Salisbury Cathedral, formally known as the Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is an Anglican cathedral in Salisbury, England, considered one of the leading examples of Early English architecture. The main body was completed in only 38 years, from 1220 to 1258.
The cathedral has the tallest church spire in the United Kingdom (123m/404 ft). Visitors can take the “Tower Tour” where the interior of the hollow spire, with its ancient wood scaffolding, can be viewed. The cathedral also has the largest cloister and the largest cathedral close in Britain (80 acres (320,000 m2)). The Cathedral contains the world’s oldest working clock (from AD 1386) and has the best surviving of the four original copies of Magna Carta (all four original copies are in England). Although commonly known as Salisbury Cathedral, the official name is the Cathedral of Saint Mary. In 2008, the cathedral celebrated the 750th anniversary of its consecration in 1258.
It is the Mother Church of the Diocese of Salisbury, and seat of the Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt. Revd. Nick Holtam.
As a response to deteriorating relations between the clergy and the military at Old Sarum, the decision was taken to resite the cathedral and the bishopric was moved to its present place in Salisbury. The move occurred during the tenure of Bishop Richard Poore, who was a wealthy man and donated the new land for construction. The new cathedral was also paid for by donations, principally by all the canons and vicars of the south-west, who were asked to contribute a fixed annual sum until its completion. Legend has it that the Bishop of Old Sarum shot an arrow in the direction he would build the cathedral; the arrow hit a deer and the deer finally died in the place where Salisbury Cathedral is now.
The foundation stone was laid on 28 April 1220. Much of the freestone for the cathedral came from Teffont Evias quarries.Due to the high water table in the new location, the cathedral was built on only four feet of foundations, and by 1258 the nave, transepts and choir were complete. The west front was ready by 1265. The cloisters and chapter house were completed around 1280. Because the cathedral was built in only 38 years, Salisbury Cathedral has a single consistent architectural style, Early English Gothic.
The only major sections of the cathedral built later were the Cloisters, Chapter house, tower and spire, which at 404 feet (123 m) dominated the skyline from 1320. Whilst the spire is the cathedral’s most impressive feature, it has also proved to be troublesome. Together with the tower, it added 6,397 tons (6,500 tonnes) to the weight of the building. Without the addition of buttresses, bracing arches and iron ties over the succeeding centuries, it would have suffered the fate of spires on later great ecclesiastical buildings (such as Malmesbury Abbey) and fallen down; instead, Salisbury remains the tallest church spire in the UK. To this day the large supporting pillars at the corners of the spire are seen to bend inwards under the stress. The addition of reinforcing tie beams above the crossing, designed by Christopher Wren in 1668, arrested further deformation. The beams were hidden by a false ceiling, installed below the lantern stage of the tower.
Significant changes to the cathedral were made by the architect James Wyatt in 1790, including replacement of the original rood screen and demolition of the bell tower which stood about 320 feet (100 m) north west of the main building. Salisbury is one of only three English cathedrals to lack a ring of bells, the others being Norwich Cathedral and Ely Cathedral. However it does strike the time every 15 minutes with bells.
Among the people buried in the cathedral, the most famous is probably Sir Edward Heath, KG, MBE (1916–2005), who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1970 to 1974 and as a Member of Parliament from 1950 to 2001.
The chapter house is notable for its octagonal shape, slender central pillar and decorative mediæval frieze. It was redecorated in 1855-9 by William Burges. The frieze circles the interior, just above the stalls, and depicts scenes and stories from the books of Genesis and Exodus, including Adam and Eve, Noah, the Tower of Babel, and Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The chapter house also displays the best-preserved of the four surviving original copies of Magna Carta. This copy came to Salisbury because Elias of Dereham, who was present at Runnymede in 1215, was given the task of distributing some of the original copies. Later, Elias became a Canon of Salisbury and supervised the construction of Salisbury Cathedral.
The west front is composed of two stair turrets at each extremity, with two niched buttresses nearer the centre line supporting the large central triple window. The stair turrets are topped with spirelets and the central section is topped by a gable which contains four lancet windows topped by two round quatrefoil windows surmounted by a mandorla containing Christ in Majesty. At ground level there is a principal door flanked by two smaller doors. The whole is highly decorated with quatrefoil motifs, columns, trefoil motifs and bands of diapering. The west front was almost certainly constructed at the same time as the cathedral. This is apparent from the way in which the windows coincide with the interior spaces. The entire façade is about 33 metres high and wide.
The front accommodates over 130 shallow niches of varying sizes, 73 of these niches contains a statue. The line of niches extend round the turrets to the north, south and east faces. There are 5 levels of niches (not including the mandorla) which show, from the top, angels and archangels, Old Testament patriarchs, apostles and evangelists, martyrs, doctors and philosophers and, on the lower level, royalty, priests and worthy people connected with the cathedral. The majority of the statues were placed during the middle of the 19th century, however 7 are from the 14th century and several have been installed within the last decade.
The Salisbury cathedral clock dating from about AD 1386 is supposedly the oldest working modern clock in the world. The clock has no face because all clocks of that date rang out the hours on a bell. It was originally located in a bell tower that was demolished in 1792. Following this demolition, the clock was moved to the Cathedral Tower where it was in operation until 1884. The clock was then placed in storage and forgotten until it was discovered in 1929, in an attic of the cathedral. It was repaired and restored to working order in 1956. In 2007 remedial work and repairs were carried out to the clock.
Salisbury Cathedral by John Constable, ca. 1825. As a gesture of appreciation for John Fisher, the Bishop of Salisbury, who commissioned this painting, Constable included the Bishop and his wife in the canvas (bottom left).
The cathedral was the subject of a Channel 4 Time Team programme that was first broadcast on February 8, 2009.