Cathedrals – Frequently Asked Questions

17th December 2019

Here is a collection of the most commonly asked questions when it comes to cathedrals. Starting with the obvious.

What is a Cathedral?

A cathedral is a church. But it is a unique church because it contains the “cathedra” (the physical seat) of a bishop and serves as the central church of a diocese and a centre of worship and mission. More on what is a cathedral here.

Why is the bishops seat in that church and not another one?

Some of today’s Church of England cathedrals, like Salisbury, have been cathedrals since they were built. Others were churches made into cathedrals at a later stage, e.g. by Henry VIII when he took over as head of the Church: he made some monastic churches such as Peterborough his new cathedrals, whereas other monastic churches were demolished at the Dissolution. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, some large parish churches were turned into cathedrals to serve the growing populations in industrial parts of the country such as Newcastle, Bradford and Wakefield.

Are cathedrals just big churches? 

A cathedral is also a church – the cathedral title reflects its status in the diocese and role in the Diocese rather than a judgement about the size or significance of the building – though a cathedral will tend to be a large and significant building and will offer daily services and other activities such as civic events typical of a cathedral.

Does having a cathedral, make your town a city?

No. Cities in the UK have been granted city status by letters patent or royal charter; having a cathedral does not necessarily make a town into a city for modern official government purposes, although a town with a cathedral may still call itself a city for historical reasons.

Are cathedrals catholic?

The cathedrals represented by the AEC are part of the Church of England. The Catholic Church in England have their own cathedrals now. Historically, however, churches and cathedrals constructed before the establishment of the Church of England were part of the Catholic church.

Are cathedrals and abbeys the same thing? And what’s with the whole ‘minster thing’?

Not all minsters and abbeys are cathedrals. Abbey churches were part of abbeys, a kind of monastery or nunnery. Minsters are usually churches which were centres of mission in their areas in early medieval times, though the title has been revived recently to acknowledge other important regional churches. Some cathedrals such as York, Southwell and St Albans also use their historic titles of Minster or Abbey, but their status is no different to other cathedrals.

Which cathedral took the longest to build?

This is hard to answer as most cathedrals were (and are) continually being altered, repaired and added to over centuries. Salisbury Cathedral is unusual in having been built over just 38 years in a single style. Even with modern methods, Liverpool Cathedral took from 1904 to 1978 to complete.

Which cathedral is the oldest?

Canterbury Cathedral has the earliest foundation date: it was established by St Augustine in 597 AD. However, no structures from this era are still standing. The oldest surviving part of a current English cathedral is the crypt at Ripon, which dates from the mid-7th century, although Ripon was not actually a cathedral at that time.

What is that cathedral on the Cathedral City Cheese wrapper?

It’s imaginary and simplified. It looks like the towers are inspired by Wells Cathedral but the arch with the great window directly below looks like it would only work if it was constructed in concrete.

Which cathedral was Harry Potter filmed in?

Not ALL of the Harry Potter movies were filmed in a cathedral, but there are several that feature in his movies. Gloucester Cathedral Cloisters; Durham Cathedral; Christ Church College, Oxford (college hall, not the cathedral).

Which one is the tallest English cathedral

Salisbury cathedral has had the tallest church spire in the United Kingdom, at 404 feet (123 m). Lincoln’s was taller until it collapsed in 1549.

Where is the cathedral with the crooked spire?

Actually, there isn’t a cathedral with a crooked spire. What you’re probably thinking about is a church, St Mary and All Saints in Chesterfield.