Winchester Cathedral – A Journey into the Past

Of the Churches I have visited Winchester Cathedral towers over them all for its history and sublime expression of almighty majesty. It took more than a thousand years to build it. Most Bishops wanted to add their memorials. After all, they were exceptionally powerful and at times even challenged the throne of England.

Winchester Cathedral: West Facade at dawn with war memorial on right
West Facade at dawn with war memorial on right: Photo WyrdLight CC 3.0

Strategic Position

Winchester is 61 miles (98 km) south-west of London and 14 miles (22 km) from Southampton harbour. This ensured a steady income from traders passing through it in medieval times. The building is a series of successive architectural layers. Please join me on a journey back in time. Let us see what we can uncover together.

The foundations of the original pre-Norman structure date from AD 642 and housed the body of a Saint credited with many miracles. In AD 1079 the Bishop decided he needed a new building, and brought limestone from the Isle of Wight using an ancient Roman route. He consecrated the structure in AD 1093 when they processed from the old to the new building with the remains of Kings and Saints. It must have been a splendid occasion because they demolished the old one shortly afterwards.

Winchester Cathedral: The Choir stalls facing west
The Choir stalls facing west: Photo Diliff CC 3.0

Ancient Heritage

Unfortunately the central tower feel through the roof in AD 1107 (this often happened with Church buildings) and they had to make quick repairs that saved much of the original design. During the mid-14th Century they rebuilt Winchester Cathedral nave where the congregation sits and replaced the wood ceiling with stone vaulting. The next century they extended the nave towards the back to enlarge standing space (there was no seating then for peasants).

Winchester Cathedral Nave Looking West
Nave Looking West: Photo Diliff CC 3.0

Extended Nave

During the Reformation – when Henry VIII appointed himself head of a restructured Church – the buildings housing religious orders were demolished, and with them a great deal of history. From then on only minor repairs followed until the period 1905 – 1912, when it turned out the foundations of Winchester Cathedral were waterlogged and the building in danger of collapse.

An intrepid diver dragged 25,000 bags of concrete, 115,000 concrete blocks and 900,000 bricks single-handedly through the mud in total darkness and was able to preserve the magnificent building. No health and safety then: the inspectors would have stopped the job. Thanks to the efforts of William Walker a famous English diver, we can share in this modest man’s success.

Winchester Cathedral: William Walker The Diver
William Walker “The Diver” in about 1912

Visiting Winchester Cathedral

Winchester Cathedral is a working building with daily services and private prayer opportunities open to everybody free. Subject to special services, visitors may view the cathedral, crypt and treasury from Monday to Saturday from 9.30am – 5.00pm and on Sundays 12.30pm – 3.00pm. Expect to pay an entrance fee plus extra for special tours. Cathedral operating costs are high and every pound helps keep the roof on and the doors open.

About Richard Farrell

Richard FarrellI tripped over a shrinking bank balance and fell into the writing gig unintentionally. This was after I escaped the corporate world and searched in vain for ways to become rich on the internet by doing nothing. Despite the fact that writing is no recipe for wealth, I rather enjoy it. I will deny I am obsessed with it when I have the time.My base is Umtentweni in South Africa on the Kwazulu-Natal South Coast (30.7167° S, 30.4667° E). I work from home where I ponder on the future of the planet, and what lies beyond in the great hereafter. Sometimes I step out of my computer into the silent riverine forests, and empty golden beaches for which the area is renowned.

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2 Responses

  1. Best English Cathedrals - Go4Travel Blog

    […] bishops claimed the authority of the Lord that even the kings feared, and raised mighty cathedrals to house the holy relics that attracted paying pilgrims. The ordinary people used them as meeting […]

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    Rowland Wateridge

    The history of the nave is much more complicated than this. It was not extended. In fact it was shortened by about 40 ft., and some of the original, massive foundations are exposed to the south west of the west front in your photograph no 1. There was a long programme of reconstruction – more of a conversion – of the original Norman/ Romanesque nave. This work was interrupted by the Black Death. Your photograph no 2 clearly illustrates (in the right foreground) on the first pier of the nave at the lower level two of the original Norman cushion capitals which survived the major alterations – a valuable clue for later generations.


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