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 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.
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).
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.
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.