Address: 9 The Cl, Winchester SO23 9LS, UK

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Phone: +44 (0) 1962 857200

 

Winchester Cathedral History

The first religious building on the site was the early Saxon cathedral built in 648. This is now known as the ‘Old Minster’ and its foundations can be seen in the lawn to the north side of the cathedral today. It became an extremely important religious building in its time and was the burial place of saints and kings, including Alfred the Great who was buried here in 899. The most powerful area of Britain at the time was ‘Wessex’ and Winchester was at its centre.

Whilst today’s cathedral is the result of much rebuilding over the years, its inception can be traced back to the 11th century. Following the Norman Conquest in 1066, Stigand, the old Saxon bishop, was replaced by William Walkelin, this in 1070. Walkelin started building a Norman cathedral in 1079 and completed the work on 8th April 1093, the same year that he demolished the previous cathedral. His new creation became the biggest church north of the Alps.

As would be expected, the Old Minster had many treasures and relics and these were then moved to the new cathedral. The Mortuary Chests today contain the remains of kings that were buried in the Old Minster and the shrine of St Swithun, the bishop from 852 to 862, was transferred there also in 1093. The shrine stood in the Retrochoir until it was destroyed in 1538 and today the position of the shrine is prominently marked near the east end of the cathedral. St Swithun’s festival day (July 15th) is said to set the weather trend for the following 40 days.

Following the 11th century beginnings, two subsequent bishops were responsible for the majority of the major cathedral development. They were William of Wykeham, who was bishop between 1366 and 1404, and his successor Henry Beaufort who was bishop until 1447. They were both Lord Chancellor on more than one occasion and were wealthy men in their own right, with Wykeham being regarded as the richest man in England at one point. Wykeham also founded Winchester College and New College, Oxford.

The cathedral is famous for its six chantry chapels within the cathedral, with each being the burial place of a former bishop. In addition to the aforementioned Wykeham and Beaufort, there are chapels for William of Edington, William Waynflete, Richard Fox and Stephen Gardiner. Wykeham and Edington’s can be found in the Nave.

Other famous people remembered include Joan of Arc, with a statue outside Lady Chapel, the author Izaak Walton, who’s grave is in the Fisheries and authoress Jane Austen who is buried in the north aisle of the nave. Austen was the daughter of a local clergyman and the memorial epitaph composed by her brother James ignores her writing abilities, although there’s mention on another plaque.

Also remembered is William Walker, whose statue can be found near Lady Chapel. He became known as the ‘Winchester Diver’ and King George V pronounced that “he’d saved the cathedral with his own two hands”. Walker was one of the finest divers of his generation, but the work at Winchester was no ordinary job and required superhuman effort. The problem was that the foundations at the southern and eastern sides were sinking into the peat ground, making the cathedral liable to collapse at any time. So pits were dug, up to 20ft (6m) deep alongside the walls and Walker went down and shored up the foundations using 25,000 bags of concrete, 900,000 bricks and 115,000 concrete blocks. In all, 235 pits were dug and because of the peaty soil, visibility was zero. It took him between 1906 and 1911 to complete the task and when finished, the water was able to be pumped out and full foundation rebuilding work was able to be done. Signs of subsidence can still be seen in Lady Chapel.

Today the cathedral is known for being the longest Gothic cathedral in Europe and contains a host of relics, with some dating back a thousand years.

 

Winchester Cathedral Visit

It’s one of the most famous cathedrals in the world and consequently a much loved tourist attraction. 

The Cathedral is open to visitors from 9.30am Monday to Saturday and from 12.30 on Sundays. Entry costs around £8 for an adult. 

Recommended are the guided tours. There’s the Cathedral tour, the Crypt tour, the Tower tour and an audio tour.

The Cathedral tour is generally held every hour between 10.00 and 15.00. It is a free guided tour of the main part of the Cathedral, giving a host of information and details about various parts.

The Crypt tour is also free. They start at 10.30, 12.30 and 14.30 Monday to Saturday.

The Tower tour costs about £6.50 and the audio tour costs about £3.00. The audio tour is simply the hire of audio equipment that gives you headphone commentary as you walk around the Cathedral.

Evensong is held 17.30 Monday to Saturday and 15.30 on Sundays.

There’s certainly plenty to see. The famous Winchester bible is on show. This is an 800 year old book with 936 pages and was created by a single scribe and a team of artists. It was commissioned in 1160 by the grandson of William the Conqueror.

There’s also Jane Austen’s grave, the Deanery second hand bookstall, Dean Garnier Garden, a free children’s trail written by a professional children’s writer plus a host of other fascinating detail around the Cathedral.

Winchester lies 13 miles from Southampton and 30 miles from Portsmouth. Nearby attractions include Marwell Zoo, the statue of Alfred the Great, The Great Hall, Gurkha Museum, Royal Green Jackets Museum, St Catherine’s Hill, Avington Park and various golf courses.