English Cathedrals

The medieval cathedrals of England, dating from between approximately 1040 and 1540, are a group of twenty-six buildings which together constitute a major aspect of the country’s artistic heritage and are among the most significant material symbols of Christianity. Though diversified in style, they are united by a common function. As cathedrals, each of these buildings serves as central church for an administrative region (or diocese) and houses the throne of a bishop (“cathedra” from the Greek). Each cathedral also serves as a regional centre and a focus of regional pride and affection.

While there are characteristics of each building which are distinctly English, these cathedrals are marked by their architectural diversity, both from one to another and also within each individual building. One of the points of interest of the English cathedrals is the way in which much of the history of medieval architecture can be demonstrated within a single building, which typically has important parts constructed in several different centuries with no attempt whatever to make the later work match or follow through on an earlier plan. For this reason a comprehensive architectural chronology must jump backwards and forwards from one building to another. Only at one building, Salisbury Cathedral, is stylistic unity demonstrated. The title “minster” is attributed to churches established in the Anglo-Saxon period as missionary teaching churches, and serves now as an honorific title.

In early monastic cathedrals, the bishop was titular abbot. Apart from Carlisle (Augustinian), these monasteries were Benedictine. At the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII, around 1540, these monastic cathedrals became governed by secular canons.  These are:

A second group of cathedrals were established during the Medieval period, and have continued ever since to be governed by a body of secular clergy, or chapter, presided over by a dean. These cathedrals were all built specifically to serve as cathedral churches, and are:

In addition, the following cathedrals were originally monastic churches, but became the seat of a bishop during their construction:

The following great medieval abbey churches were established as new cathedrals under Henry VIII:

Abbey churches which became cathedrals:

Collegiate churches which consequently combine the functions of cathedral and parish church:

Former parish churches converted to cathedrals in modern times (not included amongst the classic twenty-six medieval cathedrals):

  • Truro Cathedral (1880)
  • Newcastle Cathedral (1882)
  • Wakefield Cathedral (1888)
  • Birmingham Cathedral (1905)
  • St Edmundsbury Cathedral (1914)
  • Chelmsford Cathedral (1914)
  • Sheffield Cathedral (1914)
  • Bradford Cathedral (1919)
  • Blackburn Cathedral (1926)
  • Leicester Cathedral (1927)
  • Portsmouth Cathedral (1927)

Modern cathedrals:

  • Liverpool Cathedral (1904)
  • Coventry Cathedral (1918 and 1962)
  • Guildford Cathedral (1965)


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