Winchester Cathedral is a Church of England cathedral situated in Winchester, Hampshire, England. The cathedral is one of the largest cathedrals in England, with the longest nave and overall length of any Gothic cathedral in Europe. Dedicated to the Holy Trinity, Saint Peter, Saint Paul, and Saint Swithun, it is the seat of the Bishop of Winchester and centre of the Diocese of Winchester.
The cathedral was originally founded in 642 on an immediately adjoining site to the north. This building became known as the Old Minster. It became part of a monastic settlement in 971. Saint Swithun was buried near the Old Minster and then in it, before being moved to the new Norman cathedral. So-called mortuary chests said to contain the remains of Saxon kings such as King Eadwig of England, first buried in the Old Minster, and his wife Ælfgifu, are also housed in the present cathedral.The Old Minster was demolished in 1093.
Construction of the cathedral began in 1079 under bishop Walkelin and, on April 8, 1093, in the presence of nearly all the bishops and abbots of England, the monks removed from the Saxon cathedral church of the Old Minster to the new one, “with great rejoicing and glory” to mark its completion. The earliest part of the present building is the crypt, which dates from that time. William II of England and his older brother, Richard, Duke of Bernay are both buried in the cathedral. The squat, square crossing tower was begun in 1202 to replace an earlier version which collapsed, partly because of the unstable ground on which the cathedral is built. It has an indisputably Norman look to it. Work continued on the cathedral during the 14th century. In 1394 the remodelling of the Norman nave commenced to the designs of master mason William Wynford, this continued into the 15th and 16th centuries, notably with the building of the retroquire to accommodate the many pilgrims to the shrine of Saint Swithun.
Much of the sturdy limestone used to build the structure was brought across from the Isle of Wight from quarries around Binstead. Nearby Quarr Abbey draws its name from these masonry workings, as do many local places such as Stonelands and Stonepitts. The remains of the Roman trackway used to transport the blocks are still evident across the fairways of the Ryde Golf Club, where the stone was hauled from the quarries to the hythe at the mouth of Binstead Creek, and thence by barge across the Solent and up to Winchester.
After King Henry VIII seized control of the Catholic Church in England and declared himself head of the Church of England, the Benedictine foundation, the Priory of Saint Swithun, was dissolved (1539) and the cloister and chapter house were demolished, but the cathedral continued.
Restoration work was carried out by T.G. Jackson during the years 1905–1912, including the famous saving of the building from total collapse. Some waterlogged foundations on the south and east walls were reinforced by a diver, William Walker, packing the foundations with more than 25,000 bags of concrete, 115,000 concrete blocks, and 900,000 bricks. Walker worked six hours a day from 1906 to 1912 in total darkness at depths up to 6 metres (20 ft), and is credited with saving the cathedral from total collapse. For his troubles he was awarded the MVO.
Nowadays the cathedral draws many tourists as a result of its association with Jane Austen, who died in the city and is buried in the cathedral’s north aisle of the nave. The original 19th century marker gave reluctant praise for her writing ability. Interestingly her gravestone makes no mention of her as a novelist, for which she is now best known. Much later a more descriptive marker about Austen’s talent was placed on a nearby wall.
Another reason for its popularity is that the cathedral was the setting for works of fiction by Anthony Trollope, for example, his novels of 19th century church life known collectively as the Chronicles of Barsetshire. In 2005, the building was used as a film set for The Da Vinci Code, with the north transept used as the Vatican. Following this the cathedral hosted discussions and displays to debunk the book.
In addition Winchester Cathedral is possibly the only cathedral to have had popular songs written about it. “Winchester Cathedral” was a UK top ten hit and a US number one song for The New Vaudeville Band in 1966. The cathedral was also the subject of the Crosby, Stills & Nash song, “Cathedral” from their 1977 album CSN. In addition, Liverpool-based band Clinic released an album entitled Winchester Cathedral in 2004.
In the south transept there is a “Fishermen’s Chapel”, which is the burial place of Izaak Walton. Walton, who died in 1683, was the author of The Compleat Angler and a friend of John Donne. In the choir is the bell from HMS Iron Duke which was the flagship of Admiral John Jellicoe at the Battle of Jutland in 1916.
The Epiphany Chapel has a series of Pre-Raphaelite stained glass windows designed by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones and made in William Morris’s workshop. The foliage decoration above and below each pictorial panel is unmistakably William Morris and at least one of the figures bears a striking resemblance to Morris’s wife Jane, who frequently posed for Dante Gabriel Rossetti and other members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
The crypt, which frequently floods, features a statue by Antony Gormley, called “Sound II”, installed in 1986, and there is a modern shrine to Saint Swithun. In addition there is a bust of William Walker, the deep-sea diver who worked underwater in the crypt between 1906 and 1911 underpinning the nave and shoring up the walls.
A series of nine icons were installed between 1992 and 1996 in the retroquire screen which for a short time protected the relics of St Swithun destroyed by Henry VIII in 1538. This iconostasis in the Russian Orthodox tradition was created by Sergei Fyodorov (sometimes spelt Fedorov) and dedicated in 1997. The icons include the local religious figures St Swithun and St Birinus. Beneath the retroquire Icons, is the Holy Hole once used by pilgrims to crawl beneath and lie close to the healing shrine of St Swithun.The ‘external link’ below connects to images of each icon and the retroquire. The cathedral also possesses the only diatonic ring of 14 church bells in the world, with a tenor (heaviest bell) weighing 1.81 tonnes (4,000 lb).
In common with many other cathedrals in the United Kingdom, an admission charge has been required for visitors to enter the cathedral since March 2006. Visitors may also request an annual pass for the same price as a single admission.
The sculptor Alan Durst was responsible for the carving on one of the memorials in the church.
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