England cathedrals include some of the most magnificent and famous Gothic structures of their type. Virtually every major and mid-sized city boasts a cathedral, not all of which are Gothic in origin. A good number are more modern, built in later centuries. A number of these churches are so significant historically or architecturally that they are designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites. A significant number of British cathedrals are still active houses of worship, although some (like Elgin Cathedral in Scotland) are picturesque ruins.
One of the most beautiful medieval British cathedrals is located in the city of Salisbury, gateway to the famous Salisbury Plain where the mysterious prehistoric monument of Stonehenge is located. The building of lovely Salisbury Cathedral was accomplished in fewer than 40 years, from 1220 to 1258 when it was consecrated. Its spire is 404 feet high, making it the tallest church spire in the United Kingdom, which can be viewed during "tower tours." In addition to the spire, the cathedral boasts a number of superlatives and notable facts. One of the four original copies of the Magna Carta is located here, as well as one of the world oldest working clocks (dating to 1386). The church's cloister and cathedral close (80 acres) are the largest in the UK.
One of the oldest British cathedrals is the Seat of the Anglican Bishop of Durham, built in 1093. It is a superb example of Norman architecture, and as such is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Durham Cathedral is set high on a hill over the River Wear and was constructed over the site of an even earlier Saxon church.
One of the oldest cathedrals in the UK (built originally in 642), Winchester Cathedral is also one of England's largest. It is famous for its seven beautiful chantry chapels where masses were said for the bishops who built them, exquisite fourteenth-century oak choir stalls, its low vaulted stone crypt, and its massive ornate fifteenth-century stone screen behind the high altar. It is located in the town of Winchester in the County of Hampshire, about 25 miles west of Stonehenge.
York Minster is the largest of the cathedrals in the UK, and the second largest in all of northern Europe after the Cathedral of Cologne in Germany. As its name suggests, it is located in the city of York. Like almost all Gothic cathedrals, it is built on a site where there has been a Christian church since around the seventh century. Although heavily damaged, repaired, and rebuilt over the centuries, the current York Minster was built during the thirteenth century. It is built in the cruciform style, with soaring interiors and high towers that can be ascended on foot for wonderful views of the city and surrounding countryside. There are 128 stained glass windows, some of which date to the original construction of the thirteenth century. It boasts 30 altars and a massive pipe organ built in the early 1800s.
Most UK cathedrals are located on ancient religious sites in ancient cities, but Llandaff Cathedral is in one of the oldest cities and on one of the most ancient religious sites in all of Europe. It was a Christian site as early as the sixth century, and there is evidence of pre-Christian Roman burials under the church. The ancient city of Llandaff was incorporated into the city of Cardiff in 1922, and is now in the northwest part of the capital of Wales. The spectacular cathedral dates to 1107, and includes both Gothic and Norman architectural elements.
Many, many more cathedrals in the UK are notable, including Canterbury Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, which are both UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Cathedral Church of St Paul in London, built by Christopher Wren in the nineteenth century served as a symbol of the strength and resilience of the British people when they fought valiantly to save it from destructive fire during the Blitz of World War II. Perhaps the most beautiful is the Wells Cathedral, located in Somerset and built between 1175 and 1490. The Christ Church Cathedral of Oxford University is also an exceedingly beautiful church. Again, you will also find England cathedrals in many unexpected places, including the remote Orkney and Hebrides Islands.