Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Winchester Cathedral

The Winchester Cathedral is the longest medieval cathedral in Europe. However it is not the first Church to be built on this site. A brick plan of the Old Minster is still identifiable today, the earlier Saxon Cathedral, which was built about 648 AD. 

Old Minster was originally a simple cross-shaped building dedicated to St. Peter and St. Paul and was built by King Cenwalh of Wessex.

It became an important Cathedral since the seat of the Bishop moved to Winchester from Dorchester on Thames and also played a more central role when in 828 Winchester became the capital of England. 

By the year 1000 the Church was 'hung about on both walls from end to end with the crutches and stools of the crippled who had been healed' by St. Swithun, who was Bishop of Winchester in the 9th century.

Old Minster was the most important royal Church of Anglo-Saxon England. The palace of the kings lay immediately behind the Cathedral.  Among the kings buried in the Church were Egbert in 839 and Alfred the Great in 899 - later moved to the adjacent New Minster. 

Edward the Confessor was crowned here in 1043. William the Conqueror, and after him William Rufus, 'wore his crown' in Old Minster at Easter every year they were in England until the monks moved to the new Cathedral in 1093.

King Alfred the Great is one of the nation's great men, religious, scholarly and a wise ruler. Wessex was, under his leadership, the only one of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms to survive the Danish attacks of the 9th century. England was unified in the next century by the efforts of his son and grandsons. 

During and after Alfred's death two new religious foundations were established within the city walls. Ealhswith, Alfred's queen, founded Nunnaminster, a nunnery, on the site of the present Abbey Gardens. King Edward the Elder, Alfred's son, founded New Minster in 901 close along the north side of Old Minster. 
In 964 Bishop Aethelworld, one of the three leaders of English Monastic reform, reorganised all three Winchester minsters, introducing monks and nuns living under a strict Benedictine Rule. By the year 1000 the entire south-east corner of Winchester was a royal and monastic quarter dominated by three minsters and the palaces of bishop and king. 

The Old Minster was then demolished in 1093 and was replaced by the Norman Cathedral, which was completed about 1127. The first church's stone work is incorporated in the new building. The remains of St. Swithun, royal burials and the relics of Saxon Saints from the Old Minster are given an honourable place in the current Cathedral.

The new Norman Cathedral still stands to this day, serving still the same purpose, of glorifying God and welcoming pilgrims. It has been a historical Cathedral. Here came Henry IV to be married to Joan of Navarre. Mary Tudor, daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon married Philip of Spain in Winchester Cathedral in July 1554. Prince Arthur, first son of Henry VII and of the new Tudor dynasty, was brought here to be baptised. 
The Cathedral obtains numerous chapels, each being different to the next. An important chapel, from an Orthodox perspective is the Holy Sepulchre Chapel, which is decorated with the finest 12th century wall paintings in England.

The east wall is painted with scenes of the deposition and entombment of Christ and dates from 1170-1180. In the 13th century the figure of Christ and other scenes were painted on the newly constructed vault. 
Also a crypt is located in the north transept. It dates from the earliest building phase of 1079-93. The crypt is often flooded. It was through here that pilgrims made their way up the Pilgrims' Steps. Today a contemporary sculpture has been installed in the Crypt, called Sound II by Antony Gormley. 

Here also one can find the Winchester Bible which dates from the late 12th century and is located in the Cathedral's library. It was written on calf-skin vellum by one monk and illustrated over a period of 20 years by a team of international artists. It is a very beautiful and historical building, which every visitor should see. 

1 comment:

  1. Winchester is certainly a very symbolic city for England as well as for the blogger himself.

    Its Cathedral is a beautiful Church and an exceptional place of worship for English Christianity.

    Just to remind the readers of this blog that the English writer Jane Austen (1775-1817), who was one of the most important novelists of the 19th century, is actually buried in this Cathedral.