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Winchester Cathedral

Winchester, Hampshire

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Winchester cathedral is one of the largest in England, has the longest nave and overall length of any Gothic cathedral in Europe. Winchester was the capital of Wessex, and later England for a period. The current cathedral was started in 1097, but another, or others were nearby earlier.

An old legend states the Old Minster was built in the 2nd century for King Lucius of Britain. This king is otherwise, as far as I know, unknown to history, but this section of history is incomplete. If true then this would make it the site of a Celtic church before the arrival of the catholic version of Christianity. Quite logical really as its not that great a distance from Glastonbury where Christianity first arrived in England. Its not exactly clear what happened, there appears to have been two monasteries established right next to each other, and eventually one took over just after the Norman conquest and the other isn't mentioned any more.

Outside view The Ceiling above the Quire
The brickwork on the ground showing the placement of the Old Minster One of the many chapels inside

Click on smaller images to see larger versions

It is now said that the cathedral was originally founded in 642 or 648 on an immediately adjoining site to the north for King Cenwalh of Wessex and Saint Birinus. This building became known later as the Old Minster. In 901 the New Minster was built next to it, so close that it is said the singing of the monks inside each became hopelessly intermingled. Saint Swithun was buried near the Old Minster, so that people could visit it without having to pay, then within it, so they did have to, and this funded expansion, and the old minister became the largest church in Europe at that time (970). It was also the site of major events for royalty of the period. Winchester was at the heart of Alfred's Wessex and a diocese which once stretched from London's Thames to the Channel Islands.

After the Norman Conquest of England, Bishop Walkelin built a replacement cathedral alongside and the Old Minster, at an angle and overlapping it, so that the old minister had to be demolished, perhaps the Normans making their mark by replacing the existing establishment with the new.  Saint Swithun was moved to the new Norman cathedral after the old Minster was pulled down in 1093, although bits of him appear to have ended up in a number of places. Many of the Kings of Wessex and England, as well as holy saints, had been buried in the old Minster, so their bodies were dug up and re-interred in the new building. Mortuary chests said to contain the remains of Saxon kings such as King Edwy of England and his wife Queen Elgiva, first buried in the Old Minster, are also housed in the present cathedral. More on this below.

The Old Minster was excavated in the 1960s. It is now laid out in brickwork next to the cathedral, where not under it.

A view of the quire Joan of Arc

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The New Minster I suspect was over near what is now referred to as the Old Bishops Palace, as this has some remains that appear more like those of a monastery than a fortified house, yet too far away to be connected directly to the Old Minster site. So although most think of the current cathedral as the new Minster its neither, its a grand replacement by the Normans. Winchester had a range of religious orders with houses or monasteries, amongst these were the Benedictine Priory of St Swithun, Benedictine Nuns at the Abbey of St Mary, both a Dominican and a Franciscan friary, 4 hospitals, and a college.

Construction of the cathedral, we see now, 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 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 (son of William I 'the Conqueror') was buried in the cathedral on 11 August 1100, after he was killed in a hunting accident in the nearby New Forest.

The squat, square central tower was begun in 1202 to replace an earlier version which collapsed, partly due to the unstable ground on which the cathedral is built. It has an undisputedly 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.

In the time of Henry VIII, the Benedictine foundation, the Priory of Saint Swithun, was dissolved in 1539 and the cloister and chapter house were demolished, but the cathedral continued.

St Swithins Memorial

With the Civil War, came destruction with the major windows being destroyed, but the stain glass in the great west window was allowed to be put back, in a random way, as it is today not presenting any pictures.

The parliamentarians also destroyed statues and cast the contents of the boxes of kings, queens and saints bones, these were gathered up and put back into the caskets, but a king, queen or saint may well have part sin a number of boxes now. These boxes are on high walls in the quire.

Within The Quire One of the 6 boxes containing the bones

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The water table in summer months leaves the crypt dry but in winter months it floods for most of the time, today when there is water in the crypt you have the opportunity to see reflections of a statue placed there. With a high water table and no firm foundations the cathedral was originally built by dropping wooden planks into the clay and building on this, while in many places this compressed the clay and worked, here it did not, and the foundations were at risk of collapse.  Restoration work was carried out by T.G. Jackson during the years 19051912, 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. He worked six hours a day from 1906 to 1912 in total darkness at depths up to 6m, and is credited with saving the cathedral from total collapse. For his troubles he was awarded the MVO. Today there is a display about this, divers gear and clothing in the cathedral.

The Crypt - which floods in the winter months.

There was, through some of the period, a lot of conflict around the priory and monks of Winchester and if you read the details in British history online, you will see various members getting discommunicated, and even orders being given that monks from Winchester were not allowed to enter other monasteries.

Events that have taken place in the current cathedral include:-

Funeral of King Harthacanute (1042)
Coronation of Henry the Young King and his queen, Marguerite (1172)
Second coronation of Richard I of England (1194)
Marriage of King Henry IV of England and Joanna of Navarre (1403)
Marriage of Queen Mary I of England and King Philip II of Spain (1554)
Funeral and burial of Jane Austen (1817)

Points not to miss
  • Jane Austin's tomb and plate in the wall of the north isle (near font). Where you see the wall plaque, look on the ground, you are likely to be standing on the spot where she is buried, its marked on a large stone on the floor. On the way from here to the Old Bishops Palace site watch out for the blue plaque making the building where she died.
  • Font carvings (story of another saint).
  • Screens in the chapel at the far east. These are copies of and covering early wall paintings.
  • Old tiles in places on the floor.
  • Painting on wall near tower/entry to crypt.
  • The quire stalls with their magnificent gabled canopies, elaborately carved with flowers and plants, owls and monkeys, dragons, knights and green men.
  • St Swithins holey hole, rear of main alter screen. Saint Swithun day 15 July is said to set the pattern for the weather for the next forty days. This was previously connected with an older pagan belief.
  • The cathedral  possesses the only diatonic ring of 14 church bells in the world. The largest bell weighs 1.83 metric tonnes.
  • much more ........

The image to the right is the window above the West Door. Put your mouse over and you will see a close up of one of the panels.

Further information Grid



Winchester Cathedral , Winchester, Hampshire

Ceremonial County: Hampshire

Grid Reference:


Map Link:


Aerial photo: Multimap    3D birds eye Multimap



Best Times to Visit:





Own   History 

Other useful websites:

wiki                    Old Minster  wiki   

Nearby Locations: Old Bishops Palace is just to the SW (free). Round table in Great Hall, and other attractions of the city.
Other Relevant pages:

Abbey section, including all major Christian buildings, regions orders, normal layouts and history.

List of all Anglican cathedrals and other major Anglican churches in the UK



Date Updated: 09/2008


Planning Grid


Winchester Cathedral, Winchester, Hampshire

Grid Reference:


Getting there:

City centre, see map


via foot


Parking in one of the many city car parks.



Things To Do, See and Photograph:

Buildings, architecture, views.

What to take:

Tripod, level, wide angle lens.

Nature highlights:



The Cathedral Office
1, The Close,




SO23 9LS


01962 857200

Opening times:

8:30am to 6pm every day
except Sunday when it closes at 5.30pm.


Adults - 5
Children under 16 iwith their families Free

Unemployed and full-time students/language schools - 3

Senior Citizens (65 and over) - 4

Photo Restrictions:

Photography is allowed at no cost except NO photography in the library.

Other Restrictions:  
Special Needs Access: Most areas except crypt, treasury and library should not present a problem to most.
Special Needs Facilities:  
Children Facilities:  
Dogs Allowed: Guide dogs only

Page Ref:


Date Updated: 09/2008

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