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What's the Difference between Churches, Chapels, and Cathedrals?

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For every world religion, there is a place to worship. For Christianity, there are a confusing variety of names for these places, which are frequently—but incorrectly—used interchangeably. Church, chapel, and cathedral are the trio of terms most commonly used to denote a religious space, but how are they different? As with most questions on the nature of language, it depends not whom you ask, but when you ask.

Chronologically speaking, the words “church” and “chapel” emerged into widespread use at about the same time, dating back to approximately the thirteenth century. Church evolved from a motley collection of sources: the Old English cirice, West Germanic kirika, Middle Dutch kerke, and from the Greek kyriake. Chapel has a more straightforward derivation, from the Old French chapele, which in turn had roots in the Medieval Latin cappella, literally meaning “little cape,” honoring the story of St. Martin of Tours’ holy garment. Of the two, “church” is the broader term, referring both to the worship space in an architectural sense as well as the congregation as a collective group of people meeting within the church building. Though the word’s original connotations were of a building designated for holy worship, church services now often take place in secular locations, and former church buildings are frequently converted into private homes, bookstores, and bars.

Chapels are commonly smaller spaces, usually a room within the church or a larger, non-faith-based institution like an airport, hospital, or university, and they are not necessarily consecrated ground. Even chapels of considerable size or with their own freestanding grounds differ from the traditional Christian church in welcoming nondenominational or interfaith worship. Perhaps the loosest definition of “chapel” refers to those peculiar Las Vegas wedding locations for hasty, and occasionally poorly thought out, marriages—a far cry from most established religion.

Unlike both churches and chapels, which originated in the general Christian tradition but are not specific to any particular incarnation of it, cathedrals fulfill a specific role within the Catholic faith. Named for the bishop’s throne, the cathedra—and despite its implications of stained glass and grandeur—a “cathedral” is simply the designated principal church within a diocese. Naturally, where the bishop goes, lofty arches and flying buttresses often follow, but those are just a side effect. If the bishop’s seat moves elsewhere, so too does the designation of “cathedral.” Such was the case with Crotia’s Church of the Holy Cross, once billed as “the smallest cathedral in the world”—in the absence of a bishop, the Croatian Tourist Board is pushing the definition just a bit.

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Why Does the Queen Have Two Birthdays?
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On April 21, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will turn 92 years old. To mark the occasion, there are usually a series of gun salutes around London: a 41 gun salute in Hyde Park, a 21 gun salute in Windsor Great Park, and a 62 gun salute at the Tower of London. For the most part, the monarch celebrates her big day privately. But on June 9, 2018, Her Majesty will parade through London as part of an opulent birthday celebration known as Trooping the Colour.

Queen Elizabeth, like many British monarchs before her, has two birthdays: the actual anniversary of the day she was born, and a separate day that is labeled her "official" birthday (usually the second Saturday in June). Why? Because April 21 is usually too cold for a proper parade.

The tradition started in 1748, with King George II, who had the misfortune of being born in chilly November. Rather than have his subjects risk catching colds, he combined his birthday celebration with the Trooping the Colour.

The parade itself had been part of British culture for almost a century by that time. At first it was strictly a military event, at which regiments displayed their flags—or "colours"—so that soldiers could familiarize themselves. But George was known as a formidable general after having led troops at the Battle of Dettingen in 1743, so the military celebration seemed a fitting occasion onto which to graft his warm-weather birthday. Edward VII, who also had a November birthday, was the first to standardize the June Trooping the Colour and launched a tradition of a monarchical review of the troops that drew crowds of onlookers.

Even now, the date of the "official" birthday varies year to year. For the first seven years of her reign, Elizabeth II held her official birthday on a Thursday but has since switched over to Saturdays. And while the date is tied to the Trooping the Colour in the UK, Commonwealth nations around the world have their own criteria, which generally involve recognizing it as a public holiday.

Australia started recognizing an official birthday back in 1788, and all the provinces (save one) observe the Queen's Birthday on the second Monday in June, with Western Australia holding its celebrations on the last Monday of September or the first Monday of October.

In Canada, the official birthday has been set to align with the actual birth date of Queen Victoria—May 24, 1819—since 1845, and as such they celebrate so-called Victoria Day on May 24 or the Monday before.

In New Zealand, it's the first Monday in June, and in the Falkland Islands the actual day of the Queen's birth is celebrated publicly.

All in all, just another reason it's great to be Queen.

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What Is the Meaning Behind "420"?
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Whether or not you’re a marijuana enthusiast, you’re probably aware that today is an unofficial holiday for those who are. April 20—4/20—is a day when pot smokers around the world come together to, well, smoke pot. Others use the day to push for legalization, holding marches and rallies.

But why the code 420? There are a lot of theories as to why that particular number was chosen, but most of them are wrong. You may have heard that 420 is police code for possession, or maybe it’s the penal code for marijuana use. Both are false. There is a California Senate Bill 420 that refers to the use of medical marijuana, but the bill was named for the code, not the other way around.

As far as anyone can tell, the phrase started with a bunch of high school students. Back in 1971, a group of kids at San Rafael High School in San Rafael, California, got in the habit of meeting at 4:20 to smoke after school. When they’d see each other in the hallways during the day, their shorthand was “420 Louis,” meaning, “Let’s meet at the Louis Pasteur statue at 4:20 to smoke.”

Somehow, the phrase caught on—and when the Grateful Dead eventually picked it up, "420" spread through the greater community like wildfire. What began as a silly code passed between classes is now a worldwide event for smokers and legalization activists everywhere—not a bad accomplishment for a bunch of high school stoners.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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