Minsters, which were common in 10th-century Anglo-Saxon England, fell in significance with the systematic creation of parishes and parish churches beginning in the 11th century. Eventually, the term "minster" evolved to apply to "any big or prominent church, particularly a college or cathedral church."
Cathedrals are generally considered to be much larger than minsters. A cathedral is usually defined as a large church possessing certain characteristics: it is usually dedicated to a bishop, and may have two or more separate naves (aisles) separated by columns; there may be a north and south transepts with aisles connecting them to the nave; there often is a west front with large windows and an elevated position from which to view the congregation; and it is commonly richly decorated.
The great cathedrals of Europe include Paris, London, Milan, Rome, and Vienna. Each has its own unique history and architectural features; however, they all share similar dimensions. The largest cathedral on record is St. Peter's in Rome; it is also the oldest, having been built between 324 and 328 AD. It is estimated that the building took 20 years to complete and was probably designed by Constantine Polemon. The second largest cathedral is Notre Dame in Paris; it was built over a period of nearly 200 years, starting in 1163 and ending in 1345. It remains one of the most important cultural symbols of France and is a popular tourist attraction.
A minster is an honorary term given to some churches in England, whereas a cathedral refers to the "church" where a bishop dwells. Minster: The honorific title "Minster" is granted to specific churches in England, most notably York Minster in York, Westminster in London, and Southwell Minster in Southwell. Cathedrals are also known as principal churches or mother churches because they serve as the center of their local ecclesiastical province. There are 13 cathedrals in England.
These structures were primarily built during the 11th and 12th centuries, but some medieval churches were much larger than this type of building and others are believed to have been originally designed as minsters. For example, Blythburgh Church in Suffolk was probably first established as a minster for its neighboring town of Blythburgh. Over time it became too small to house a community and so it was greatly expanded in the 15th century by Richard Fitzalan, 14th Earl of Arundel.
There are three types of cathedrals in England: metropolitan, archdiocesan, and national. Metropolitan and archdiocesan cathedrals are found only in cities with populations of at least 250,000 people. National cathedrals are located in all other towns and cities. There are eight national cathedrals in England.
Cathedral status is given by the Archbishop of Canterbury and is based on the size of the church population and the presence of important relics.
A monastery that serves as an abbot's residence. An abbot is the monastic equivalent of a bishop, with the same insignia: miter, ring, pectoral cross, and crozier. A minster is any large or prominent church, generally (though not necessarily) having cathedral rank and usually originated as a monastery church. There are many small churches that can be called minsters, such as parish churches where the rector lives in a nearby house called a manor. Although most cathedrals are also abbeys, there are several abbeys that are not cathedrals, for example Buckfast Abbey in Devon.
Minsters and cathedrals share some of the same administrators and have often been connected through history, but they are not identical in status or function. For example, while both a dean and an abbot are heads of their respective institutions, an abbey does not have a chancellor like a cathedral. The word "minster" comes from Latin Mensis, meaning "month," because these churches were important centers of religious life during the week before Easter.
Abbeys and minsters developed separately from around AD 500. At first they were either timber-framed buildings or stone structures with wooden roofs, but later they acquired more permanent architectural styles. Abbots and monks were the architects themselves; therefore, they designed their own churches. After about 1100, builders were hired to construct the buildings, which increased the size of the workforce needed by abbeys and minsters.
York Minster, the seat of the Archbishop of York, is the biggest Gothic cathedral north of the Alps and home to Britain's largest collection of medieval stained glass. It's also bright and airy thanks to the large clerestory windows. The nave is only partially completed - it was stopped after the death of Henry VII - but you can still walk around it.
The first thing you'll notice when entering York Minster is its size. Even though it's only half-finished, it's quite a massive structure. Construction began in 1220 and wasn't finished until about 15 years later. It contains some of the most beautiful stained glass in England, including a huge window depicting the life of Christ in the south transept.
If you want to see more detail, the nave is open every day from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm (except on Christmas Day). Admission is free but there are restrictions on taking photos inside the building.
There are several other Gothic cathedrals in Britain that are worth visiting, including Canterbury Cathedral, Durham Cathedral, and Lincoln Cathedral. Each one is unique in design and architecture.