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The medieval cathedrals of England, which date from between approximately 1040 and 1540, are a group of twenty six buildings that constitute a major aspect of the country's artistic heritage and are among the most significant material symbols of Christianity. Though diversified in style, they are united by a common function. As cathedrals, each of these buildings serves as central church for an administrative region (or diocese) and houses the throne of a bishop. Each cathedral also serves as a regional centre and a focus of regional pride and affection.
Only sixteen of these buildings had been cathedrals at the time of the Reformation: eight that were served by secular canons, and eight that were monastic. A further five cathedrals are former abbey churches which were reconstituted with secular canons as cathedrals of new dioceses by Henry VIII following the dissolution of the monasteries and which comprise, together with the former monastic cathedrals, the "Cathedrals of the New Foundation". Two further pre-Reformation monastic churches, which had survived as ordinary parish churches for 350 years, became cathedrals in the 19th and 20th centuries, as did the three medieval collegiate churches that retained their foundations for choral worship.
While there are characteristics of each building that are distinctly English, these cathedrals are marked by their architectural diversity, both from one to another and also within each individual building. This is much more the case than in the medieval cathedrals of Northern France, for example, where the cathedrals and large abbeys form a relatively homogenous group and the architectural development can easily be traced from building to building.
One of the points of interest of the English cathedrals is the way in which much of the history of medieval architecture can be demonstrated within a single building, which typically has important parts constructed in several different centuries with no attempt whatever to make the later work match or follow through on an earlier plan. For this reason a comprehensive architectural chronology must jump backwards and forwards from one building to another. Only at one building, Salisbury Cathedral, is stylistic unity demonstrated.