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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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. 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.
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:-
Please let us know any other information that we can add to the Further information and Planning Grids or page and any errors that you discover. Before making a long trip to any location it is always wise to double check the current information, websites like magazines may be correct at the time the information is written, but things change and it is of course impossible to double check all entries on a regular basis. If you have any good photographs that you feel would improve the illustration of this page then please let us have copies. In referring to this page it is helpful if you quote the Page Ref and classification at the bottom of the Planning Grid above. To print the planning grid select it then right click and print the selected area.
Please submit information on locations you discover so that this system continues to grow.