5 Cathedrals You Have to Visit

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…

5 Cathedrals You Have to Visit

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!

St Paul's Cathedral-01

What is your favourite cathedral and why? 

Until tomorrow,
The Historian!
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26 thoughts on “5 Cathedrals You Have to Visit

  1. Amy November 9, 2017 / 6:09 am

    York Minster is my favourite cathedral because my graduation ceremony was there. I’ve visited others but they’ll never be as special to me as York.


      • Amy November 9, 2017 / 8:58 am

        I had to look up what convocation meant since it’s not a term we use here but yes! My ceremony was in the Minster itself which was a huge privilege. It was very beautiful but also very cold. The archbishop conducted the ceremony and he gave us our certificates too.


        • anhistorianabouttown November 11, 2017 / 6:56 pm

          Ours are held in our athletic centre with the grads on the floor and the guests in the seats looking down, because it’s the only place that can fit that many thousand people :/ I would have loved to see a ceremony in York, it would such a special one!!


  2. Em Linthorpe November 9, 2017 / 8:17 am

    Oh my, I love cathedrals and churches and temples and all that. My recommendation would be Durham Cathedral, UK – also another one you can’t take photos of inside, but it is breathtaking with a lot to do inside too, including climbing the tower, and paying pilgrimage at the tomb of St Cuthbert. I used to visit a lot as a child, as my grandparents lived in Durham, so it is a special place to me.
    I LOVE York Minster too, another one close to where I live. I would adore exploring your other suggestions!


    • anhistorianabouttown November 10, 2017 / 10:54 am

      Durham has been on my list for a while- there is just so much history there!! And being so short/small climbing through tiny doorways and cramped staircases isn’t a problem for me haha. I need a proper 2 month trip solely for cathedrals!!


  3. josypheen November 9, 2017 / 11:11 am

    Have you heard of Ely Cathedral? Ely is a small town just North of Cambridge on a hill (it used to be an island before the fens were drained…) I have a feeling you would love it.

    The thing that makes it amazing is the painted roof. When i was a child they had mirrors on trolleys so you could stare up at it without killing your neck!

    I am sure you’d love Cambridge in summer. So, if you ever go, remember to jump on the train for one extra station to visit Ely too!


    • anhistorianabouttown November 11, 2017 / 6:54 pm

      Oh, it looks absolutely gorgeous!! The painted ceiling looks amazing- the ceiling of the Lantern is STUNNING. How on earth did someone lay on scaffolding for the hours that it took to paint it??

      I desperately want to visit Cambridge, I just couldn’t make it work with any of my trips 😦 I think that my next trip to London is definitely going to have a day or two in Cambridge because there is so much I want to see- the colleges, the libraries, the Cathedral, EVERYTHING!!

      Liked by 1 person

      • josypheen November 12, 2017 / 2:45 am

        Oooh if you go, make it in summer. Then you can go punting with strawberries and champagne. That is the best!!


          • josypheen November 11, 2017 / 9:18 pm

            Those long boats that you move with a stick. Like in Venice, but less posh!

            If you pay for a tour, listen out for lies. When I was at school the punt-tour folks used to have competitions to see who could slip in the most outrageous lie into their historical tours(!)


          • anhistorianabouttown November 12, 2017 / 7:16 pm

            How have I never heard of this before??? And finally my pre-trip studying will pay off and be more than just interesting!!!

            Liked by 1 person

  4. thebeasley November 9, 2017 / 2:34 pm

    Yes I love a good cathedral too! Am so glad you made it up to York. York Minster is fantastic. And York as a city is wonderful. St Pauls is my all time favourite cathedral. It’s just glorious. My other favourite cathedral is the Anglican cathedral in Liverpool. It’s AMAZING. Just this huge red majestic building that you can climb to the top of and see as far to Wales.


    • anhistorianabouttown November 10, 2017 / 8:55 pm

      York is such a cool city- we were let down by the Jorvik Viking Centre (definitely for kids) but otherwise had a fantastic time! I loved wandering through the Shambles, it amazes me that it is still there. And Liverpool has been added to my list!!! I’m willing to climb for a view, so I’m SOLD 😍😍


  5. rachaelstray November 12, 2017 / 4:39 am

    Great list. I’ve visited all bar Berlin. I do think there’s two you could add to the list. Lincoln Cathedral is pretty amazing it was the tallest building in the world at one time and it can be seen for miles due to being perched high on a hill and Lincolnshire being so flat. The second being the stunning Durham Cathedral. It is home to St Cuthbert’s shrine and even featured in Harry Potter. When you’re on the train passing Durham you can see the Cathedral standing proud and I know I’m almost home.


    • anhistorianabouttown November 12, 2017 / 7:10 pm

      Durham looks amazing- I try not to be *too* touristy but if Harry Potter is involved, I’m THERE. Also, St Cuthbert looks large in early monastic history in the Isles, so being able to visit his shrine would be something of a milestone for me!!

      Liked by 1 person

      • rachaelstray November 13, 2017 / 2:58 am

        Durham s steeped in history and is seriously worth a visit! xx


  6. April Munday November 12, 2017 / 6:31 am

    Winchester is my favourite. Wells, Gloucester and Salisbury come close behind. I like Winchester because there is so much to see there and most of it is beautiful.


    • anhistorianabouttown November 12, 2017 / 7:07 pm

      Gloucester and Salisbury are on my lis; the architectural history behind Salisbury is simply amazing!! Winchester has now been added- the choir stalls look absolutely gorgeous 😍😍


      • April Munday November 13, 2017 / 1:24 am

        Winchester has some lovely medieval tiles as well.


  7. Monica Jowett November 12, 2017 / 8:26 am

    Just recently visited St Giles – so beautiful! Would recommend also checking out Durham and Lincoln too.


    • anhistorianabouttown November 12, 2017 / 7:01 pm

      Durham and Lincoln are being recommended by everyone- looks like I know where I’m heading next!!


  8. Lisa Orchard November 12, 2017 / 8:28 am

    Awesome pics! You go to all the best places! 🙂


  9. Gabe Burkhardt November 12, 2017 / 8:13 pm

    The title of this post reminded me of Ken Follet’s “Pillars of the earth.” The fact that these gorgeous edifices were constructed by impoverished craftsmen with rudimentary skills yet still stand centuries later speaks to the care and devotion that went into their construction.

    I also wondered why St. Marks in Venice didn’t make the list, but I suppose that its a basilica rather than a cathedral isn’t it?

    Liked by 1 person

    • anhistorianabouttown November 12, 2017 / 8:20 pm

      Once I’ve made it to Italy and Spain, I suppose I will probably have another 15 to 20 cathedrals to add to this list!!
      It really does strike me when I am standing in a never ending nave with the most intricate stained glass windows, carvings, and tombs that the men who built these lasting monuments were most likely one bad break away from poverty, and probably died by 45 at the latest- in my current position, I’m arguably 1000 times better off, and nothing I’ve created will still be standing here 800 years later. I find it particularly fascinating when you factor in the tools and available materials; a rare feat that I think is almost never accomplished in this day and age!

      Liked by 1 person

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