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A towering cathedral full of splendour
Salisbury Cathedral (Salisbury)
Member Name: Mildew82
Salisbury Cathedral (Salisbury)
Advantages: Free entry if you're morally suspect, beautiful architecture, rich history, the Magna Carta exhibit
Disadvantages: Morally "encouraged" to make a donation, tours tough to get on
==History of the Cathedral==
By 1092 the final construction of a Norman Cathedral at Old Sarum was complete. In 1220 AD Bishop Richard Poore ordered a new cathedral to be built in its place calling upon his trusty architect Elias de Derham. Apparently construction for such monstrous buildings normally takes multiple generations but this new Salisbury Cathedral took a mere 38 years to complete and so has one of the most consistent styles of architectures seen in a cathedral. A few additions were tacked on by the 14th Century - the largest Cloister in England and the Chapter House - but the biggest feat was to extend the spire to 404 feet making it the tallest medieval structure not just in England but in the world. The Bishop, probably in an X-Factor style audition, amassed a group of priests, clerks and canons to serve the cathedral and gave them an acre and a half of land surrounding the cathedral, aka The Close, for houses to be built for their residences. He himself, in true style, built himself a whole Bishop's Palace (utilised today as the Cathedral School) as obviously he deserved to live in splendour.
You first spot the cathedral as you enter The Close, which itself is architecturally very attractive with some wonderfully old looking houses surrounding a nice green. The cathedral itself is also surrounded by a lot of open green space with some well-placed trees and surreal looking bronze and marble statues about (modern art, eh?) and when the sun is shining there's an incredibly peaceful atmosphere even with hundreds of people milling about. The architecture of the cathedral is stunning with the dramatic spire shooting high into the sky, some beautiful stained glass windows plus a wonderful symmetry to the design with the wall carvings depicting many figures such as saints and archangels etc. Entry to the cathedral is free but there is a "Donations Desk" standing firmly between you and the entrance hinting on a moral level that providing some kind of monetary offering before being granted entry is a valid and encouraged option. I declined purely out of principle for all the poor souls from the Middle Ages that had to pay tithes to the churches rather unfairly. Or maybe I'm just stingy and mean, but either way I strolled in guilt free. Well, if the outside looked amazing it's nothing compared to the grandeur inside...
If you come as part of a group you can pre-book a guided tour and the tower tour, but if you turn up spontaneously as far as I can tell you're left to your own devices and can try to do either a guided tour and/or tower tour but would be very much dependent on luck as to whether you can squeeze in. It sounds like there are a lot of expert guides on hand with specialities in architecture, stained glass, embroidery plus art & sculptures which you can request for your guided tour, at a suggested cost of £5.50 / £2.50 depending on age or you can simply ask for an introductory talk before flying the nest. As for the tower tour, this is £10 for adults, £8 for children/senior citizens and a family ticket is £27 (2 adults + 3 children) but the tour lasts 90 minutes and involves 13th century staircases with no handrails in certain places so is not for the faint hearted and you must be committed for this tour. Unfortunately, we couldn't get on a tower tour as we came at the wrong time and didn't have time to stick around so if you are planning a visit to Salisbury Cathedral instead of just randomly turning up then I'd advise pre-booking some stuff if you're interested.
Still, even without access to the tours there is plenty to see and admire within the cathedral and there are lots of leaflets plus a guide book to buy if you wish to learn a lot more about the history of the place. The view down the cathedral and sheer size of the stained glass windows makes you realise just how big the cathedral is, especially compared to piddly little village churches, and the opulence is awe-inspiring. There is a suggested route but I think you can be a rebel and defy it if you so choose without bringing about the apocalypse. Besides all the original features of the cathedral to look out for (including tombs; monuments of long since passed bishops and earls and other significant dead people; intimate chapels; a font; the medieval clock from 1386 that still works, and the quire which has 106 stalls for the assortment of vicars and canons plus the pipes of the Willis Organ that was installed in 1876) there are a lot of attractions added for tourists including the Memorial Glass Prism created by Laurence Whistler in memory of his tragically war-lost brother, artist Rex Whistler; some models of the cathedral, plus many similar sculptures to the ones outside from Helaine Blumenfeld's "Messenger of the Spirit" exhibition (although I believe this exhibition has now run its course so all the sculptures have probably disappeared in a puff of smoke by now which is a shame as despite not understanding a jot what I was looking at even with a guide I could tell they were skilfully made).
So it looks like the whole cathedral is fair game apart from the vestry, but beware there are nuns and monks lurking around every corner so god fearing people should always be on their best behaviour, and best not start any religion v. atheism conversations while you're in the cathedral as you may find yourself engaged in an awkward silence with a perturbed nun. You are allowed to take photographs apart from when there is a service going on and in the Chapter House where the final star attraction waits for you, but before entering the Chapter House you should also make sure you spotted the hidden creatures hiding around - the Monkey (above the vestry ready to throw nuts at anyone about to enter), the Cricket (on an arm rest in the Quire stalls) and Cat (some medieval graffiti on a plinth outside the Cloisters). As you walk to the Chapter House you will pass Britain's largest cloisters designed for reading and meditation which would be a boring patch of grass if it weren't for the trees and beautiful surrounding walls. Anyway on to the Chapter House where, with baited-breath you will discover none other than...
...the Magna Carta! Housed within is in fact one of four surviving copies of said Magna Carta (Great Charter) as sealed by King John in 1215. You can't get too close to it to study the text and material all for obvious reasons as it is encased in protective glass but it was written in beautiful handwriting that has been preserved magnificently on vellum, but unless you are scholarly and have an expert understanding in Latin you won't be reading it anytime soon. Thankfully though a translation is on hand in many languages via leaflets and information boards but despite its massive historical significance for democracy and overwhelming fame it is actually a very dull document bogged down with legal jargon so I'd recommend just an extract and not trying to read the whole thing, but hey, how do I know what people will find interesting? Even if the document itself isn't that interesting it is hard not to be in awe of something so powerful, so if you can linger a while despite the pulsing crowds you can also take in the magnificent medieval frieze around the walls depicting scenes from the Old Testament.
* Once you've finished you will come back through the restaurant which has a nice glass roof which lets a lot of light in and throughout the day serves up self-service homemade food with cakes and pastries, sandwiches, rolls, paninis plus hot and cold drinks as well as proper hot lunches including homemade soups. The shop closes between 5pm and 5:30pm depending on the time of year so the last thing you can get is afternoon tea.
* There are two sets of toilets available including disabled toilets - one in the restaurant and one beyond the Chapter House at the corner of the Cloisters.
* There is an information point just inside the entrance.
* There is also a gift shop just by the restaurant which is slightly religion oriented as you'd probably expect with an assortment of books, postcards, CDs, jewellery, choir recordings, plus some good stuff on the Magna Carta so probably worth a look around if only for the confectionary.
So there you have it - religious or not Salisbury Cathedral is a remarkable place to visit as the architecture and splendour is a marvel, and I'm sure this is also a powerful place to come if you are in fact religious too, but there is a small hint of a few tourist trappings which may slightly detract from the original air of the place, but not too much (I'm sure the tourists crawling about the place have a far worse impact whipping their cameras out at every opportunity). It has a wonderful history to it that you can learn about from a guided tour if you are lucky enough, but the guide book is sufficient of you cannot. The tower tour sounds a treat but is a bit tricky to get on so plan ahead if you fancy some vertigo and have more than 90 minutes to spare. You can pay as little or as much as you'd like to visit so if you're in the area I'd thoroughly recommend giving it a visit if you enjoy sites of historical merit or with religious connections.
Summary: One of the most splendorous cathedrals in the country in the lovely city of Salisbury