England’s Finest Cathedral Cities:
There’s nothing like a visit to one of the great Cathedrals of England make me question my own spirituality. On hilltops or on plains – towering spires that reach up into the sky. Intricate stonework, jewelled windows and imposing ceilings. These are buildings surely created by some God or higher force. I have a friend who intends to visit every English cathedral before she dies. I have no such ambition, and yet, when I chance to visit Salisbury, Winchester, Durham or Lincoln Cathedral I am astonished. In the last twelve months, we’ve visited four English Cathedral Cities and one Minster, each with their own distinct character and each with their own place in history. Take a look at what we found…then go and explore for yourself. Each one is easy to reach from London by train and set in a quintessentially English city with plenty of other things to see and do.
Any visit to Winchester will invariably include a trip to the Cathedral. While you are there, a tour of the crypt, which dates from the 11th century, is certainly worth doing. As the crypt can be flooded for months at a time this is not always possible. On this occasion I was glad to be able to join the crypt tour - the statue, Sound II, the work of the celebrated British sculptor Antony Gormley, is the first thing you see. The artist was so impressed by the crypt that he produced this work specifically for its location, as a donation to the cathedral. The statue is fashioned from lead out of a plaster cast of the artist’s own body. This life-sized figure seems to be looking at water held in its cupped hands. When the crypt floods, during the wetter months, the statue can be standing in water as high as its knees. Such an impressive sight!
Durham Cathedral has an austere Northern charm all of its own. After the Norman conquest, such was the challenge of ruling the North of England that William the Conqueror granted the Bishops of Durham special powers as ‘Prince-Bishops, to help protect the North of England from Scottish invasion. They could raise an army, mint their own coins, and levy taxes for example. The wealthy Bishops were not without ambition and the Cathedral still boasts the Bishop's Throne, specially commissioned to be one inch higher than the Pope's own throne in the Vatican! Some of the filming of Harry Potter has taken place here. And Durham itself has links to a post world war II school for spooks and a number of early Christian saints.
A stunning Cathedral built in 1092, Lincoln sits at the top of a steep hill, dominating the surrounding countryside. Lincoln Cathedral is also known as the Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lincoln and sometimes St Mary's Cathedral. Built in the Gothic style it was the tallest building in the world for 238 years (1311–1548). The central spire of Lincoln Cathedral collapsed in 1548 and was not rebuilt. Until recently the Cathedral housed one of the four remaining copies of the original Magna Carta, which has now been moved to a specially built cabinet in nearby Lincoln Castle. It's the third largest Cathedral by floor space in England after St Pauls in London and York Minster
York Minster is a popular destination and packed with visitors during the summer. But, as the sun fades, the area quietens down while the Minster itself seems to glow bathed in the evening light. The first Minster was a wooden construction built in 627 and a stone structure was completed in 637 by Oswald, dedicated to Saint Peter. Most of what you see today dates from the 13th Century. The wide nave was constructed from the 1280s on the Norman foundations and the outer roof was completed in the 1330s, but the vaulting was not finished until 1360. Construction continued and the cathedral was declared complete and consecrated in 1472 Now it's very much a living Cathedral thronging with visitors and pilgrims and hosting events open to all. Whether you are looking for the peace and tranquility of the Minster in the evening or a livelier visit during the day, don't miss out on a trip to York Minster
Salisbury Cathedral is equally stunning from outside and in. I was lucky enough to climb the 332 steps up into the spire. About a hundred steps up into the spire you are rewarded with this view into the Nave of this building, a unique Cathedral that was started in 1220 AD and in the main, completed just 38 years later. It's in the Early English Gothic style with a tall and narrow nave, with walls built from light grey Chilmark stone and columns from dark polished Purbeck marble.
Which Cathedrals in England have you visited? Which do you recommend? What else do you enjoy about English Cathedral Cities?