Sunday, 27 August 2017

All the Cathedrals (4): Winchester

Winchester, located close to Southampton, was one of the earlier Cathedral visits that Zero and I undertook. It is accessible by car from the M3 and by train from London Waterloo (if I recall correctly). The location close to the south coast of England is reflected in some of the history of the Cathedral.

[Image credit:, CC BY-SA 3.0,]

An impression I remember from our visit is that of gaining a sense of a Cathedral site that integrates into the life of the city itself - a shopping street and market are immediately adjacent to one side of the Cathedral - and the Cathedral greens were occupied by visitors enjoying the sunshine. Visiting on a Saturday probably emphasised this more than would otherwise have been the case. Norwich and Ely cathedrals also have some of this sense, though less so, Norwich because the Cathedral is a bit to one side of the city centre and Ely because it is a small city.

Winchester Cathedral shares several of the typical features already noted of the history of English cathedrals. A Saxon building dated from the 7th century, and by the beginning of the 11th century it was a Cathedral, the home of a monastic community following the rule of St Benedict, and a place of pilgrimage to a shrine housing the remains of St Swithun, a former bishop of Winchester. After the arrival of the Normans, this "Old Minster" was replaced by a new Church built next to it in the Norman/Romanesque style (substantially the present day Cathedral). At the time of the dissolution of the monasteries, the Benedictine community was dispersed, the cloister of the cathedral destroyed and the shrine of St Swithun ransacked (a form of shrine has been reinstated). The statues in the "Great Screen" behind the high altar were also destroyed - the present day statues are replacements dating from the 19th Century.

The Winchester Cathedral website is very informative, and well worth exploring. The Wikipedia page for Winchester Cathedral allows you to enlarge a good range of images of some of the significant features of the Cathedral.

This page at the Winchester Cathedral website gives an idea of the history of the building: Our History. This page traces the architectural history of the Cathedral: Building the Cathedral.

Famous people associated with Winchester Cathedral can be found on this page, Jane Austen being perhaps the most noted, with a discrete grave in the Cathedral. (Follow the links from each entry on this page for informative accounts of each individual.)

This page provides links to images of some of the features of the Cathedral, with the crypt and Antony Gormley's Sound II perhaps most notable. When we visited, the crypt was partly flooded, and the sculpture had a quite eerie look to it.

One comes away from Winchester Cathedral with a sense of having delved deeply into the history of England, but at the same time having visited a building that is still a "living" building that continues to grow and develop. Winchester itself also has several other places of interest to visit or walks that can be undertaken.

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