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Mother Church of the worldwide Anglican Communion and seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Cathedral was founded by St Augustine in 597AD, though the present building dates mostly from the late medieval period. Archbishop Thomas Becket was murdered here in 1170 and it thereafter became a place of pilgrimage. The Cathedral is a holy place and part of a World Heritage Site.
The roots of Chichester Cathedral lie in its now vanished predecessor at Church Norton, ten miles away on Selsey Bill, which is said to have been founded by St Wilfred in 681AD. The see was transferred to Chichester, once an important Roman town, Noviomagus, in 1075. A new cathedral was built and consecrated in 1108. From the late 13th century it became a centre of pilgrimage as the site of the shrine of St Richard of Chichester, who was bishop from 1245 to 1253. His shrine, along with much else, was destroyed during the Reformation in 1538 and the Cathedral suffered damage again, at the hands of Parliamentary forces in 1642, during the Civil War. The Cathedral was considerably restored in the Victorian period. Its many treasures include its soaring spire, unique free-standing medieval bell-tower, rare 12th century sculptures and notable modern artwork items, including a window by Marc Chagall. Burials include the composer Gustav Holst and the 13th century 10th Earl of Arundel, Richard FitzAlan and his wife, Eleanor of Lancaster; their effigies are holding hands.
The Cathedral stands on the site of an ancient Saxon Church, founded in the 8th century by St Frideswide, the Patron Saint of Oxford. Though nothing now remains of this church, a Saxon cemetery lies under the cathedral cloister.
The present building was constructed in the last quarter of the 12th century as the monastery church for a community of Augustinian Canons. The monastery was called St Frideswide’s Priory, and inside the church stood an ornate shrine on which were kept the relics of the saint. Pilgrims visited the shrine throughout the Middle Ages, including Catherine of Aragon, who, in 1518, came to pray for the birth of a healthy son.
In 1524, just before the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Cardinal Wolsey gained permission from the Pope to close down St Frideswide’s Priory so that he could use the land to build a vast new college for the university. He planned to include a new chapel for his ‘Cardinal’s College’ but died before the building was complete, which meant that the old monastery church was retained. King Henry VIII founded the college as Christ Church instead and in 1546 moved the first Bishop of Oxford into the church, thereby creating a unique institution: a college chapel that is also the Cathedral for the Diocese of Oxford.
Christ Church Cathedral is one of the oldest buildings in Oxford and one of the smallest cathedrals in England. Unusually for a cathedral, its centre stalls face inwards, in collegiate style. Its interior is breathtaking; the stonework almost glows and the stained glass is stunning. The Becket Window in the Lucy Chapel dates from 1320 and is one of very few images of Becket to survive. There is still a shrine to St Frideswide. But perhaps best of all is the remarkable stone vaulted ceiling in the chancel, which is 500 years old.
Visitors should note that services begin five minutes later than ‘normal’ time, because the Cathedral keeps the old ‘Oxford Time’ (ie five minutes west of Greenwich). This means 6pm Oxford Time is 6.05pm GMT or BST.
Coventry has had three cathedrals. The Priory Church of St Mary was founded as a Benedictine community in 1043, allegedly by the Earl of Mercia, Leofric, and his wife Godiva. It became a cathedral in 1102 but was dissolved and destroyed in 1539. The parish church of St Michael, founded as a chapel in the 12th century, became Coventry's second cathedral in 1918. However, this was destroyed in the blitz of 14 November 1940. The third cathedral, also dedicated to St Michael, was created next door to the ruins in a spirit of reconciliation during the 1950s and was completed in 1962. Both buildings are stunning: the ruins are thought-provoking; the modern, with its soaring and light interior, is unusually beautiful, and inspiring, for a structure of its period.
The interior of tiny Dornoch Cathedral is stunning: magnificent stained glass windows set in simple stone walls, crowned by a white, vaulted, roof. It exudes tranquillity. Founded by the Bishop of Sutherland, Gilbert de Moravia a little after 1222, in 1570 Dornoch Cathedral was almost totally destroyed during a clan feud between the Murrays of Dornoch and the Mackays of Strathnaver, when it was set on fire. It was partially repaired in 1616, but the restoration was not completed until the 19th century. The pop star Madonna had her son, Rocco, baptised at Dornoch in 2000; she and her then husband, Guy Ritchie, were married at nearby Skibo Castle.
Durham Cathedral's official name is 'the Cathedral Church of Christ, Blessed Mary the Virgin and St Cuthbert of Durham'. It is the home of the shrine of St Cuthbert and burial place of the Venerable (aka 'Venomous') Bede. The cathedral, along with Durham Castle, occupies a rocky promontory high above the river Wear - originally an excellent defensive position, now dramatic and picturesque. It was founded in 1093 and the outstanding architectural feature (probably) are the massive, soaring, Romanesque/Norman arches in the nave. There's a wonderful simplicity about Durham Cathedral.
The Bishops of Durham - 'the Prince Bishops' used to wield temporal, as well as spiritual, power and effectively ruled the diocese for 850 years. That did not stop Oliver Cromwell using the Cathedral to hold 3,000 Scots prisoner after the Battle of Dunbar in 1650; many of them died within the Cathedral.
Durham Cathedral, along with the adjacent Castle, is a World Heritage Site.
The spectacular ruins of Elgin Cathedral still impress. The cathedral was established in 1224 on land granted by King Alexander II and was dedicated to the Holy Trinity. Though suffering fire and, most famously, sacking by the Wolf of Badenoch, Alexander Stewart, the Earl of Buchan, the cathedral continued to grow and thrive, and was known as ‘the lantern of the north’, until the Scottish Reformation of in 1560, when the cathedral was abandoned. Gradually, it fell into an ever-worsening state, until it began to receive some care and attention in the 19th C. Highlights of a visit now include the magnificent 13th C west front, octagonal chapter house, carved stonework and Scotland’s tallest gravestone (5m high and dedicated to the Anderson family).
Ely Cathedral was founded by Queen Etheldreda in the 7th century on the site of an earlier church. Sacked by the Danes, it was re-founded by Benedictine monks in the 10th century. The present, magnificent yet serene, cathedral dates from 11th century, was heavily refurbished in the 19th century and is partly surrounded by parkland. Do not miss the amazing octagon tower, the ceilings and the Lady Chapel.
Don’t be put off by its location, or the grossly ugly Royal Infirmary next door. Traditionally founded in the 6th century by St Kentigern (also known as ‘Mungo’ and the founder of the city), Glasgow Cathedral is one of the few medieval churches in Scotland to have survived the Reformation. The present building dates from the 12th century and contains numerous memorials, not least the alleged tomb of Mungo himself in the intriguing crypt. It is impressive, rather than beautiful. There is some wonderful stained glass, a marvellous 15th century carved stone pulpitum (quire screen) and the bewitching whitewashed Blacader Aisle, built by Archbishop Blacader (or Blackadder) in the 15th century on what is believed to be the site of Mungo’s first church.
Hereford Cathedral was founded in the year 696 and is dedicated to Ethelbert, a young late 8th-century king of East Anglia who was murdered on the orders of King Offa of Mercia (or his queen) and who was interred in the church. There is no trace of the earlier buildings; the current structures date from the 11th and 12th centuries and there is a magnificent Norman nave, with massive Romanesque arches. The Cathedral is famous for its chained library and its many treasures, not least the Mappa Mundi, a graphical representation of the medieval world, physical and spiritual, made (possibly for the Cathedral) by Richard of Holdingham in the early 14th century. The Chained Library, an early form of security system whereby books are literally chained to shelves in such a way that they can still be read, dates from 1611. Among its many manuscripts is an 8th century gospel and a copy of Magna Carta from 1217.
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