Winchester Cathedral is a beautiful Anglican cathedral in the county of Hampshire, southeast England. The present structure, dating mostly from 1097, it is the longest cathedral in the country.
History of Winchester Cathedral
A Saxon church was built on this spot in 648 and was soon used by a Benedictine monastery which came to be named the Priory of St. Swithun.
Saint Swithun (d. 862) was bishop of Winchester and a tutor to young King Alfred. Despite his importance in life, the saint humbly requested that he be buried outside upon his death, so that "passers by might tread on his grave and where the rain from the eaves might fall on it." He was initially buried in the churchyard in accordance with his wishes, in a highly prestigious position.
But when the Saxon cathedral, the Old Minster, was enlarged in 971, the saint's remains were moved inside. According to legend, it then rained nonstop for 40 days. Local lore still has it that if it rains on St. Swithun's Day (July 15), 40 days of rain will follow:
The present church, the longest medieval cathedral in Britain, dates from 1079, and was built in the Norman (Romanesque) style. St. Swithun's remains were moved to the new church in 1093. The cathedral was at the heart of a powerful diocese that stretched from the Thames River to the Channel Islands and attracted many pilgrims who came to pray at the tombs of Swithun and other saints.
The influential and wealthy bishops of Winchester further developed and adorned their cathedral throughout the Middle Ages. The east end was expanded in the 13th century. Even more remodeling and expansion took place in the 14th century, including the Gothic nave, west front and choir stalls.
Stephen Gardiner (1531-55) was the last important Roman Catholic bishop of Winchester, during the reign of Queen Mary I. He officiated at her marriage to Philip of Spain, which took place in Winchester Cathedral.
What to See at Winchester Cathedral
The soaring Perpendicular Gothic nave of Winchester Cathedral, the longest in England, is the highlight of the building. Also impressive are the chantry chapels, the reredos (late-15th-century ornamental screens), and the elaborately carved choir stalls featuring flowers and plants, owls and monkeys, dragons, knights and green men.
Jane Austen is buried here; her grave is marked with a commemorative plaque. Also buried in Winchester Cathedral are the bones of many Saxon kings, the remains of the Viking conqueror Canute and his wife, Emma, and the remains of William Rufus (William II), son of William the Conqueror.
The transept and crossing tower are survivors from the Norman period (11th century), as is the crypt. The crypt has an unusual feature: it still floods periodically in the winter. In the center of the crypt is Sound II, a modern sculpture by Anthony Gormley that was designed to stand in water.
The cathedral's library contains over 4,000 books, including several illuminated manuscripts from the Middle Ages. Especially notable are Bishop Morley's 17th-century book collection and an exhibition room contains the 12th-century Winchester Bible.
The Triforium shows sculpture, woodwork, and metalwork from 11 centuries and provides magnificent views over the rest of the cathedral.
The Close once contained the domestic buildings for the monks of the Priory of St. Swithun. Most of these buildings were destroyed during Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries.
Quick Facts on Winchester Cathedral
|Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity · Winchester Cathedral
|cathedrals; Grade I listed buildings
|Perpendicular Gothic style; Early English style; Anglo-Norman
|Visitor and Contact Information
|51.060696° N, 1.313210° W
|9, The Close
|Mon-Sat 9am-5pm; Sun 12:30pm-3pm
|View hotels near Winchester Cathedral
- Personal visit (August 13, 2006).
- Winchester Cathedral - official website
- Eyewitness Travel Guide to Great Britain
- Frommer's England 2005
- Britannia Biographies
Map of Winchester Cathedral
Below is a location map and aerial view of Winchester Cathedral. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.