Abbeys & Cathedrals
in England and Wales

he primary purpose of Britain's cathedrals was spiritual, and their size and grandeur was an important part of their message. About the cathedrals, Joseph Addison (1672-1719) said, "by opening the mind to vast conceptions they fit it for the conception of God." The religious impulse that led men to conceive and construct the great cathedrals and abbey churches of Britain must have been very powerful, for these are impressive structures that were built at enormous expenditure of money, time and lives. They dominate their surroundings in both size and significance, and are inextricably tied to the long history of the island.

The classification of a church building as a cathedral is completely independent of its size, age, beauty or importance to the nation. The sole determinant of its status is whether or not the church contains the seat of a bishop. For example, Westminster Abbey is a great and beautiful church. Royal weddings have been held there and kings have been crowned there since William the Conqueror in 1066, but it is not a cathedral since it does not contain a bishop's throne. On the other hand, Christ Church in Oxford is not at all large, but since a bishop resides there, it is a cathedral. If a building does not contain the seat of a bishop, then the building is either an abbey or a parish church.

England has forty-two Anglican cathedrals, of which twenty-six are ancient, four are modern and twelve are parish churches which, over the last hundred years or so, have been designated as cathedrals to serve newly created dioceses. Of the twenty-six ancient cathedrals, seventeen are considered Old Foundation, and of those seventeen, eight are monastic and nine are secular (non-monastic). Of the remaining nine ancient cathedrals, considered New Foundation, five were converted from monastic use by Henry VIII after the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The other four, while of ancient construction, were not made cathedrals until new dioceses began to be formed in 1836.

The next group of cathedrals served originally in the capacity of parish churches, but have been upgraded in status, as new dioceses have been created over the last hundred years. These cathedrals are not newly built (many are 17th, 18th or 19th century), but do not qualify as ancient buildings. Finally, there are four new cathedrals, all of which have been constructed since 1877.

Wales has six cathedrals, four ancient and two modern.

To see photos of the cathedrals, click the links in the scrolling frame on the left.

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