As a medieval historian who studies secular and canon law, I’m probably more interested than most people in church history. I think that cathedrals are the place to start when visiting a city, as it’s often a chance to see lasting and notable architecture that is lousy with centuries of history! These are 5 cathedrals that I think that everyone should see at some point in their life if they can- from different countries and cities, they all offer something different to their visitors! I hope that you enjoy my recommendations for Travel Thursday…
1) Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin
Christ Church Cathedral holds a special place in my heart, as it is the first Irish and the first European cathedral that I have visited. At the heart of medieval Dublin, Christ Church maintains its medieval history through the ruins of the chapter house on the grounds, and its modern history through the current, surviving cathedral (built in the mid to late nineteenth century). Originally a Catholic cathedral, it was converted to the new religion of Henry VIII, and remains in the Church of Ireland to this day; as such, it contains the tomb of Richard de Clare, aka Strongbow, largely known for keeping control of Ireland for Henry II. I was lucky enough on a few of my visits to actually see some of the costumes from the Showtime series, The Tudors, which was filmed in Dublin- the cathedral is wonderful at integrating and exploring modern topics! When you land in Dublin, take a stroll down College Green and spend a few hours wandering through Christ Church.
Who Should Visit: Anyone interested in medieval Ireland; anyone interested in the conquests of Ireland; anyone interested in the history of Dublin!
2) St. Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh
Edinburgh is major city but still has a calmness that eludes most others in Europe. Found right on the Royal Mile, St. Giles Cathedral is the High Kirk of the Church of Scotland and although it may be smaller than many other cathedrals, it holds a lot of history within its stone walls. The Thistle Chapel is the home to Scotland’s leading order, The Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle, and is a tiny but fascinating chapel that holds the coats of arms of the some of the most important men in Scottish history. It only consists of seventeen members, and you can see the coats of arms of previous and current members. There are also countless memorials to different soldiers, scientists, and authors throughout the cathedral, and some of the most gorgeous stained windows that I’ve seen. Because it is a smaller cathedral, you can take your time to really enjoy and explore St. Giles, and then continue on your way to the rest of the history of the Royal Mile!
Who Should Visit: Anyone interested in Scottish Presbyterianism; anyone interested in early modern and modern Scottish history; anyone who wants to discover a cathedral without crazy crowds!
3) York Minster, York
York is a quieter city in the north of England, but is absolutely worth the train ride. Between Clifford’s Tower and the Shambles you will be treated to an incredible range of history. York Minster is actually the Cathedral and Metropolitan Church of Saint Peter in York, and the cathedral that you see today was completed in the late fifteenth century and is the second largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe. Underneath York Minster, you can visit a fantastic museum that highlights what stood where the Minster know is- Roman roads and barracks, an Anglo-Saxon cemetery, and artefacts of day to day life spanning over a millennium. At the other end, you can actually climb to the top of Minster (if you are feeling up to the 275 stairs) and enjoy the most spectacular view of the city, and even buy yourself a badge to commemorate it! Once you have gone to the bottom and the top, you have to spend some time wandering through the rich history in the cathedral itself.
Who Should Visit: Anyone interested in medieval cathedrals and the murder of Thomas Beckett; anyone interested in Roman and Viking Age Britain!
4) Berliner Dom/ Berlin Cathedral, Berlin
Berlin was a very sombre experience for me, as I think it is for many people! I will have a full post for the Berliner Dom up in the next two weeks, but I think that its truly a fascinating cathedral worth highlighting. Technically called the Evangelical Supreme Parish and Collegiate Church, it can be found amongst other impressively grand buildings on Museum Island. In the world of cathedrals its fairly new, dating only to 1905. The building sustained quite a lot of damage during the Second World War, with reconstruction only beginning in 1975 and completed in 1980. Fun fact: the dome is actually used for storage for some statues and sculptures. Also, if you’ve ever wanted to see a pipe organ, this is your chance- it’s size is staggering!
Who Should Visit: Anyone who is interested in German architecture or modern German history; anyone who is interested in the reconstruction after the war!
5) St. Paul’s Cathedral, London
Sadly, I don’t know that I will ever have a post on St. Paul’s Cathedral- much like Westminster Abbey, and many other places of worship, pictures are not allowed, and I firmly believe that that should be respected. That isn’t going to stop me from recommending that you visit St. Paul’s, though! The original church that stood in that spot was founded in 1604, and the Cathedral that you see today dates to the late seventeenth century. Famed architect Sir Christopher Wren was tasked with rebuilding the Cathedral after the Great Fire of London in 1666, and was finally completed in 1711. It sits on the highest point in the City of London (Ludgate Hill), and was the tallest building in London until 1967! The baroque architecture, with marble floors and ornate details, is breathtaking. You can also climb the stairs to dome and listen to the acoustics yourself- worth the wandering walk up when you can imagine all of the people who scampered up those same stairs. Many royal weddings and ceremonies still take place in St Paul’s, and once visiting, you can understand why!
Who Should Visit: Anyone interested in London architecture and Sir Christopher Wren; anyone interested in the history of the British Royal Family!
What is your favourite cathedral and why?