Outside Winchester Cathedral


Last Saturday we took advantage of the lovely weather to travel about an hour south of London to the town of Winchester. The main attraction there was the Cathedral, although we certainly enjoyed exploring the rest of the town (see future blog posts!).

Winchester Cathedral is definitely one of the largest cathedrals in England, and both Alex and I were reminded of York Minster several times during our visit. According to Wikipedia, Winchester has both the longest nave and greatest overall length of any Gothic cathedral in all of Europe. And I can testify that after walking up and down and around, we were definitely tired.

The cathedral didn’t always sit on this site. The church was originally founded in 642 on a site just north of the current building. Apparently Saint Swithun was buried at this old church, but when they moved to the new site his bones were dug up and moved as well. The old church was torn down in 1093, the same year the new cathedral was opened (construction had begun about 20 years earlier).

The most interesting feature of the exterior of the Cathedral is the squat, central tower. When you look at the overall shape of the building, it’s almost crying out for a tall and elegant spire — but instead got stuck with a short and boxy square. This tower (although I think that term is a bit optimistic) dates from 1202, and was built to replace an earlier tower than had collapsed. The new tower was the first section of the cathedral to be built (or remodeled) into the Norman style. Most of that remodelling work began in 1349, when the nave was reworked by master mason William Wynford. They also had to expand the area behind the quire to accommodate all the pilgrims who came to worship at the shrine of Saint Swithun.

Now I admit, I was sceptical when I first heard this: apparently the Cathedral was built on a swamp, and the first building was placed on top of a raft that sort of floated on top of the watery ground. But over time the weight of the stones (and it must weigh an insane amount) have pushed downward. You can actually see this if you look at the edge of the building — it’s definitely sunken in relation to the surrounding ground.

Apparently at the turn of the century (1900) the building was in danger of a total collapse due to sibsidence in the south and east walls. So they sent a diver, a man by the name of William Walker, under the water to reinforce the foundations. In took him 6 years, and he dived every day for up to 6 hours, in depths of up to 6 metres (20 feet). He packed the foundations with more than 25,000 bags of concrete, 115,000 concrete blocks, and 900,000 bricks. Oh, and he did it all in total darkness.  Can you believe that? Crazy! He did get an award for his work, and he’s memorialized in the cathedral quite nicely.

Here are some pictures of the outside of the Cathedral. My next post will be all about the insides!

The front entrance to the Cathedral. Don't those doors look awfully squat and short? They should be much taller to be in proportion to the building!

This is a picture of the side of the building. You can see how it looks like it's sunken into the grass. It's the subsidence!

Look at that tower (if you can even call it that). It's obviously not tall enough for the long building.

Along the side of the Cathedral. The flying buttresses are at ground level, so you can actually walk beneath them. I've never seen this before -- usually the buttresses are up above on a higher storey.

Walking underneath the flying buttresses along the edge of the Cathedral.

You all know I have a weakness for cathedrals and red doors, so I was pretty excited that this cathedral actually had a red door! I wish I had taken this shot from the front, rather than at an angle.

In the ground surrounding the Cathedral there were a few gravestones, and a lot of people!

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Posted on 01/04/2011, in Castles & Cathedrals, Exploring the UK, travel and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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