Jo Ann Ferguson’s Ten Best Cathedrals in England

Cat 243 Doveras assembled by Mary Jo 

I’m always looking for interesting Word Wench topics, and one that charmed me was author Jo Ann Ferguson’s article about her choices for the “Ten Best Cathedrals in England.”

 The article was written for the Quizzing Glass, the newsletter of RWA’s Beau Monde chapter, and was so delightful that I immediately asked Jo Ann if she’d be willing to let us run the article here.

Boss4331She was willing, so I want to give a brief background on Jo Ann, who has one of the more interesting resumes to be found among romance writers!  After her choices, some Wenches mention their favorite cathedrals and chapels.  (Left is a ceiling boss from Norwich Cathedral, taken by Jo Ann.)

But first, our guest, Jo Ann Ferguson. She was a pioneering female army officer and is a member of RomVets, a group of over a hundred romance writers who are former and active duty military women.  She is also a former president of the Romance Writers of America (surely a position in which military experience is useful!)

Jo_Ann_Ferguson_picJo Ann is one of the most versatile authors I know, and has written 90+ novels under the names Jo Ann Ferguson, J. A. Ferguson, Jocelyn Kelly, Joanna Hampton, Jo Ann Brown, and Rebecca North.  Not only has she written traditional Regency historicals, but also other time periods, mysteries, adventure, and a number of paranormal romances.

 MJP:  Jo Ann, thanks so much for visiting us with your cathedrals!  Did you have trouble narrowing your list to 10?  Are there other you’d like to have added?

 JAF: I did have trouble narrowing it down to 10 because each cathedral in England is unique. I would have liked to add Carlisle Cathedral, a small gem just south of the Scottish border. Truro Cathedral in Cornwall is more modern and is set in a charming town with lots of interesting shops. And then there’s the one I plan to visit next spring – Durham. Maybe that will be in a future article.

MJP:  What new releases do you have??

JAF: This month I have a cozy mystery from Guideposts: A House on Lookout Mountain. It’s part of the Patchwork Mysteries series. Next month, I have a novella in Regency Yuletide – “Lord of Misrule” – from Forever Regency at ImaJinn Books. But the project I’m really excited about is a yet untitled non-fiction Regency dictionary/reference book that I’m currently working on. It should be released late next year or early in 2013.

 MJP: Do you have any particular comments for the Word Wenches?

JAF: First, thanks for asking to share this article. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel extensively through England, Wales, and Scotland. I strongly recommend if you’ve got the chance to go there (or anywhere), go beyond the cities and explore the countryside. That offers you the chance to get to know the people, because I’ve discovered that citizens of other countries like talking to us as much as we do them. And locals are always ready to share insider information that you might not even considered researching.

Ten Best Cathedrals in England
by Jo Ann Ferguson

As always, this list is completely biased. It includes cities I’ve visited and cathedrals I’ve been able to wander through. There are several cathedrals I still have on my future visit list – Ely, Salisbury, and Winchester (just to hum the 1960's drinking song if nothing else <g>), so they don’t show up on the list.

Cathedrals, like parish churches, provide an architectural and social snapshot of England. Most of them have been built, rebuilt, added onto, and rebuilt again over the centuries as money and need were available. They reflect the industries (both manufacturing and agricultural) in the area where they were built.

Some have their histories going back before the Norman Conquest. Maybe there wasn’t a church on that site so early, but it was a holy place. All of the cathedrals I’m listing are Church of England, but there are also Catholic cathedrals in England. You can find out more about them at
Most of the websites listed below have contact information. I’ve had extraordinary luck with getting answers from the librarians or the deans when I’ve emailed them my questions.
Painting4961. St. Albans Cathedral – If you’re staying in London, this cathedral is an easy train ride just outside the M-25 orbital. It was named (as the city was) in honor of the earliest English Christian martyr who died during the Roman occupation. It is also the birthplace of English Heritage. When a wealthy merchant from York decided to pay for the renovation of the cathedral, he went for pizzazz instead of historical accuracy.

Historians were so outraged that they established English Heritage to protect other historical buildings and sites from misplaced good intentions. When you visit the cathedral, look for the green man which is hidden on a wall near the gift shop. You can see some brasses on the floor, but most were destroyed during the Protestant Reformation. Wall paintings are original, and don’t miss the saint’s chapel.

Norwich_Cathedral2. Norwich Cathedral -

My family has a close connection to this cathedral. My however many times great-grandfather was a dean of the cathedral and has a memorial stone at one end. Usually there are chairs set on top of it, but I doubt he minds…as his body was buried at the other end of the cathedral, and the stone was moved during one of the renovations. Shades of Poltergeist. When you visit this beautiful cathedral, make sure you go into the cloister. Walk around with your head tilted back so you can see the astounding number of carved bosses.

Bosses are decorations set at the intersections of vaulted ceilings. Each boss is unique. Many are supposed to represent the likenesses of the men who carved them. (Boss photo above) 

In the center of the cloister is a labyrinth that offers a place for quiet meditation. Apparently they were the first English cathedral online because their address is:  

Cathedral20353. Coventry Cathedral 

Coventry Cathedral is actually two buildings connected by a roof. The original St. Michael’s Cathedral was destroyed by bombs in World War II. All that remains are the outer walls and the church tower (with its bells).

The new cathedral, an ultra-modern glass and stone building, was built next to it. Visit the old cathedral first, and see the cross found amid the burned interior. Then go into the modern cathedral. Great glass walls spread color and light throughout the sanctuary. Make sure you take the time to visit the many chapels and exhibits attached to the new cathedral. The restaurant is a great place to stop for lunch…and I strongly suggest the ploughman’s lunch.

Minster3024. York Minster

Our visit to York Minster was on a foggy, rainy day, but that didn’t halt us from climbing the tower. If a cathedral (or a church) has a bell tower you can climb, do it! The admission charge is usually small and goes toward preservation of the building. The view from the top of the Minster shows you a complete history of this city from the Roman wall to the Viking and medieval sections to modern-day York. Go down in the undercroft where you can see the layers of buildings raised in that location. We were fortunate enough to be in the cathedral when the choir was practicing. Walking through a cathedral, weaving through the chapels, and being accompanied by glorious music is a special treat.

Cathedralgate7245. Canterbury Cathedral – Canterbury has been the epicenter of so much of England’s history from the murder of Thomas   Becket to the pilgrimages there through the centuries. Don’t hurry through this cathedral. Take time to view the stained glass and the various chapels and imagine the horror of that December night.


Cathedral27S6. St. David’s Cathedral – Set in the Welsh city of St. David, this cathedral is dedicated to the patron saint of Wales. Some of the earliest parts of the cathedral were constructed under orders of Giraldus Cambrensis (Gerald the Welshman) who wrote a history of Wales in the 12th century. At that time, Wales was so far from the center of the English population that two pilgrimages to St. David’s counted the same as a holy pilgrimage to Rome! If you have time, head down a side street and find St. Non’s Chapel and Holy Well.

Westminsterabbey54177. Westminster Abbey

We all got an excellent view of this magnificent building during the royal wedding this spring. Kings and queens of England have been crowned here since 1066. There are so many wonderful places to visit in this magnificent building. The famous and infamous of English history are buried here, so take the time to go around and look at the effigies and memorials.



Cathedral66778. Chester Cathedral – This cathedral still has its ecclesiastical court room. You can go in and see how it looked 150 years ago. The choir carvings are outstanding (including misericords and a Joshua tree panel) and there are a lovely collection of chapels, each one unique. You’ll see a great collection of flags dedicated to various wars and units who served in those wars. The cathedral’s bells are housed in a separate building in its memorial garden.


Cathedral36619. St. Edmundsbury Cathedral

This cathedral I visited on my own while my husband made his own pilgrimage to that important site in Bury St. Edmunds – the Greene King Brewery. Like St. Albans, this cathedral is dedicated to an early Christian martyr. In this case, Edmund, king of the East Angles. The church has an extraordinary garden open to the public. The sanctuary underwent a renovation several years ago, and unlike St. Albans, it was a very sympathetic renovation.

Cathedral8S10. Lincoln Cathedral

– If you saw The Da Vinci Code movie, you’ve seen Lincoln Cathedral. This cathedral suffered the usual fires and neglect issues, but, in 1185, the cathedral shattered in an earthquake. The rebuilding began soon after. A history of the various buildings on that site is posted close to the entrance.

Look for the Lincoln Imp, a small imp carved high on one wall (I won’t tell you exactly where because that will ruin your search). The cathedral owns one of the earliest copies of the Magna Carta. It’s on view at Lincoln Castle only a short distance away at the top of the hill. 
Be aware that many cathedrals charge an admission fee. These go to support programs in the cathedral and the community. Some also charge a “photo fee.” This small amount (usually £1-3) allows you to take photos inside the cathedral. Again, the money goes toward upkeep on the cathedral.

Some cathedrals, like York Minster, ban photography in certain areas of the cathedral. Always check before taking photos, especially with your flash.
Most cathedrals have a gift shop and a restaurant. It’s a good idea to visit the gift shop first and pick up the guide for the cathedral, so you can understand what you’re looking at.

Most also have docents available to answer your questions. Take advantage of this, because they will show you aspects of the cathedral and its architecture that you might have overlooked otherwise.

Obey the rules of the cathedral. If any area is roped off or restricted, don’t go there. Be aware that the cathedral may be “closed” for a service or event. If that is so, there usually is someone near the door who will let you know when it will be open for tourists again that day.

Enjoy yourself as you take a walk through England’s history…all in one building.

MJP:  Thanks, Jo Ann!   I asked a couple of Wenches if they had particularly favorite cathedrals, and got these two suggestions from France.

Reims CathedralJoanna Bourne:  I like the cathedrals idea.  I'm a big fan of stained glass and Reims cathedral has just beautiful stuff.  I was there last time to see the total eclipse.

It not only has the Chagall, there's a whole series of glass about  wine-making.

This has angels pressing wine if you scroll down a bit.

Catherdral of Notre Dame, Amiens

Susan King: Beautiful!! I haven't been to Reims but studied it, and its association with Joan of Arc is cool too.

I love cathedrals, love them.

My favorite in France I think is Amiens, the tallest complete Gothic cathedral – the quality of light is amazing, the jamb figures exquisitely elegant. I was stranded in Amiens with some friends, unable to find a hotel; interesting weekend when I was in college. And I love Notre Dame, where I saw a hunchback crossing the square (no kidding), but my true favorite is la petite Sainte-Chapelle, which is not a cathedral, but a jewelbox of a medieval chapel. 

Christ Church Cathedral, OxfordMary Jo–Christ Church in Oxford

There are two great churches I fell in love with when I lived in Oxford.  The first is Christ Church Cathedral , which is both the cathedral of the Diocese of Oxford, and also the chapel of Christ Church College.  It’s one of the smallest cathedrals in Britain, and just a gem of a sacred space. 

Though it isn’t a cathedral, the New College chapel is also splendid.  With typical British understatement, New College was founded in 1379, which makes it one of the oldest colleges in Oxford.  (Or Britain, for that matter.)  Like Christ Church cathedral, it’s famous for its choir, and it has a magnificent organ. 

New College Chapel, OxfordWhen I lived in Oxford, it was still possible to make brass rubbings of the old funerary brasses in the floor, and believe me, to kneel there doing rubbings while the organ plays or the choir sings is to feel that heaven is very near!


Again, my thanks to Jo Ann Ferguson for sharing her descriptions and photographs of these marvelous cathedrals.

Do you have any cathedrals or splendid churches you're particularly fond of?  Please tell us about them!  I'll give a copy of my Fallen Angels book, Thunder and Roses, which has a lovely romantic scene set in Westminster Abbey, to somone who leaves a comment between now and midnight Tuesday.  (I've just uploaded Thunder and Roses as an ebook, too!)

Mary Jo