Below is just a tiny selection of some of our grand and beautiful British Cathedrals, which is a living testament to the outstanding skills, talent and craftsmanship of those who built them.

The history of Britain and the aspirations of her Christian communities can be traced in the glorious excesses of the cathedrals. From Norman grandeur to the modern interpretations found in Liverpool and Coventry, explore the changing styles of the cathedrals in our midst.

The cathedrals of Britain span the millennium - from the cathedrals dating from the 1100s to the modern cathedrals found in Liverpool and Coventry. They display a wide array of architectural styles from Early English Gothic, to the majesty of the Renaissance at St Paul's and the sixties modernism of Liverpool's Roman Catholic Cathedral. In the Middle Ages and up to the Reformation in the 1500s, the Church enjoyed enormous power and wealth, and cathedrals are eloquent symbols of its dominant place in British society.

Cathedrals in the Middle Ages weren't the quiet, reverential places of worship we know today. In Lincoln, for example, the central nave or aisle was where pilgrims chatted and shared news; there would have been an elaborately carved stone screen to separate the ordinary people in the nave from the priests and monks worshipping and singing in the choir.

Cathedrals were elaborate and brightly coloured before much of the interior decoration and original medieval art was destroyed during the Reformation and the Civil War. During the Civil War, cathedrals were used as garrisons, prisons and even stables. Now only traces remain of the vibrant colours that were often whitewashed out of existence.


Many of the cathedrals in Britain are orientated east to west. The nave is situated in the west end of the cathedral where people would come to pray. For that reason, it is the long hall of the cathedral. (The nave is 5 on the diagram below.)

The choir (11) is at the east end of the cathedral. It is here that the high altar (13) is generally found. The clergy traditionally prayed here and an elaborately carved screen was often built to separate them from the general public in the nave. This part of the cathedral is often called the 'quire' - the 19th century spelling of 'choir'. St Paul's in London still uses this spelling.

The north and south transepts (7, 9) separate the choir from the nave. This means that the layout of cathedrals usually forms the shape of a cross. Side altars are found in the transepts as well as the tombs of important people. The central tower or dome (8) of the cathedral is found at the centre of this 'cross'. These high towers are supported by piers or pillars. At Salisbury Cathedral, it is possible to see that the piers have been slightly bent out of shape by the weight of the tower.

The tombs of past bishops and famous saints are often found in side chapels (2, 3). In the later Middle Ages, the wealthy would pay for private chapels to be built where their families could say mass in private.


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