GREAT CATHEDRALS IN ENGLAND AND IRELAND

When I learned of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was on fire, it brought to mind all of the other great cathedrals in England and continental Europe that are centuries old. Some have gone relatively unscathed, but as with any ancient architecture, most have withstood fires, wartime bombing, the Reformation…and the list goes on.

With that in mind, I asked my fellow travel bloggers to tell us about their favorite cathedrals. In this part of the series, we look at the great cathedrals in England and Ireland.

The Great Cathedrals in England and Ireland

Christ Church Cathedral – Dublin

Christ Church Cathedral, formerly known as the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, is located in Wood Quay in Dublin City Centre, Ireland. It is the elder of Dublin’s two medieval cathedrals, the other being St Patrick’s Cathedral.

Christ Church Cathedral is officially claimed as the seat (cathedra) of both the Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic archbishops of Dublin. However, since Reformation times it is the seat only of the Church of Ireland’s Archbishop of Dublin.

Founded around 1030 after the Hiberno-Norse King of Dublin made a pilgrimage to Rome, the church was built on a hill overlooking the Viking settlement of Wood Quay. The church became a priory in the late 1100’s and went on to become the wealthiest religious house in Ireland. During King Henry VIII’s reformation, he converted the priory into a cathedral with a dean and chapter and since then it has been the formal seat of the Protestant Church of Ireland.

It is a formidable structure and contains the largest crypt in a cathedral in Britain and Ireland, measuring 63 meters in length. The crypt also contains some fascinating monuments and historical features including the oldest known secular carvings in Ireland, a tabernacle and set of candlesticks used for a “Roman rite” during the reign of King James II, who temporarily restored Christ Church as a Roman Catholic cathedral, and a mummified Cat and Rat. The nave is reported to house the tomb of Strongbow, a medieval Norman-Welsh peer and warlord.

The interior of the church is a marvel, even more so than the exterior. Guided tours are available and take around 45 minutes and includes the nave, belfry and crypt. In the belfry you can try your hand at ringing the cathedral bells, although only those over 12 years of age can access the belfry. Christchurch is a popular tourist attraction and can be enjoyed if visiting Dublin with kids, although it is probably best suited to slightly older kids.

Great Cathedrals of Europe

Cath blogs at Passports and Adventures


Westminster Cathedral – London

Do you enjoy visiting amazing cathedrals and seeing brilliant structural buildings? One of the best and most stunning architectural buildings I have seen is the Westminster Cathedral in London. This is awesome cathedral is referred to as the mother of all cathedrals in England.

In the 1800s, Catholic worship was heavily frowned upon and was banned in a lot of places. However, by the 1900s Catholic worship was allowed nationwide in the UK, and the Westminster Cathedral was created for the Catholic religion.

Here are some facts for you:

  • The site on which it was was built was purchased in 1885, however the cathedral’s actual build wasn’t finished until 1903.
  • It sits in the lush area of Westminster, which is the central area of London and part of the West End.
  • Also, this is the north bank of the famous River Thames that flows through London.
  • Visitors don’t have to book a visit to see the cathedral, and there isn’t a cost to enter. It’s a free place to see in London and it’s open at all times to the public.

Westminster Cathedral - London

Louis Smith blogs at The Northern Boy.


“History and beauty lie in the baroque wrinkles of old cathedrals. mosques, synagogues, temples and faces whose stories are told without a single word.” ― Khang Kijarro Nguyen Click To Tweet

Lincoln Cathedral

Lincoln Cathedral stands proudly at the highest point in the City of Lincoln in Lincolnshire, UK. You can’t miss the beautiful sight of the cathedral, no matter which direction you approach Lincoln from. It is truly one of the great cathedrals of England.

Construction of Lincoln Cathedral started back in 1072, and building work continued in several phases throughout the medieval period. The cathedral is Gothic in style and is famous for its gargoyles and statues especially the local Lincoln Imp. It is the fourth largest cathedral in the UK and is stunning in design. The highlight is, when visiting on a sunny day, the range of colors cast onto the floor from the stained glass windows. It is a sight to behold.

There is a wonderful cafe located just past the cloisters where there is a lovely grassed spot for kids to run around. If you are visiting with children be sure to ask for an explorer backpack. They are included in your visit and there are packs to suit different age ranges.

Lincoln Cathedral is open 7 days a week, however, there are some restrictions with access to the church if there is a service or an event on. You do have to pay to visit; however, it is reasonably priced, and your entrance fee does include a tour of the cathedral. You can purchase a combined ticket for Lincoln Castle which is a good saving.

Great Cathedrals of England - Lincoln

Suzy McCullough blogs at Our Bucket List Lives.


Gloucester Cathedral

Gloucester Cathedral is perhaps one of the best-kept secrets of cathedrals worldwide. Starting life as a monastery, Gloucester Cathedral has stood the test of time surviving religious turmoil and war to today showcase some of the best examples of Norman and Gothic architecture.

Its stained glass windows are amongst the most important of its kind in England, showcasing Medieval, Heraldic and Victorian glass from the 14th century to the present day.

The famed cloisters are believed to be one of the earliest examples of fan vaulting in England, and feature snippets of what life would have been like for monks living here with spaces for desks and washing places.

Potterheads will recognize the cathedral as Hogwarts since the cathedral was used as a filming location for the first, second, and sixth Harry Potter films. Perhaps lesser known, Gloucester Cathedral was also used as a filming location for Mary Queen of Scots, Sherlock and Wolf Hall.

There are a number of tours available for a full discovery of almost 1000 years of history, the most notable are the tower tours and the crypts that unveil the resting place of notable people buried at the site, such as William the Conqueror’s son.

Gloucester Cathedral

Charlie blogs at the Millennial Runaway.


St. Patrick’s Cathedral – Dublin

Ireland’s largest church, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, is easily found in Dublin’s city center, next to a park with the same name.

The cathedral is named after St. Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint. He’s celebrated as the man who introduced Christianity to the Irish people.

It said that he used to baptize people on this site in the 5th century using water of a nearby well. Therefore, be sure to wander through the park neighboring the church to find a slab making reference to the well’s location.

Today’s cathedral dates back to the 13th century, and visitors can see an image of Saint Patrick reproduced in a stained glass window. In fact, you can see him on several windows, and even depicted in three statues. However, they’re all different from each other. Making it a bit difficult to have a real image of this so-celebrated saint.

For obvious reasons, the church is very touristy, what takes away a little of its magic. But the tiled floor and Gothic architectural style are magnificent. Also, the arched ceiling gives an impressive look to the central nave.

On the hall surrounding the altar, you’ll find statues, bursts, stone tomb slabs, and more. In total, there are over 200 monuments in the cathedral, and each one of them tells a little piece of Ireland’s history.

Address: St Patrick’s Close, Wood Quay, Dublin 8, Ireland

St Patrick's Cathedral - Dublin

Bruna & Frank blog at Maps’N Bags.

“The Christian catacombs represent simplicity and earthiness; the cathedrals, transcendence and wonder.” ― Russell Moore Click To Tweet

Durham Cathedral

The historic city of Durham is located in the north east of England and is approximately three hours by train from central London. The compact city is famous for its hilltop UNESCO Heritage Cathedral which dominates the city skyline. The cathedral is part of the central Palace Green which is also home to Durham Castle.

Durham Cathedral was built in the 11th century and took forty years to complete. The intricately decorated cathedral contains the relics of two saints, Saint Cuthbert and Saint Oswald and was a very popular location for medieval pilgrims to visit. The Chapel of the Nine Altars was constructed in an effort to meet the needs of these pilgrims.

The cathedral is known for its rare, rounded arches which line the nave leading to the ornate high altar. The Romanesque arches have unusual, carved Norman pillars supporting them. The overall look of the cathedral interior is very different from other British cathedrals.

My favorite aspect of Durham cathedral is the stained glass windows – they are beautiful, particularly the unmissable 18th century rose window. In addition, there are colorful modern stained glass windows which cast a myriad of colors onto the ancient stone floor. My favorite is the rich tones of the Daily Bread window.

Don’t miss the atmospheric exterior cloisters. Walking around the cloisters feels like stepping back in time. Harry Potter fans may recognize the cloisters as they were used as part of the school grounds of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter movies.

Great Cathedrals of England - Durham

Sinead Camplin blogs at Map Made Memories.


Coventry Cathedral

If you ever wanted to see beauty emerge from devastation, this is an important place to visit. After Coventry was bombed in 1940 in World War II, its historic cathedral of St Michael lay open to the sky. The decision to rebuild was taken the morning after the bombing, with architect Sir Basil Spence creating plans for a new cathedral adjoining the old. Spectacular stained glass makes the new cathedral glow.

Alongside it, the older cathedral remains a stark reminder of all that has passed, its arches as windows to the elements, and small shards of glass delicately positioned in otherwise empty window frames alongside the tower.

Coventry formed a powerful relationship with Dresden, it too significantly affected by bombing in the war. That relationship delivers the message of hope and reconciliation. The original cathedral space in Coventry contains a number of powerful sculptures articulating this message with elegance and grace. It’s a happy space too. On the day I last visited, students were graduating there: a powerful testament to the enduring role of Coventry Cathedral in city life.

Bernadette Jackson blogs at A Packed Life.


Westminster Abbey – London

Not to be confused with Westminster Cathedral is Westminster Abbey in London, another one of the great cathedrals of England. Legend has it that in the 6th century, the first Christian king of the Saxons, Saberht, founded a church on a small island in the River Thames. Later, the church was called the west minster (monastery), and supposedly (miraculously) consecrated by St. Peter.

The more likely story is that about 785 BCE, a small community of Benedictine monks that lived on the island and built the monastery. It was then enlarged and remodeled in 960, only to be torn down by Henry III in 1245 and replaced with the present Gothic-style abbey church.

It has been the site of coronations since the time of William the Conqueror in 1066, held the vast majority of royal marriages since the time of Henry I in 1100, and is the resting place of many of England’s monarchs, famous British subjects, such as Sir Isaac Newton, Geoffrey Chaucer, Robert Browning, and many others.

In 1987, it was dubbed a UNESCO World Heritage site along with the Houses of Parliament and St. Margaret’s Church and is a must-see when planning a trip to London.


Christ Church Cathedral – Oxford

Christ Church is a hot spot for tourists visiting Oxford and it’s the most grand of all the Oxford University colleges. What’s unique is that this college also has its very own cathedral, which doubles up as the cathedral of the diocese of Oxford. This dual role as both a college chapel and Oxford’s cathedral makes it unique in the Church of England.

The cathedral dates back to the 1100s, before the college even came into existence. It only became a college in the 16th century when this site was chosen by Sir Cardinal Wolsey. The college was actually founded by Henry VIII, who famously separated from the Church of England!

The cathedral also happens to be one of the smallest cathedrals in the country. From the main entrance, you honestly wouldn’t even know it was there. You enter via Christ Church’s Tom Quad, an enormous and impressive quadrangle, but the cathedral entrance is hidden away in the corner.

Once you’re inside, however, you’ll be wowed by the Norman vaulted ceilings, tiled floors, and beautiful pews. The famous English philosopher John Locke was a student at Christ Church in the mid-seventeenth century and he is now buried in the cathedral so look out for that too.

Every evening at 6 pm, the cathedral hosts Evensong. This is one of the best free things to do in Oxford and an opportunity to hear the renowned Christ Church Choir sing. Interestingly, the cathedral still operates according to Oxford Time, which is 5 minutes slower than GMT, so you’ll have to bear that in mind if you plan to attend!

Laura Hartley blogs at What’s Hot Blog.

I never weary of great churches. It is my favorite kind of mountain scenery. Mankind was never so happily inspired as when it made a cathedral. Robert Louis Stevenson Click To Tweet

Salisbury Cathedral

Sarum, near Salisbury City, was the site of the first Cathedral in this area. Built on the top of a steep hill, the local people found the place cold and uncomfortable. When the cathedral was struck by lightning in 1218, they petitioned to build the replacement in a nearby valley. Work started two years later and Salisbury Cathedral itself was built in just 38 years. For centuries to come it was the tallest building in the UK and even today it has the tallest spire in the UK and the tallest solid stone spire in Europe! You can, if you are feeling brave and fit, climb up the inside of the spire almost to the top where there’s a 360-degree viewing platform.

As the cathedral was built in a valley, it’s remarkable that it has survived so well. Sand and water don’t normally help the foundations of such a massive construction. It is built in the Early English Gothic style, which helped the builders construct the slim elegant arches that make Salisbury so distinctive. The tall and narrow nave has walls made from local light grey Chilmark stone with columns in contrasting ‘Purbeck marble’ a limestone from Dorset. Home to one of the three copies of the Magna Carta and to the oldest working modern clock in the world, it should be on the itinerary of every visitor to England.

Salisbury Cathedral from spire tour

Fiona MacLean blogs at London Unattached.


Wells Cathedral

Wells Cathedral sits in the smallest city in England at the foot of the high Mendip Hills. It is dedicated to St. Andrew the Apostle and is the residence of the Bishop of Bath and Wells. This cathedral is a short drive from Bristol and Bath and feels more like a visit to a small market town than an English city.

The cathedral was started in about 1175 to the north of an old minster church and has been adapted and modified ever since. The first building took about 80 years to build with the west front still there today.

Wells Cathedral is also home to the Wells clock, which is the second oldest clock mechanism in Britain and the oldest of this type of clock face anywhere in the world. It was made in 1390, and when it strikes jousting knights move and jack bangs his heels. It is worth finding and waiting for it to chime the hour.

If you look up in Wells Cathedral you will see amazing arches. These are called scissor arches and were designed to stop the whole building sinking under the weight of the tower and its lead. They are beautiful and unique. There are also lots of stunning stained glass windows and tombs within the cathedral as well as the beautiful Chapter House.

Adjacent to the Cathedral is the Vicars’ Close. It has been occupied for over 650 years and is the most complete example of a medieval close in the UK. It is joined to the cathedral by an ornate covered bridge and is still in use today.

The Bishops Palace is also adjacent to the cathedral and is where the Bishop of Bath and Wells resides. It has a moat and beautiful garden which can be explored.

Wells Cathedral - Great Cathedrals of the United Kingdom

Suzanne Easton blogs at Meandering Wild.

I wanted to keep a Gothic cathedral alive in my heart. Susan Vreeland Click To Tweet

York Minster

York Minster’s history is a long and rich one and is definitely one of the great cathedrals of England and northern Europe. Lying under the foundations are the remains of the Basilica, which was the ceremonial center of the Roman fortress. It was in 627 when the first Christian church on the site was built, and the first Archbishop of York was recognized by the Pope in 732.

While the Saxon church survived the Viking invasion of 866, it did not survive the invasion of William the Conqueror in 1069. By the end of the century, a Norman cathedral stood in its place. By 1472, it underwent a Gothic transformation and is the largest Gothic cathedral in Britain.

York Minster is home to some of the best examples of medieval stained glass on earth, some dating back to the 12th century. The 5 Sisters Window in York Minster’s North Transept dates back to the 1200s, and the Nice East Window, which measures as big as a tennis court, was created between 1405 and 1408.

As the natural center of the Church in the North, York Minster often held an important role in some of the biggest moments in Britain’s history, such as the Reformation and the Civil War. But it has managed to stand the test of time, and is surely a must-see when you travel to York.

York Minster - One of the great cathedrals of England

Credit: MatzeTrier [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Did we miss any great cathedrals in England and Ireland? Let us know in the comments!

When in London, don’t miss a visit to Southbank, one of London’s cultural centers. Check out the 6 cool things Ireland is famous for.

Here are a couple of guide books to help you find your way around these great cities:

Want more? Stay tuned for our next part in this series when we cover the great cathedrals of continental Europe.

The Great Cathedrals of England

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