- a thematic guide to Britain
From Norman romanesque to perpendicular gothic
pure gothic nave in Wells Cathedral, Somerset
the seventh century onwards, people in Britain began building churches
and even cathedrals; but it was following the Norman Invasion in 1066
that cathedral-building came into its own.
brought with them the latest styles and skills,and quickly set about
building or rebuilding great abbeys and cathedrals. Among the oldest
are the cathedrals of Durham
which date substantially from the eleventh century. All, or significant
these cathedrals are built in the Romanesque style, more commonly
referred to as the "Norman" style in Britain, as it was the Normans who
left to posterity the finest buildings in this style in Britain.
However, it was in the high mediaeval period of the 12th and
13th centuries that most of Britain's and Europe's greatest cathedrals
were built, using the Gothic style that spread out from France. The
cathedral builders of late Norman and Angevin England, noblemen,
bishops and their architects, all had strong links with Normandy and
France, and the great English cathedrals of the time have a lot in
common with their contemporaries in France. For some English
such as Canterbury, this even
went to the point of importing creamy-coloured Caen
limestone from Normandy for the main building.
Generally speaking, English Gothic cathedrals have
national characteristics that distinguish them from French cathedrals.
There is less emphasis on height, and more on length; and classic
English Gothic cathedrals do not have the great west facades of French
cathedrals, with their large rose windows and three great doors. The
Gothic style also lasted longer in Britain than on the Continent,
culminating in the lighter and more decorative Perpendicular Gothic
style, a particularly English feature.
of cathedrals often spanned a century or more, during which time styles
and architects changed. The cathedrals at Ely, Gloucester, Norwich
well illustrate the transition from the Romanesque / Norman style in
their older parts, to the gothic style in the later building work.
England's most impressive Gothic cathedrals are to be found
Lincoln, Salisbury, Wells, York
Note: unlike Britain's national museums, which are
some of the main cathedrals in England charge an entrance fee,
help pay for their upkeep. The policy is controvertial, and was
recently abandoned at Chester cathedral. Most others encourage
visitors to make a donation. Entrance is always free for church
services and pilgrims.
Twelve of the best
heritage site - Tyne and Wear, northeast England
most decorated and largest Romanesque cathedral in Britain, and one of
the largest in Europe. The cathedral sits in a defensive position on a
rock high above the river Wear. The whole cathedral was built in the 40
years from 1093 to 1133, giving it a singular architectural unity.
- 100 miles north of London
between 1118 and 1238, Peterborough cathedral is a fairly pure Norman /
Romanesque design. The Ambulatory, behind the high altar, is a late
15th century addition, with beautiful "perpendicular gothic" fan
vaulting, similar to Kings College Cambridge.
- 80 miles north of London, 25 miles north of Cambridge
one of the most beautiful English cathedrals. Ely always remained a
small city, and today its magnificent cathedral dominates the small
city around it. The cathedral has intricate Romanesque stonework, and
the interior is perfectly proportioned.
100 miles west of London
the nave of this cathedral is pure Norman romanesque, Gloucester
cathedral is best distinguished for its 14th and 15th century
perpendicular Gothic tracery and fan vaulting in the transepts and in
the choir. The cloisters at Gloucester cathedral are also the earliest
example of English gothic fan vaulting.
a Norman / romanesque cathedral, with a gothic spire - the second
highest in England. Built 1096 to 1480. The main structure of
cathedral is Norman romanesque; built of Caen limestone from France.
The ceilings and the spire were replaced in the fifteenth century. The
cloisters are remarkable for their ornately carved bosses.
southwest of London, near Southampton
has the longest nave of any gothic cathedral in Europe., the original
Norman nave was rebuilt in the fourteenth century, in the perpendicular
gothic style, of which Winchester cathedral is one of the great
examples. Parts of the Norman building survive in the transepts and in
heritage site - Kent,
greatest pilgrimage church, site of the shrine of St. Thomas
who was murdered in the cathedral. Work on the modern cathedral began
in the year 1067; but most of the original Norman romanesque building
was rebuilt in later centuries in the Gothic style, firstly to the
design of a French architect Guillaume de Sens, later in the typically
English perpendicular Gothic style, with intricately-ribbed vaulting.
east Midlands, 140 miles north of London
cathedral was essentially built in the thirteenth century. From the
outside it os one of the most visually impressive of England's
great cathedrals on account of its most imposing west facade. Lincoln
cathedral is the third largest cathedral in England, and, with its
width and height, comparable to the great gothic cathedrals of France
with which it also shares the feature of great (circular) rose windows.
southwest of London
purest of England's great Gothic cathedrals, built in just 38 years
between 1220 and 1258 in the Early English Gothic style.
Salisbury Cathedral has the highest spire in England,
height of 123 metres or 404 ft.
the west of England south of Bristol
essentially between 1175 and 1255, Wells was the first essentially pure
Gothic cathedral to be built in England. It is remarkable for its
richly decorated west facade, as well as for its unique "scissors
vault" across the choir. This is an ingenious 14th century engineering
solution, added in order to strengthen the structure of the tower that
had developed cracks
miles north of London
of the Archbishiop of York, and the largest Gothic cathedral in
Britain, with the widest nave, and also with some of the finest
mediaeval stained glass in England. The cathedral as it stands today
was essentially built in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, in
the decorated and perpendicular Gothic styles.
Westminster Abbey, London.
Abbey has everything of a cathedral except the title. Located in
London, right next to Parliament, it has been at the heart of English
history since the tenth century. Building of the cathedral that we see
today began in 1245, and continued over two and a half centuries. The
two great western towers were added in the eighteenth century.
Westminster Abbey has the tombs of many of the Kings and
of England, as well as some of the greatest of Britain's writers,
poets, politicians and scientists, including Chaucer, Darwin and Oliver
Cromwell. It also contains Britain's tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Other great mediaeval cathedrals and abbeys
Rochester, Chichester, Southwalk (London)
Exeter, Tewkesbury Abbey, Malmesbury Abbey, Bath Abbey, Bristol
Worcester, Hereford, Southwell, Chester,
And, in ruins, some of the great abbeys that were destroyed in the 16th
century at the dissolution of the Monasteries :
Tintern, Fountains, Rievaulx, Whitby