Ruth Mason

Of late my travels have taken me to an unusually high proportion of Anglican cathedrals:


Ruth Mason, Canterbury Cathedral, 2014








St Pauls

Ruth Mason, St Pauls, 2013









Ruth Mason, Salisbury Cathedral, 2014







Westminster (Abbey)

Ruth Mason, Westminister Abby, 2013









Ruth Mason, Winchester Cathedral, 2014








York Minister

Ruth Mason, York Minister, 2014








This has got me thinking… What is a cathedral? Why is a cathedral a cathedral? Why is it not a church? What is so important about cathedrals? And do these questions have different answers when tackled from religious or cultural perspectives?

Ruth Mason, Salisbury Ceiling 2, 2014








Officially, a ‘cathedral’ is the principal church of a diocese (or region), with which the Bishop (diocese leader) is officially associated, i.e. cathedrals have a specific liturgical role within particular Christian denominations, both Anglican and Catholic.

Ruth Mason, York minister kings, 2014








When considered from the official position of the Church, cathedrals are important administrative centres. Theologically, cathedrals are very different from temples, which gain their importance through being the sole residential location of a god – because within Christian belief, God does not reside in one location, but is omnipresent. Therefore, cathedrals are not symbolic locations of God’s power, but rather the power, influence and authority of the Church and its organisational system. They embody the Church’s teaching and ideal prescriptions – which are intended to reflect God’s will – and are physical symbols of their importance.

Ruth Mason, York Minister gargoils, 2014








However, cathedrals have also gained alternative cultural meanings. The selection of photographs accompanying this text clearly illustrates the physical majesty of cathedral buildings.

They are made of heavy and expensive stone.

Ruth Mason, Flying Buttresses, 2013








They overshadow the other buildings that surround them with high spires, towers and domes.

Inside their ceilings rise incomprehensively high and are ornamented with fantastical stone mouldings.

Ruth Mason, Salisbury Cathedral Ceiling, 2014








Ruth Mason, York Minister chancery ceiling, 2014








Full of light, their bejewelled stained glass windows create a very specific atmospheric context.

Ruth Mason, Canterbury Cathedral window, 2014








Ruth Mason, York Minister window pane, 2014








They are full of ornamental details: tiles, statues, graves.

Ruth Mason, Canterbury Cathedral Crypt, 2014








Ruth Mason, Salisbury Cathedral embroidary, 2014







Ruth Mason, Winchester Cathedral Tiles, 2014







Therefore, the term ‘cathedral’ has become synonymous with impressive architectural form – ‘cathedral’ has thus begun to be applied to many buildings that are unrelated to Christian (or Catholic and Anglican) practice.

Nevertheless, they have retained much of the original liturgical concepts of cathedrals; i.e. their central role within, and their position as physical symbols of, the Christian Church. ‘Cathedral’ has begun to be applied to alternative buildings that play a central role within other religious denominations or completely secular institutions and concepts. These ‘cathedrals’ are buildings that physically embody the qualities and ideas of these groups, making a statement about their importance and significance.

Just a few examples:

Within the Methodist Church there are no bishops – technically, there can therefore be no cathedrals. However, Wesley’s Chapel on Old Street, London, is commonly referred to as ‘the Cathedral of Methodism’. Built by Wesley in the eighteenth century, this building has become the symbolic centre of the Methodist denomination, commonly visited on Methodist ‘pilgrimages’.

Ruth Mason, Wesley's chapel, 2014








The British Library, St Pancras, London: a cathedral to postmodern architecture, but also a cathedral to learning. Its tall red brick turret mimics the turrets of its neighbour, the St Pancras Hotel, but also pays homage to cathedral spires.

Ruth Mason, British Library, 2014








Paddington Station, London: a cathedral of engineering and transport. Its iron and glass arches fill the station with spectacular light. The constant arrival and departure of trains and passengers leaves little space for quiet contemplation, but creates an atmosphere more representative of the ideas and concepts it symbolically embodies.

Ruth Mason, Paddington Station, 2013








Preston Bus Station: a cathedral to Brutalism.

Ruth Mason, Preston Bus Station, 2013








Ruth Mason, Preston Bus Station, 2013 2








These are all cathedrals: impressive pieces of architecture that have become symbolic of an institution or idea. Through combining physical form with conceptual position, they have come to embrace aspects of both the cultural and religiously specific definition of cathedrals.