – Anke
    Apr 19, 2013 at 13:17
  • 1
    In my experience there are no german "Kathedralen" - all of these churches in Germany(/Austria/Switzerland?) are called "Dom". "Kathedrale" is used for foreign churches called "cathedral". May 1, 2013 at 14:05
  • That's just because lots of German cathedrals are named "Dom" or "Münster". None of these specific names involve "Kathedrale", as far as I know, so it is used less for German than for foreign churches.
    – Anke
    May 2, 2013 at 6:19

According to the standard reference guide to European architecture Baustilkunde by Wilfried Koch (2005), a „Kathedrale“ (English: cathedral; French: cathédrale; Spanish: catedral; Italian: cattedrale) is a church that contains the seat of a bishop. A „Kathedrale“ is called „Dom“ in North Germany or „Münster“ in South Germany. However, in Germany, „Dom“ and „Münster“ may also refer to a city’s main church without a bishop:

Kathedrale, Bischofskirche einer Stadt, in Norddeutschland → Dom, in Süddeutschland → Münster genannt.

Dom (lat. domus Dei = Haus Gottes), Bischofskirche, in Deutschland auch Hauptkirche einer Stadt ohne Bischof. In Süddeutschland auch → Münster genannt. → Kathedrale

Münster (lat. monasterium = Kloster), süddeutsche Bez. für → Dom. M. hieß ursprünglich die gesamte Klosteranlage, dann nur die Klosterkirche. Heute Name einer → Kathedrale oder städtischen Hauptkirche.

Note: The part „Dom“ of some German names for foreign buildings is not necessarily related to “cathedral”, but maybe to “dome”, e.g.:

  • Invalidendom (French: Dôme des Invalides), Napoleon I’s tomb in Paris
  • Felsendom (English: Dome of the Rock), a shrine located on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem
  • Atombombendom (Japanisch: 原爆ドーム gembaku dōmu; English: Atomic Bomb Dome), a memorial in Hiroshima

Since the correct German word for “dome” (an element of architecture that resembles the upper half of a sphere) is „Kuppel“ (from Latin “cupula”; similar to English “cupola”), such names might be considered false friends.

  • The use of "Münster" is not restricted to South Germany. The famous Doberaner Münster is quite up in the North. AFAIK it has never been a bishop's seat, the name clearly comes from being a monastery church. Bad Doberan has been a city only since 1879, so a "a city's main church" doesn't fit well either.
    – Matthias
    Oct 23, 2014 at 8:58

I just read the wikipedia entry, what would be correct (which was interesting).

The following information is more from common language: "Münster" is normally not used in germany on its own. It is more used on places of interest that kept it as a special name. ( Another reason might be a city called "Münster" which might lead to confusion )

"Kathedrale" is also (beside the usage of a bishops seat) used just for expressing the size of a church.

  • I disagree. The is a church in Rheinmünster-Schwarzach which was a monastry until 1806 which is just called "Das Münster". No location names attached :-). Apr 23, 2013 at 3:37

I recently visited the tallest church in Germany - the "Ulmer Münster". The guide told us that the citizen of the city of Ulm paid for the church (medieval crowd sourcing :-)). It was considered a citizen's church - therefore it was not called Dom. According to the same lady a Dom would be a church with a bishop.

The problem with this explanation is that - to my knowledge - the Münster of Freiburg i. Br. is the place of an arch bishop.

  • 1
    Never trust a city tour guide. I once attended a tour of Dresden, whose guide claimed easily debunkable stuff like Dresden being the third-largest German city by area.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Apr 23, 2013 at 19:17

Short version first: A Dom is cathedral - as a physical building or otherwise. A Kathedrale is a Dom in contexts in which the term edifice is not completely out of place. A Münster is a (south German or Swiss) Dom that has always been named that way though nobody remembers why.

The truth is that most native German speakers just don't know the theoretical difference and don't care, and it appears that those people and reference works who have an opinion don't agree with each other. My impression is that, whatever else one can say, the following aspects dominate how the words are used in practice:

  • Today, the word Münster is generally treated as something that only occurs in proper names. You use it precisely for those individual cathedrals for which it has always been used. And possibly when referring in German to a British cathedral known there as a minster. (It's clear from Wikipedia's explanation that that word is similarly problematic, even though its history is a bit different.)
  • Dom is generally used as a short, crisp synonym of Kathedrale, and whenever you are referring to the cathedral in something approaching a figurative sense, rather than the physical edifice itself. A cathedral choir is always a Domchor, never a Kathedralchor (or Münsterchor). Search results for 'Kathedralchor' are dominated by a single choir from Russia which seems to be known under this mistranslated name. Similarly, a cathedral chapter is always a Domkapitel. And so on.
  • With its four syllables, the word Kathedrale is almost four times as long as Dom. And the th makes its Greek origin obvious. Nowadays use of the word is in practice restricted to the building itself in its physical aspects. It seems to be the preferred, more 'neutral' term when talking about architecture. But due to its length and foreign feel people tend not to use it when they tell you to turn right after the cathedral.

The differences lie in the original financing and uses. They became less and less important to people, so that the words got mixed up a little bit, even in the naming of the churches. This development started already in the 13th century. Wikipedia

The original differences are:

das Münster once was part of a monastic community. (same as 'minster')

die Kathedrale has been a bishop's see.

der Dom has been financed by the town's citizens.

die Stiftskirche has been a donation to the church, mostly made by (local) nobility.

It's very difficult to discern them nowadays, because names haven't always been accorded in the original meaning and functions have changed over the centuries (many a "Dom" now is a bishop's see).

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.