Winchester CathedralWinchester
The Close
Hampshire SO23 9LS
 
 
 
One of the best Church of England cathedrals to visit in southern England is Winchester Cathedral. This spectacular medieval church is one of the largest in England, with the longest nave and greatest overall length of any Gothic cathedral in Europe.
 
The soaring stone interior is filled with historic Anglo-Saxon relics, beautiful carving, unusual artefacts and spectacular tombs. It is the final resting place of such famous people as St Swithun, the Norman king William Rufus (1087-1100) who was killed by a stray arrow during a hunting expedition in the New Forest, the 16th century fisherman Izaak Walton, and novelist Jane Austen.
 
The memorials and chantry chapels are covered in more detail in our article entitled ‘Memorial Chapels & Graves’.
 
Open
The Cathedral is open every day of the year for worship, except for necessary closures. Visitors are welcome to attend services.
 
Visitor opening times
- Cathedral, crypt and treasury
Monday – Saturday: 09:30 – 17:00 hours
Sunday: 12:30 – 15:00 hours
 
- The Morley Library, Winchester Bible and Triforium Gallery
As part of the Capital Works Project in the South Transept, the Triforium Gallery, Morley Library and Winchester Bible are now closed and due to reopen in August 2016. However one volume of The Winchester Bible is on show as part of a temporary exhibition in the north transept.
 
- Dean Garnier Garden
This tranquil and beautifully planted small garden, which stands on the site of the monks’ dormitory off the Inner Close, is normally open between 09:00 – 16:00 hours. If you find it is closed when you visit, please contact the Virgers on   Tel: +44 (0)1962 857 226
 
Visitor Admission Prices
Admission tickets include a free guided tour of the Cathedral, Treasury, Crypt and are valid for 12 months. The Cathedral receives no funding from State or Church so it is reliant on contributions from the public.
 
For detailed information please visit the cathedral website,
email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  
or call Tel: +44 (0)1962 857 225.
 
Capital Works Closures
Now over 1,000 years old, the building is undergoing major capital works restoration. The lead roof, the 16th century roof timbers and 14-15th century stained glass windows are all being attended to. Also, new exhibitions and displays are being created. All this work necessitates some closures of the cathedral. For closures, go to  Web:  Winchester Cathedral/ Closure Notices    External Link
 
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Architectural History
The first cathedral founded was in Anglo-Saxon times (642 AD). By 971 AD, a monastic community had grown up around the ‘Old Minster’. The Minster was the Anglo-Saxon cathedral for the diocese of Wessex and then Winchester from 660 – 1093 AD.
 
The stone Minster was constructed in 648 AD for King Cenwalh of Wessex and Saint Birinus. It was enlarged and redecorated over the years and Saint Swithun was buried outside it in 862 AD.
 
In 901 AD, a ‘New Minster’ was built close beside it and dedicated to St Swithun. During the monastic reforms in the 970s the cathedral was enlarged and Saint Swithun's body was taken into an indoor shrine in what had become the largest church in Europe.
 
However, after the Norman conquest of England, Bishop Walkelin built a new cathedral alongside and the ‘Old Minster’ was demolished in 1093. Many of the kings of Wessex, England, and bishops, had been buried in the old minster, so their bodies were exhumed and re-interred in the new building.
 
The Crypt
Explore one of the oldest parts of the Cathedral by stepping down into the crypt. This superb low-vaulted stone crypt, which floods in rainy months, dates from the 11th century and is the least altered part of the Norman building.
 
The crypt provides a stunning setting for Antony Gormley’s sculpture Sound II. This mysterious life-size statue of a man, sometimes standing up to his knees in water, contemplating the water held in his cupped hands is the work of the celebrated British sculptor Antony Gormley. The sculpture is fashioned from lead out of a plaster cast of the artist’s own body.
 
- Crypt Tours
Join a Guided Tour to learn more about the crypt and its contents. Tours runMon – Sat at 10:30, 12:30 and 14:.30 houea. Duration: 20 minutes Price: Included in Cathedral admission. Tickets available from the Entrance Desk.
 
Please note:  During the wet winter months the crypt can flood. If this is the case tours cannot be conducted , but you can still see the crypt from a viewing platform.
 
The ‘Old Minster’ was excavated in the 1960s. The outline of the building now is laid out in brickwork in the churchyard adjoining Winchester Cathedral. Saint Swithun's first grave is clearly marked. Finds from the site may be seen in the Winchester City Museum. The bones of the monarchs removed to the cathedral are now housed in the famous mortuary chests.
 
The Mortuary Chests
For centuries six carved and painted chests have been held in the cathedral, originally on the top of the Sanctuary screens, and latterly in the Lady Chapel.
 
They contain bones and skulls of 11 or 12 people, believed to be the Anglo-Saxon Kings of Wessex and England and their Queens. Also contained in the chests are thought to be the remains of three Anglo-Saxon Bishops.
 
A project is currently underway to scan and analyse DNA from the contents of the chests to try and discover whose remains are actually in the boxes. It will be wonderful to finally learn the truth.
 
To discover more about these remarkable Mortuary Chests and their fascinating history visit our article on this website in the ‘Hidden Gems’ menu.
 
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Saint Swithun’s Shrine
Visitors to the cathedral can find St Swithun’s memorial shrine and icons in the retro choir.The shrine was only moved into the retro choir itself in 1476.The shrine was demolished in 1538 during the English Reformation. The current shrine standing on the site is a modern representation of it.
 
The Retro Choir
The retro choir was built in the early 13th century to accommodate the huge numbers of pilgrims wishing to visit St Swithun’s shrine and enter the 'holy hole' beneath him.
 
14th Century Renovations
The mid-14th century saw a surge of rebuilding under the bishoprics of Eddington and Wykeham. Edingdon removed the two westernmost bays of the nave, built a new west front and began the remodelling of the nave.
 
Under William of Wykeham the Romanesque nave was transformed, re-cased in Caen stone and remodelled in the Perpendicular style, with its internal elevation divided into two, rather than the previous three, storeys. The wooden ceilings were replaced with stone vaults.
 
Chantry Chapels
The Cathedral is famous for its beautiful chantry chapels, where daily masses were said for the souls of the powerful bishops who built them. A total of seven, were added between the 14th and the 16th centuries. This is more than any other English cathedral, reflecting Winchester’s great power, wealth and royal connections in this period.
 
15th-16th Century Work
Wykeham's successor, Henry of Beaufort, carried out fewer alterations, adding only a chantry chapel on the south side of the retro-choir, although work on the nave may have continued through his episcopy. His successor, William of Waynflete, built another chantry in a corresponding position on the north side.
 
Under Bishops Peter Courtenay (1486–1492) and Thomas Langton, there was more work. De Lucy's Lady Chapel was lengthened, and the Norman side aisles of the presbytery replaced. In 1525, Bishop Richard Foxe added the side screens of the chancel which he also gave a wooden vault. With its progressive extensions, the east end is now about 110 feet (34 metres) beyond that of Walkelin's building.
 
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Cathedral Treasures
The Cathedral is home to some particularly rare, precious and beautiful items, each with a special place in its long history.
 
- The Winchester Bible
The Winchester Bible is the largest and finest of all surviving 12th century English bibles. A single scribe wrote out its text in Latin, while artists worked its exquisitely illuminated capital letters. Their glowing colours, including gold and lapis lazuli, are as intense today as 800 years ago.
 
The whole Bible was originally bound in two volumes, and would have been too heavy to carry around. It has been re-bound several times and now consists of four volumes, with oak boards and leather backs. It is normally held in the Cathedral Library but during the Capital Works project, only one volume is on display in the north transept.
 
The bible was commissioned in 1160, probably by Henry of Blois, and was laboriously produced in the great priory linked to the Cathedral, where sacred texts were copied out for use in daily worship. The manuscript remains unfinished, giving invaluable insights into the complex processes needed to create it.
 
The text, in the Latin of St Jerome, is handwritten on 468 sheets (folios) of calf-skin parchment, each measuring 23 by 15.75 inches (583 x 396 mm). These sheets were folded down the centre, making 936 pages in all. It’s estimated that the hides of some 250 calves were needed. This kind of parchment was expensive – so to save space, the writer often shortened words, and each new book of the Bible starts on the same page as the last.
 
It was copied by a single scribe, probably using a goose feather quill – the best available – and then checked. You can still see the corrections made by a second monk in the margins. Each page was ruled in advance, to ensure the layout remained the same. As he wrote, the scribe held a pen knife in his left hand to press down the springy parchment. He also used it to sharpen his quill, and scrape out any mistakes.
 
When the text had been written, but before the main art work began, coloured initial letters were added at the beginning and end of each chapter. Red, green and blue ink was used. Six freelance artists, probably travelling professionals, painted the glorious initial letters you see at the start of each book of the Bible, each telling a different story. A total of 48 letters were completed.
 
Expensive pigments were used, including sumptuous gold leaf or paint to make the pictures sparkle. The blue lapis lazuli would have been even more expensive – it came from Afghanistan. Not all the illuminations were finished. Some are rough outlines, or just inked in. Others have been gilded, but not painted.
 
Over the years, the manuscript has suffered at the hands of thieves and collectors. Some nine illuminated initials and at least one full-page illustration have been removed entirely.
 
This great work of art is now a national treasure, both for its beauty and what it reveals about its creation.
 
This writer’s father was a calligrapher who produced several illuminated scrolls for important occasions. He used the same tools as the ancient monks – goose feather quill pens, a penknife to scratch out mistakes and powdered pumice stone to polish and restore the calf-skin surface. He used wafer-thin gold leaf for the illuminations. Samples of his work can be seen at Gloucester Cathedral in the County War Memorial Chapel.
 
- Tournai Marble Font
On the north side of the nave can be found the font. Baptisms are regularly conducted in this ancient, polished dark stone font, brought from Tournai, in modern Belgium, in the 12th century. It is said to have been the gift of Henry of Blois, the French-speaking grandson of William the Conqueror and Bishop of Winchester.
 
This massive font, carved from a single block weighing about 1.5 tonnes, dates from about 1150. Around the bowl it is lavishly decorated with scenes from the legendary life of St Nicholas alongside images of symbolic animals such as lions and birds.
 
St Nicholas was generally associated with acts of kindness, especially to children, and pictures and sculptures were a vivid way of communicating important messages. The font’s carvings work a bit like a modern cartoon strip. Several different stories are depicted, but you can always spot St Nicholas by his bishop’s mitre and crozier, a stylised shepherd’s crook symbolising his care for his flock.
 
The font’s upper ‘marble’ section sits on a stone base with four corner pillars – but it is not real marble, a term once used for any stone that took a polish; it is in fact made of carboniferous limestone quarried in Tournai, and was probably shipped to England in separate pieces.
 
- The Triforium Gallery in the South Transept
The gallery houses precious artworks including the Shaftesbury Bowl, the only surviving example of late Saxon glass in England. It also contains a charming 15th century sculpture of the Madonna and Child and an imposing head of God the Father, both part of the original medieval statuary of the Great Screen. For opening times please check the Capital Works Closures link above.
 
- The Morley Library in the South Transept
You can find this beautiful 17th century library at the top of a staircase in the south transept. It houses the Cathedral’s collection of rare books bequeathed by Winchester’s Bishop Morley, and still boasts its original carved shelves. He also left money to buy of ‘two globes of the best and largest size’, one terrestrial and once celestial. For opening times please check the Capital Works Closures link above.
 
Many famous and remarkable people are buried and memorialised in the Cathedral.
 
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The Fishermen’s Chapel
Famed during his life as a biographer, Izaak Walton (c. 1594–1683) is now remembered for his much-loved treatise on the joys of fishing, The Compleat Angler. His grave and stained glass image are in the Chapel of St John the Evangelist and the Fisherman Apostle.
 
Great West Window
The cathedral's huge mediaeval stained glass West Window was deliberately smashed by Cromwell's forces following the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642. Churchmen gathered up the broken glass and after the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, the window was reconstructed. The glass was inserted randomly – mosaic style - with no attempt being made to re-create the original pictures; it must be the earliest example of collage!
 
As a matter of interest, somehow some of Winchester’s unique blue medieval glass has found its way to The Abbey Museum of Archeology near Brisbane, Australia.
 
Pre-Raphaelite Stained Glass
Wonderful examples of glass designed by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones and made in William Morris's workshop can be found in the Epiphany Chapel. The foliage decoration above and below each pictorial panel is unmistakably William Morris and at least one of the figures bears a striking resemblance to Morris's wife Jane, who frequently posed for Dante Gabriel Rossetti and other members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
 
Jane Austen’s Grave
The celebrated novelist, Jane Austen (1775-1817), lies under the floor of the north aisle of the nave. Her simple tombstone records her personal virtues and stoicism, but makes no mention of her writing.
 
William Walker’s Memorial
In the crypt is a bust of William Walker MVO (1869–1918). Walker was a deep-sea diver who single-handedly shored up the waterlogged foundations of the Cathedral thus preventing its collapse.
 
Climbing the Tower
Although much of the present cathedral is Norman, the crossing tower is not. The original tower collapsed in 1107. It was replaced with a much lower tower still in the Norman style, with round-headed windows. It is a squat, square structure, 50 feet (15 metres) wide, but rising only 35 feet (11 metres) above the ridge of the transept roof.
 
The Tower is 150 fee (45.7 metres) tall and affords splendid views over the city and surrounding countryside. Climb the 213 stone steps to the top of the tower and on the way you will see the ringing chamber, the great Cathedral bells and walk the full length of the nave roof with its huge wood beams.
 
- Guided Tours
Admission is by Guided Tour - participants must be over 12 years of age and medically fit. The tour lasts 1.5 hours. Tour times, prices and tickets are available from the Entrance Desk. If making a special visit it would be wise to book a tower tour by calling  Tel: +44 (0)1962 857 275.
 
Disabled Access
Yes with the exception of the Tower.
 
Facilities
Guided Tours, Audio Guides, Café, Gift Shop and toilets.
 
- Audio Guides are an excellent way to receive information at your own pace. The Winchester guide is narrated by actor, David Suchet and lasts 45 minutes-1.5 hours depending on how much time you want to spend exploring the cathedral and its treasures. Available from the Entrance Desk.
 
- The Cathedral Refectory Café with its pretty walled garden is located behind an ancient flint wall opposite the Cathedral. It is open from:
April – December: Monday – Sunday: 09:30 – 17:00 hours
January – March: Monday – Sunday:  09:30 – 16.30 hours
 
- Cathedral Gift Shop is located directly opposite the Cathedral’s main entrance, in a pretty single-floor restored coach house. It is open from:
April – December: Monday – Sunday: 09:30 – 17:30 hours (18:00 hours during the Christmas Market)
January – March:  Monday – Sunday: 09:30 – 17.00 hours
 
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Contact & Further Information
Telephone   +44 (0)1962 857 200
Mail   This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Website   Winchester Cathedral    External Link
 
Getting There
The Cathedral lies right in the centre of the city which has excellent road and rail links. See the 'Getting There' directions on the ‘Winchester’ article in this website.
 
Please note there is no parking within the Cathedral Close or the immediate vicinity.
 
Google Maps - Winchester Cathedrals