Britain’s abundance of cathedrals are not only a fascinating insight into the country’s religious history, but a stunning example of some of its most iconic and enduring art and architecture. You’ll be able to find a cathedral in most of the UK’s cities, but there are some particular points of interest that are a must-see for any cathedral connoisseur (or just anyone who wants to spend a few hours inside a beautiful building).
The smallest city in England, Wells feels very much like a town. However, it’s centerpiece, the stunning Wells Cathedral, is truly a marvel. Described as ‘the most poetic cathedral in Britain’ it’s arguably one of the most beautiful examples of Gothic architecture in the country. Wells as a cathedral city dates back to around 909 AD, but many of the features of the current cathedral were built between 1175 and 1490. The West Front is a sight to behold, featuring a plethora of statues tucked into alcoves and sharp spires reaching up into the sky. Inside, you’ll notice the famous scissor arches and intricate carvings dotted around the building, as well as a 14th century astronomical clock that is said to be the oldest in Europe.
It may seem hard to believe now, but at one time Lincoln Cathedral was the tallest building in the world. Dating back to 1072, it’s gothic spires tower over the city of Lincoln. Heading inside the cathedral, walk up to St Hugh’s Choir where you’ll be surrounded by arched pillars and Victorian stained glass windows. Don’t forget to look out for the Lincoln imp, perched high above the choir. According to mythology he is said to have been turned into stone by the angels for causing mischief in the cathedral!
Rather than towering high into the sky, Winchester Cathedral stretches 556-feet across, making it the longest Medieval Cathedral in Europe. There has been a cathedral in Winchester since 648 AD, and it’s been remodeled and renovated many times since then. Winchester cathedral is characterised by a perpendicular (Gothic) style of vertical paneled windows, narrow octagonal towers, as well as Norman pillars and heavy round arches. The nave stretches out far in front of you, and if you walk up it you’ll see the beautiful choir and altar, embellished with a 15th century ornate gold screen depicting Christ and many saints. Some of Britain’s ancient kings and queens are buried here, as well as one of the UK’s most famous authors, Jane Austen.
Moving away from the Gothic, Durham Cathedral is possibly the finest example of a Norman cathedral in the UK. Whilst most other Norman buildings have been rebuilt and modified beyond recognition, Durham Cathedral is almost entirely preserved. Work began on the cathedral in 1093 to house the remains of St Cuthbert, the 7th century Bishop of Lindisfarne, and ended around 1133. Since then, the cathedral has been constantly used as a place of worship and pilgrimage. Highlights include: their Frosterly marble which is over 310 million years old; the distinctive ribbed zig-zagging around the pillars in the centre of the cathedral; the 12th century cloisters used in the filming of Harry Potter; and the tower that you can climb up for truly unrivalled views of the city.
The seat of The Archbishop of Canterbury and Britain’s oldest cathedral, Canterbury is one of the most famous religious structures in England and has a colourful history. The cathedral dates back to around 597 AD, but almost nothing of the original building remains. It has a mixture of Gothic and Norman architecture, with the famous 14th century Romanesque nave and the beautiful crypt which dates back to the 11th century, making it the oldest part of the cathedral. The beautiful carvings on the stained glass windows illustrate some of the cathedral’s history, most significantly the martyrdom of Archbishop Thomas Becket, who was murdered in the cathedral in 1170 and is now buried there, alongside other important figures from English history such as King Henry IV.