Little Bits of History

Winchester Cathedral

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 8, 2011

Winchester Cathedral (photo by Antony McCallum or

April 8, 1093: The new Winchester Cathedral is dedicated. The ceremony was carried out by Bishop Walkelin who was the first Norman bishop of Winchester. The Catholic nobleman was related to William the Conqueror and was his royal chaplain. Walkelin took office in Winchester in 1070. He began work on the new cathedral in 1079. On this day, nearly all the Catholic bishops and abbots in England came to the dedication of the tremendous new building. Today, only the transepts and crypt of this original building are included in the current cathedral.

The first cathedral was founded in 642 to the immediate north of the current structure. It became part of a monastery and Saint Swithun was buried there. The original church was called Old Minster and was destroyed after the new cathedral was built. The official name for the church is Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity, and of St Peter and St Paul and of St Swithun. Today, it is a Church of England establishment.

Located at Winchester in Hampshire, it is one of the largest cathedrals in England. The crossing tower was begun in 1202, replacing a tower that had collapsed. In 1394, remodeling of the Norman nave began and continued into the 16th century. A retroquire was added to accommodate the many pilgrims who came to St Swithun’s shrine. The church buildings were seized by King Henry VIII when he declared himself head of the Church of England and banned the Catholic Church.

Restoration work was carried out between 1905-1912. The cathedral was built on unstable ground and by the 20th century was in danger of complete collapse. Waterlogged walls were shored up by diver William Walker. He packed the foundations with more than 25,000 bags of concrete, 115,000 concrete blocks, and 900,000 concrete bricks. He worked six hours per day for six years all done in total darkness. He worked at depths up to 20 feet. The church is 558 feet long, with a crypt that routinely floods. Yet it is an enduring example of Norman Gothic architecture and draws tourists just as it drew pilgrims of old. It is also probably the only cathedral to have a successful popular song written about it. The New Vaudeville Band hit the top ten in 1966 with “Winchester Cathedral” which made it to the number one spot in the US.

“A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

“But now I know that it is very important that all buildings should be consistent, that this is the quality of the Gothic cathedral, for instance, that we like.” – Minoru Yamasaki

“I never weary of great churches. It is my favorite kind of mountain scenery. Mankind was never so happily inspired as when it made a cathedral.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

“Regard it as just as desirable to build a chicken house as to build a cathedral.” – Frank Lloyd Wright

Also on this day:
Punch Without Judy – In 1992 the last issue of Punch magazine hits the newsstands.
Venus de Milo – In 1820, the famous statue was found on Melos.

One Response

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  1. GYSC said, on April 8, 2011 at 5:59 pm


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