Lesson 3: Church ABC’s

“Abbeys and basilicas and cathedrals oh my!” Have you ever wondered what these words mean? When we talk about the Church, we don’t just mean our own parish, St. Mary Magdalen. As Catholics, we are blessed to be part of a Church that is spread all around the world. Worldwide, there are 1.1 billion Catholics! In the United States alone, there are over 17,000 parishes.1 There are Catholic churches on every continent, even Antartica! All of these Churches have their own names and there are many different types. What does it mean when a church is called an abbey, basilica, or cathedral? What about a chapel, shrine, mission, or monastery? This lesson will teach you what these names mean and help you explore the amazing, worldwide family we call the Catholic Church!

Introduction Video and Opening Prayer

Go Deeper!

Below is a fun, interactive “Church Alphabet.” It’s a lifetime of pilgrimages rolled into one place! Feel free to explore some of the links as a family; they will help you complete this lesson’s featured activity. You do not need to explore every single link and video, but we encourage you to explore several.

A is for Abbey. An Abbey isn’t just a road the Beatles walked across, it is the name of the place a religious community, headed by an Abbot lives. One of the most famous abbeys in the world is Westminster Abbey in England. It was originally a Catholic Church, but was taken over by the Church of England during the Reformation. This is the church where the King or Queen of England is crowned.

low angle photography of beige and brown cathedral

Everything you could ever want to know about Westminster Abbey: https://www.westminster-abbey.org/about-the-abbey

B is for Basilica. A Basilica is a Church with a special relationship to the Pope. It is allowed to use artistic symbols related to the Pope. Basilicas are also preferred locations to host the Pope when he visits. You will have a chance to learn about the first ever Basilica: St. John Lateran Basilica. It is the Pope’s own Cathedral in Rome.

Take a virtual tour of the Basilica: http://www.vatican.va/various/basiliche/san_giovanni/vr_tour/index-it.html

Photo Copyright: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rome_-Basilica_di_San_Giovanni_in_Laterano-_facade.jpg

C is for Cathedral. We learned what a Cathedral is in the introductory video. One of the most famous Cathedrals in the world is Notre Dame in Paris. It almost burned down in 2019, but thanks be to God, it was ok and restoration work will begin soon. This Cathedral is near and dear to Mr. Kenny’s heart because he visited it in 2016! The full name of the Cathedral is ‘Cathedrale Notre Dame de Paris’: The Cathedral of Our Lady of Paris.

D is for Dome. Some of the most famous domes in the world are on Catholic Churches. A particularly famous Dome is found on the Pantheon in Rome. This was originally a temple to the Roman gods, but was converted to a Catholic Church in the year 609AD. It’s domed ceiling is an architectural marvel.

people gathering in dome building

Construction on the Pantheon began in 29B.C. It became a Catholic Church in 609 A.D. and is now the Basilica of St. Mary and the Martyrs. Its concrete dome ceiling weighs 4535 tons; that’s over 9 million pounds!2

E is for Ecclesia. “Ecclesia” (Eh-CLAY-z-uh) is the latin word for Church. Remember our first lesson? The Church teaches the family is the “Ecclesia Domestica” – the Domestic Church. The word “ecclesia” is often inscribed on many older churches, now you will know what it means if you ever see it.

This is a picture of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Marquette, Michigan. Above the altar is the latin phrase, “Tu es Petrus, et super hanc petram aedificabo ecclesiam meam.”

This quote comes from Mt 16:18 “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church.”

F is for Family. La Sagrada Familia Basilica, in Barcelona, Spain, is one of the most stunning churches in the world. It is named after the Holy Family. Construction on it began in 1882 and still is not finished! Currently, it is scheduled to be completed in 2026. The Holy Family shows us what a beautiful plan God has for family life, it is only fitting we should build a beautiful church in their honor.

brown painted infrastructure beside trees

Take a virtual tour of La Sagrada Familia here: https://sagradafamilia.org/en/virtual-tour

What do you think the Church will look like when it is done?

G is for Guadalupe. The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe is just north of Mexico City. It was built to honor Our Lady of Guadalupe. Mary appeared to St. Juan Diego in 1517. She asked him to tell the bishop to build a chapel where she appeared to him. To prove to the bishop that she was really Mary, she gave St. Juan Diego a cloak called a tilma with her image miraculously upon it. The chapel the bishop built became what is today the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the tilma is still housed there for the faithful to venerate. We will learn more about Our Lady of Guadalupe in an upcoming lesson!

H is for Holy Sepulchre. This Church is one of the holiest sites in Christianity. That is because it is built over the place in Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified and laid in the tomb. Pilgrims from all over the world come to visit this site where our salvation was won! This is, without a doubt, the most famous empty tomb in the world. He is risen; alleluia!

I is for Icons Icons are often images of Jesus, Mary, and the saints and angels displayed in Churches all over the world. They remind us of the many holy men and women who have belonged to our wonderful Catholic family over the centuries and who are still apart of the Church in Heaven.

We will learn much more about icons in our next lesson. For now, see if you can’t find some of the icons we have around our own parish!

J is for James What happens when you walk 500 miles through Spain, following yellow arrows? You end up at the tomb of one of the 12 apostles! (Or very very lost.)

The Camino de Santiago is one of Christianity’s oldest pilgrimages. It is also known as the Way of St. James. The apostle James brought Christianity to Spain and is buried in Santiago de Compostela. The Camino is a retracing of the journey he took, baptizing those he met and preaching the gospel.

His tomb is beneath the altar of the Cathedral in Santiago, Spain. The pictures below were taken by everybody’s favorite religious formation director, when he walked the final part of the Camino in 2015.

K is for… Kitchen? When we see the word “kitchen” the first thing most of us think of is not a Church. However in Glendalough, Ireland, there is a Church known as St. Kevin’s Kitchen. It is named for an iconic tower that reminded people of a kitchen chimney.

The Church is named after St. Kevin. According to legend, he lived between 498AD and 618AD. That means he was 120 years old – imagine how many candles were on his birthday cake!

L is for Lourdes Lourdes, France is the location where one of the most famous Marian apparitions in history took place. Our Lady appeared to St. Bernadette and told her where to find a miraculous spring. Many people have reported miracles they experienced after bathing in the waters of the spring. Mary also asked that a Church be built on the site and that rosary processions take place there. All of these things have been done and today Lourdes remains one of the most popular pilgrimage locations in the world.

M is for Michael Mont St. Michel is one of the most famous medieval abbeys in the world. Monks have lived their for centuries, isolated from the rest of world by the area’s dramatic tides. Fittingly, this island abbey, which has survived a turbulent and often war-torn history, is dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel – the head of the heavenly army.

N is for Nativity If you ever travel to the Holy Land, be sure to visit Bethlehem and visit the Church of the Nativity. It is built over the site of Jesus’ birth. Watch the video below to see what it looks like and learn more about Bethlehem’s role in the bible. This Christmas, when we hear the nativity story proclaimed, we can think back to this video.

O is for Our Lady of the Snows The southernmost Church in the world is in an ice cave at Belrano II Base in Antartica. It is The Chapel of Our Lady of the Snows, a permanent Catholic Church in one of Earth’s most remote locations. If you go to Mass here, make sure you bring a coat!

P is for Peter St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome is the largest Catholic church in the world. Millions of people visit ever year. Anytime you see pictures of the Vatican, you have seen St. Peter’s. We began the lesson by describing the Cathedral as the capital of the Diocese. St. Peter’s and the rest of the Vatican are the capital of the whole Church!

white and beige concrete building during nighttime

The Apostle Peter is buried beneath the main altar of St. Peter’s Basilica. Did you know Peter was the first pope? Every pope is considered a successor of Peter. We are so blessed to belong to the Church founded by Jesus Christ!

Q is for Queen Has your family ever been to Disney World? While you spent your time waiting for autographs from all manner of Kings, Queens, Princes, and Princesses, you were only a short trip away from a church dedicated to the Queen of the whole universe! The Basilica and National Shrine of Mary Queen of the Universe was built to serve as a pilgrimage destination for people from all over the world who visit central Florida.

A beautiful place for Mass on your family vacation!

R is for Rouen The French city of Rouen holds a special place in Catholic history. It was the city where St. Joan of Arc was martyred. Her story shows us that young people can accomplish incredible things in the face of adversity. If you do not know her story, you should look it up.

A beautiful church stands near the site of her martyrdom. In a country full of beautiful medieval churches, this more modern Church stands out as all the more unique.

S is for Shrine It wouldn’t be fair if the only Churches we listed were far away. Fortunately, there is a Church only a short day trip away you could visit. The National Shrine of the Little Flower is in Royal Oak, Michigan. If you have never been there, it is worth the trip. Stop in and explore this historic church and learn first hand what a basilica looks like.

In addition to being declared a minor basilica in 2014, this church is also a national shrine to St. Therese, also known as “The Little Flower.” A national shrine is a Church that has been designated as such by the national bishops conference in recognition of its historical or cultural significance. Shrines are often Churches that have been specially dedicated to a particular saint, devotion, or historic event.

T is for Tabernacle

U is for Universal We are blessed to be a part of an amazing Church. We say that the Church is universal because it exists all over the world and also in Heaven. In fact, the word “Catholic” means universal! Hopefully after going through this lesson, you have a new appreciation for what it means to be part of a universal Church!

V is for Virgin There are thousands of churches worldwide named after the Virgin Mary and her various titles. Can you name any off the top of your head?

Below is a picture of the House of the Virgin Mary in Ephesus which is in modern day Turkey. According to Church tradition, Mary went to live in Ephesus with the apostle John after Christ’s resurrection.

W is for Weiskirche This pilgrimage church in Germany is one of the country’s most beautiful churches. Just take one look at its ornate ceiling and you will understand why pilgrims have flocked there over the centuries!

By Danielloh79 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35583424

X is for Xavier. Below is a picture of St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Kottar India. St. Francis Xavier was one of the Church’s most famous missionaries. We will learn more about missionaries in this lesson’s featured saint section.

Y is for Young The Church is for people of all ages. Pope Francis began his 2019 Apostolic Exhortation, Christus Vivit, with these words:

“Christ is alive! He is our hope, and in a wonderful way he brings youth to our world, and everything he touches becomes young, new, full of life. The very first words, then, that I would like to say to every young Christian are these: Christ is alive and he wants you to be alive!”

As a family, spend some time discussing with your children what these words mean to them. You may want to include their thoughts in your Destined Journal.

Z is for Zipaquira We’ve reached the end of our Church alphabet. Have you been wondering this whole time what on Earth be would come up with for Z? Well the wait is over! In Zipaquira Columbia, is a church known as the Salt Cathedral. It is located 600ft underground in a salt mine. Make sure you watch the video tour of this truly unique church.

Featured Saint

This lesson’s featured saint is a Spanish missionary named Junipero Serra. Many of our families have expressed their excitement to learn about saints who lived in America and this is our first opportunity!

St. Junipero Serra was a Fransican priest who traveled to America as a missionary. A missionary is someone who spreads the faith to areas that have never heard the Gospel. They live out Christ’s commandment to spread the Gospel to all nations (Mt 28) in a radical way.

St. Junipero Serra lived between 1713 and 1784. While the Revolutionary war was raging on the East Coast, Serra was in modern-day California, spreading the faith to the native peoples who lived there.

Padre Serra, as he was affectionately known, founded missions throughout California. A mission is a church built in missionary territory. You can think of them as the frontlines of the Church. Over the centuries, brave men and women have founded missions all over the world in an effort to spread the Gospel and Christ’s message of salvation.

St. Junipero Serra spent his life spreading the Gospel and was among the first to proclaim the faith in California. He founded many missions some of which you already know. Have you heard of San Diego or San Francisco? Thank Padre Serra – they were originally missions he helped create.

Let Us Pray!

In this lesson, we explored some of the most famous Catholic Churches in the world, but there are still many more to see. This lesson’s prayer challenge is to visit another Church either for Mass or just to visit and pray.

If you are not yet venturing out for in-person Mass, you could try watching the livestream of another Church’s Sunday Mass.

What churches are important to your family? Is there somewhere your family always attends Mass while on vacation? Do you have a favorite Church to visit?

If you visit another Catholic church, make a scrapbook page of your journey in your Destined Journal.

If you are unable to do any of the above options, try to at least set aside some time as a family to pray for the Church around the world.

Live It Out Activities

Now that you have finished learning your ABC’s, its time to dream big! As you went through this lesson, did you find yourself saying, “Wow! I really want to go there someday?” If so, you will love this lesson’s featured activity! Click the button below to begin planning your adventure.

More to Explore!

A Wonderful Article on the history behind some of the types of Churches we have learned about: https://www.catholiceducation.org/en/culture/catholic-contributions/cathedrals-shrines-and-basilicas.html


  1. https://www.usccb.org/offices/public-affairs/laity-and-parishes
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pantheon,_Rome#cite_note-52
0 0 vote
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
11 days ago

This was a fun lesson Josh! Made me realize how lucky we are to be able to visit many of these cool places.

10 days ago

Our family enjoyed learning the “Church ABC’s”. It was a fun activity to gather each family members choice for a vacation spot and then teach the kids how to research different spots. We created a Scrapbook of the Catholic places they chose to visit. Now they are asking me when we are going! lol.

7 days ago

What a good lesson. The ice church in Antarctica and the salt cave one were really neat. Here is a photo of the Santa Fe destination we selected. We learned about the Cathedral Basilica there as well as the Loretto Chapel.

5 days ago

Great lesson! We are really enjoying this.

5 days ago

The three of us had many places we’d like to visit!

We’d start in Paris visiting the Notre Dame cathedral because that is a sight I think all of us would love to see. So thankful that it will be rebuilt after that fire!

Then we’d head to England to Westminster Abbey as the Royal family has always been interesting to me.

We’d visit Rome next to see the incredible domed ceiling at the Pantheon and visit St. Peter’s Basilica. The kids’ grandparents have been there and have even met the Pope!

Spain would be our next destination because we are all so surprised that La Sagrada Familia has been under construction for over 140 years!

Our next stop is Weiskirch in Germany to see the gorgeous ceiling.

Finally, we’d end in Columbia. How strange and incredible that it’s 600 feet underground!

4 days ago

What a fun lesson! Our kids chose to write about one of their favorite churches to visit, Grandma and Grandpa’s church, it’s one of the places we get to go to church with our cousins when we have weekends at their house. We also discussed how we’d all really like to visit Notre Dame, even our 3 year old enjoyed watching the Notre Dame video of how it was constructed.

3 days ago

This was a fun lesson! Hope to visit these places one day!

3 days ago

Thanks for the walk through this time. It was a great way to learn with our daughter. Amy was actually baptized at Shrine of the Little Flower, and Amy’s grandfather recently gave us a small bottle of water from Lourdes that has been in the family for decades. Thanks again!

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
%d bloggers like this: