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On our first day in the area we went to visit the famous cathedral. Yes that cathedral and my husband hummed the tune all the way around the city!
We parked and walked through the town and following the signs easily found the cathedral. As it was a lovely sunny day there were lots of people picnicking or just sitting in the park area in front of the cathedral. It was a very English scene with the trees shading the walkway, people enjoying lying or sitting in the sun and the beautiful cathedral in the background.
Winchester was once the capital city of England ( in c828) and the cathedral was the heart of this ancient capital for nearly a thousand years. It is the longest medieval cathedral in England and is indeed a very long building. There is no tall spire to be seen from miles around. In fact even when in the city the cathedral does not stand out and it is not a building you can see standing up high from the other buildings in the city.
We entered the cathedral and were welcomed by one of the many volunteer guides who offer free guided tours on the hour throughout the day. We then paid our entrance fee of £5 for my senior citizen husband and £6.50 for youthful me!
The first thing that strikes you about the building is the beautiful arched ceiling that seems to go on forever. Then your eye is taken by the colourful banners either side hanging from the pillars which prints are taken from the Winchester Bible depicting scenes from stories of the bible. They look lovely and really brighten up the central part of the cathedral. I was just wowed by the sheer size of the building, it just seemed to go on forever in one long very high arched corridor down each side and then the larger middle section but it was the side parts that appeared so high and long and just took my breath away.
If you look at the back of the cathedral with your back to the altar you look up and the large stained glass window is quite different from any I have ever seen before. This window is known as the West window and was destroyed by Parliamentary troops during the English Civil War and it was rebuilt and designed using the shattered glass found around the cathedral. It is not a bright and colourful and has far smaller pieces than most stained glass windows but is most impressive when you know the story behind it.
The next spot of great interest to me was Jane Austen's grave. Jane Austen lived close by in Chawton, Alton but became very ill and came into Winchester to see a doctor. They were unable to find what was wrong with her and she lived in a house on College Street in Winchester for the last six week of her life supported by her sister. After she died on the 18th July 1817she was buried in the cathedral and her grave in under the floor on the left hand side as you face the altar not far from the font. There is no mention of her writings on the gravestone but on the wall to the left in a memorial in gold saying that she was the well known author and below this is a vase of fresh flowers. Above this is a stained glass window commemorating Jane Austen. Close to the font is a display case explaining a little about Jane Austen and her works and her life.
I am particularly fond of Ms Austen and her work and did my thesis on this subject and of course my daughter is called Emma Jane too. My cousin has been working on our family tree on my mother's side and had discovered an Austen in our family so I am rather hoping that we might be related too!
The font is a very solid dark marble square shape and is from the 12th century. Around the font are scenes from the life of St Nicholas.
The next place we found really fascinating was the quire between the choir stalls and the altar. High above on the arches were mortuary chests said to contain the remains of bishops and early kings including the famous King Canute.
Walking on around the left side of the building we came to an exhibition about the Bible. Winchester cathedral's greatest treasure is the Winchester Bible which was hand written using a goose quill over five years by a monk in the 12th century and then beautifully illustrated using gold and lapis lazuli amongst other tinctures. The exhibition also had displays of early editions of the King James Bible which according to the display is the most influential English printed book of all time.
Along the way one of the displays told of how important this bible was to Florence Nightingale and how she took a copy to the Crimea. She also translated stories into several other languages; some people are just so talented it makes you feel very humble.
Back a little and you can go down a few stairs to look into the crypt. If you want to actually go into the crypt there is an extra charge for a guided tour. I am afraid I can't enlighten you any further as we didn't take the tour. From the viewing platform you can see the statue by Anthony Gormley called 'Sound II' which looks like a man with his head bowed looking at his hands which are sort of held in front of him at about waist height in black but not sure what material it is actually sculpted from.
Carrying on past the exhibition about the bible we came to a large area with ancient original medieval tiles which are the largest area of original decorated floor tiles in England and you actually walk over the tiles although you are asked to walk carefully. This is in the area known as the Retro choir area.
Another fascinating feature of this area is the tomb of St Swithun, the patron saint of the cathedral and then Holy Hole which is where pilgrims used to crawl in order to be close to the bones of Saint Swithun. I am not sure that this option is still available as we didn't really feel that we needed to try this.
Also in this section is the grave of William Walker who was a diver and between the years of 1906 and 1911 he donned his diving gear and single handedly underpinned the foundations of the cathedral thus saving the cathedral from collapsing or subsiding. I found this story really amazing that one man in an old fashioned diving suit spent about five years of his life under the cathedral repairing the foundations; some people do the most amazing things.
And coming back down the other side of the cathedral we went in to gaze at the amazing stone sculpted altar screen which was really beautiful. The screen dates back to the 15th century but there are also some more recent statues which were added in the 19th century. The choir stalls are also beautifully carved wood and look suitably grand for a cathedral of this stature.
Continuing on we made a slight detour into one of the two chapels near the library. This was the Fisherman's chapel which was quite small and had a very simple wooden altar and two simple wooden statues either side. The grave of Isaak Walton is on the floor in this chapel which was of some interest to us as we live near the famous Izaak Walton hotel in Derbyshire where he did a lot of his fishing. I really liked the simplicity of the altar in here it just appealed to me as it was so different from the usual ornate ones in churches.
The Library and Triforium gallery are just beside this chapel and the actual Winchester bible is kept within this library. Even more bizarre is a Saxon bowl which is exhibited in the gallery which is said to have once held the heart of King Canute. Why you would put someone's heart in bowl I have no idea but it makes a good story I guess.
For those interested in architecture there were many interesting features both inside and outside the cathedral. The flying buttresses all along one wall on the inner close provide a lovely archway to walk along. On the other side you can clearly see the site of the old minster as the foundations are laid out in brick on the ground.
As you walk around through the inner close through the gardens you can see a sculpture by Barbara Hepworth which is her homage to the artist Mondrian. Personally i think it is rather out of keeping wit h the beautiful medieval buildings in this area but if you like that sort of thing then it is there.
Turning around we came back to the front of the cathedral to visit the cathedral cafe for a cup of tea. This cafe is through an old archway past the gift shop and a bronze statue of the diver William Walker. The cafe has a large outside area and a very open modern inside area. It has an Egon Ronay award but as we only had a cup of tea and a cake each I cannot really comment of the food. It was very pleasant and appeared to be staffed purely by volunteers. There were toilets in the cafe and also public toilets just outside the cafe near the diver's statue. Both sets were very nice and clean, I tried them both at different times of the day.
Also available were free guided tours of the cathedral which last about an hour but even if you were not taking up one of the tours you could listen in as you went round to those guides who were explaining something of interest to their group. There were plenty of guides around who you could ask questions of and they were all very pleasant and willing to chat as long as you wanted to or just answer your specific question.
They didn't mind you taking photographs anywhere in the cathedral but did ask that you refrained from posing in front of the altars, however this was obviously not written in every language as we saw a fair few doing just that when we were there.
I have wanted to visit this cathedral ever since 'Winchester cathedral' was released way back in the 1960s but somehow I just have never been down this way before since that time. It is certainly an interesting city and the cathedral is very different. It is much longer lower and chunkier than most of our cathedrals in England but within the walls lie so many fascinating treasures that I was completely unaware of before our visit.
I would certainly recommend a visit and you can easily spend a whole day wandering around just the area around the cathedral never mind exploring the wider city and that can be found there. Winchester was full of tourists from many other countries but it was easy to find your way around as most places are clearly signed.
Thanks for reading. I hope this has been of some interest to you and maybe tempted you to visit this very interesting cathedral which is one of the oldest in England and well worth a visit.
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Winchester Cathedral is a very attractive one, set in beautiful grounds just a few metres from the High Street in Winchester Town Centre. They charge an admission of £6 which I think is quite steep, however guests at certain hotels are given free tickets. The price does include a guided tour every hour (which last about an hour - although our very enthusiastic guide went over her time) from 10am until the last one at 3pm on Monday-Saturdays. I visited on a Bank Holiday and it was very busy, so had to queue to get in and there was quite a few on our tour. You can also get an audio tour narrated by David Suchet, which incurred an extra fee.
On the tour our guide told us about the origins and history of the cathedral which can date back to the 11th Century (although there was a church on the site prior to that - possibly as far back as the 7th Century), it reflects the importance that Winchester has held in English history where important bishops and cardinals are buried here and Mary Tudor was married here. Here you will also find the shrine of St Swithin, who received beatification after performing the miracle of restoring an old lady's broken eggs. Most will no doubt be aware of the legend that if it rains on 15th July (St Swithin's day) then it will rain for the next 40 days and nights. This apparently is because St Swithin wished to be buried outside, but he became angry when it was decided to move his shrine inside. Our guide also told us about the architecture of the church.
We were fortunate to be able to pop down and see the crypt. This famously gets flooded regularly so cannot always be accessed, inside is a statue called 'Sound II' by Anthony Gormley (he of Angel of the North and One & Other Fourth Plinth project fame). We only viewed it although it was dry, I believe they do special tours to see it every day but I missed the signage with any details/charges. There is also a tower tour for a further charge too. After the crypt visit, someone started practicing the organ, it is a very large and noisy organ but meant that our guide rounded up the tour, she had already over-ran but I reckon she could have kept going much longer! I would say an hour is plenty, most people get a bit fidgety after that especially with all the information our guide gave us, there was no room for any more in my brain!
One of the most famous people interred in the Cathedral is the 18th Century author Jane Austen. Currently (until late September) there is a small exhibition within the Cathedral telling the story of her life and death, as well as a few Georgian artefacts similar to things she owned or could have owned. Fans of Jane who have visited other places she has been, or read much about her, will learn nothing new here. The exhibition is sited next to her grave; she was buried in the Cathedral because her wealthy brother paid for it, rather then because she was a famous authoress. In fact she had not been published under her own name before her death - just credited as 'A Lady'. There is also a small memorial to her.
If you are in the area then I think a visit to the Cathedral is worth doing especially if you time it with a tour. I think it is too expensive to just meander around it, as you are unlikely to get as much out. I believe there is a refectory here also, plus the grounds are nice to picnic in, with benches and plenty of space, and you are not far from the High Street for refreshments.
This cathedral is the main reason many people come to winchester. Its a beautiful building, and its huge! Theres a lot of history to this cathedral, it once nearly sank!
I have sung in this cathedral in various school and college xmas carol services, and although the acoustics arent the best at the back, its a magical place to be singing in. If you get a chance to hear the organ here its fantastic and is so loud if you go down the left hand side of the pipes.
At the end is a massive stained glass window, however its not of anything as it got smashed, and someone painstakingly pub it back together.
I think it costs around £6 to get in to here, as a donation but theres a ticket booth so I think you are expected to pay it. I have never paid as always been in here for concerts, but its worth it if you havent seen inside before.
Outside is called the cathedral grounds or 'cat' grounds as we locals call it. Its a lovely place to have lunch on a sunny day, and a lot of young people meet there to hang out. Its quite a large area and there are the usual resident drunks who hang out by the back railings so dont go too far back!
Theres a cafe and shop opposite the cathedral, and the cafe has some quite nice food. Behind the cathedral in winter theres an icerink, and a german market at various times. The pilgrims school is also situated here, and you can walk all the way through to the st cross water meadows on a hot day.
Yeah, yeah, yeah...you've heard the pop song from some years ago, it's the same place... Phew! Glad we got that out of the way... There are, in any person's life, no matter how short, buildings that become indelibly imprinted on your psyche, the sort of place that you spend so much time in that you could walk around it blindfolded and still appreciate it. At age 8, a building this size is surely the equivalent of Mount Everest for a budding rock climber, in its sense of immense importance. The cathedral in Winchester is such a place for me. "8?" I hear you say..."uhh?". Let me enlighten you! It's not that I was some precocious Christian child preacher or something - in fact I'm not religious in the slightest (aside worshipping at the temple of work daily!)...but I still spent five years within a hundred yards of one of the oldest and most amazing buildings of any stature in the land. "Why then?" you ask...well, I was a cathedral chorister there...yeah, that's one of those cute kids who sing in the professional choir their all the time, whilst boarding at the school in the Close. I imagine some people are thinking that that sounds some what Dickensian, but the English choral tradition is very much 21st century, and as strong as it ever has been. Nearly all the cathedrals in this country have a professional choir made up of choral scholars (who make up the men of the choir) - and a group of about 18 boys, who are the choristers. So basically, I spent as much time in the cathedral rehearsing and performing music than I did eating! Around a normal school day at prep school, mind you...that's 8am until 9am rehearsing, a school day - then 4pm to 5pm rehearsing, a service at 5pm to 6pm, supper, prep, then sod off to get some sleep before the same routine the next day. Sounds bad? Not at all, actually it was one of the most awesome and memorable experiences that I could have had at
that age. Anyway, that's how I know this place inside out, as it was somewhere I worked in as a kid for 5 years. Enough of me anyway, if you are there, you have to visit it. There are guided tours available, but I'll give you a quick one here, which'll include a few things that you'd never see any other way! The cathedral was founded in 1079, after the Norman conquest. The Normans built vast buildings like this for one reason...to replace what had been before which was still a potent symbol of Saxon ideals that had been well and truly stamped on at Hastings. William the Conqueror had appointed a kinsman of his, Walkelin, to succeed the Saxon bishop Stigand, and the stone was dragged on his plans from April 8th 1079 to April 8th 1094, when the building was consecrated. Most of it appears today as it appeared then, although the stone would have been totally clean, and quite dazzling in the springtime of that year as its white splendour became the dominant force in the city. The city itself had been capital of England before London, so Winchester was still and important ecomonic and political stronghold, vastly important in the grand scheme of Norman England...and what a fine symbol of the cultural wealth of the country they had conquered could have been erected like the resplendant building, hundreds of metres long (it's the longest nave in Europe...whilst I was a chorister, I sang at David Gower's wedding, who told us in a letter afterwards that he'd wanted a building big enough to play a test match in! This was the kind of bizarre thing that I got to do, which involved meeting the entire British cricket and football teams, playing football with Alex Ferguson and Gary Lineker afterwards in the school yard...) When you enter, there is a voluntary contribution box. Now whilst you gripe that such a building should be free, all I'll say is that you should think about putting something in on your w
ay out, remembering that it costs several million a year to upkeep the place. You'll understand why, believe me. Anyway, walk in at the Nave end on the South side. The information desk is to your right (if they haven't moved it since I left!). The virgers (blokes dressed in sort of purple and navy robes and carrying a huge bunch of keys around), will be all to happy to help you out, or show you something if you want to see it, especially Clive, class bloke...say hi if he's there for me would you!? :-) I suggest you stand in the middle at the West end (the far end of the nave, and look down the expanse of Gothic architecture....if you think you hate architecture, think AGAIN!). It'll take your breath away. Other stunning views include the one from the top of the tower roof, on the guided tour...I used to go up there every now and then with the guides after evensong, absolutely sensational on a nice day. If you can, time your visit for the afternoon, and go to evensong, where you will hear the world-famous choir of which I was a part. Trust me, they are incredible, even though I'm biased! We performed in the premiere of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Requiem, which got loads of gold discs, as well as performing all over the world (Australia (eg to an audience of over seven thousand at Sydney Opera House, USA twice (eg Carnegie Hall packed out), South America, all over Europe...and all over England, including the proms, on telly (Christmas mostly, you probably saw us on TV without knowing it) ... and making 14 CD's, and that's just while I was there! Best day to go for that is on a Thursday, the music tends to be better (in my opinion)....as Friday, well, how would you like to sing at 5.30 on a Friday afternoon after a full day of school...? Other days are Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday, as the choristers have Mondays and Wednesdays off. Even if you are non-religious, go for the music alone, which is SO beautiful
in the building that it will calm you so much. Anyway, whilst you are exploring, go into the Quire, beyond the 15th Century Inigo Jones Screen, and look in the choir stalls on the left, on the front row...if you look down, you'll find the carvings of many hundreds of years of choristers who were part of the choir...I carved my name (it's not allowed, but it's tradition though!)...just below the name of someone who carved their name in 1656. Not bad, one day I'll take my grandkids, when I have them... Other things you might see are the colossal organ (if you are an organist, ring the music office and they might let you play it, but it's VERY VERY loud on full blast...)...and the huge bells which can be heard for miles around, if you like campanology and stuff (can't stand it myself though, the bells used to wake me up at 6.30am every bloody morning... and at 10 years old that's not fun... :-) ) If you can, go down into the crypt...don't worry, no ghosts there, just a well that is very deep that you can drop stones down, and a rather good modern art sculpture that we used to call 'Bob'... The cathedral also holds a fascinating library, with the Winchester bible preserved within which you can see...it's priceless as it's as old as the cathedral itself, and beautifully engraved and illustrated. The guidebook will give you a much better detail of the history, as well as a map. It's a big place! There is a restaurant outside the West front, with an adjoining shop. The prices are rather high though, but there is some very beautiful souvenirs for tourists. Disabled access is generally very good indeed considering the nature of a building that was built a millennium ago, you should have no problems aside the steps up to the retroquire in the South Transept. Elsewhere in the Cathedral close you will find the Pilgrim's Hall (actually part of the school, but historically it'
s hugely important as it's the one of the oldest buildings of its kind in the world.) Also Cheyney court, which is where the headmaster of the school lives ...which is the second oldest complete and still habitable residence in the world...not bad! Generally though, it's one of the most peaceful, relaxing places in the country I think, set in a city which has great shopping and restaurants which is just fabulous for a day stop. It will always hold a very special place in my own heart, even though I'm not religious in any way...and I urge you to visit if you are near. It will astonish and amaze you, I promise, no matter what you think about it before you go in. Beats the Millennium Dome to a pulp, anyway...
Winchester Cathedral at Winchester in Hampshire is one of the largest cathedrals in England, said to be the second longest in Europe. It is dedicated to the Holy Trinity, Saint Peter, Saint Paul and Saint Swithun and is the seat of the Bishop of Winchester and centre of the diocese of Winchester.