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( Hampshire)

Winchester Cathedral

    Winchester, capital of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex, boasted one of the greatest pre-Conquest churches of England, and after the Conquest, one of its greatest cathedrals. The Anglo-Saxon church was the Old Minster, founded in the mid 7th century, which excavations have shown had developed by the late 10th century into a building c.90m (300 feet) long . Immediately to the north lay another major Anglo-Saxon church, the New Minster. In 1079 Walkelin, the first Norman bishop (1070 - 98), demolished the Old Minster and set about building a new cathedral in the Romanesque style on more or less the same site, but on a slightly different alignment and twice as long. It was complete by 1093 when the relics of St Swithun were translated from Old Minster in the reliquary given by King Edgar; this was probably placed on or immediately behind the high altar.

Little of the eastern arm of the Norman cathedral survives above ground, but the crypt, which underlay the whole structure, still exists. This suggests that Walkelin chose an unusual design in which there was a chancel with an eastern apse, provided with an ambulatory, but side aisles which were squared off and strengthened at the east, probably to support towers. Projecting further to the east was a substantial chapel with an apse.

One of the most dramatic surviving examples of early Norman work in England is represented by the crossing and transepts. The transepts are aisled on both sides; the addition of corner towers was an afterthought and they were abandoned before completion. The elevation of the transepts adopted a form which was to become common in Norman England with an arcade below a tribune gallery itself surmounted by a clerestory with a passage in the thickness of the wall. Walkelin's tower collapsed in 1107 and this led to the rebuilding of the whole tower with more substantial crossing piers than the originals. The visible Norman work is totally without ornamentation inside, although there is some embellishment of the window openings on the exterior and some mid-12th century ornament on the outside of the so-called 'Treasury of Henry of Blois' in the south transept.

Little can now be seen of the Norman nave, although much survives encased in the rebuilt structure of 1394. Of twelve bays, its elevation was similar to that of the transepts. At the west end there was a massive structure known from excavations and usually interpreted as including a pair of towers.

An addition of the mid 12th century was the so-called 'Holy Hole', a chamber located behind the high altar. The remains of early Anglo-Saxon kings and bishops had been placed in lead coffers around the high altar and Holy Hole when the Norman cathedral was built; the Holy Hole itself probably allowed pilgrims to get closer to the relics located behind the high altar as they could make their way westwards along a tunnel underneath them.

Of the 12th century also are wall-paintings of the Holy Sepulchre chapel and the font made from a black marble originating in Tournai, Belgium.

Little of the Norman cloister to the south of the cathedral survives apart from the entrance to the Chapter House.


Crook, J., 1989. 'The Romanesque east arm and crypt of Winchester cathedral', Journal of the British Archaeological Association 142, 1-36
Crook, J., 1993. 'Bishop Walkelin's cathedral', in J.Crook (ed.), Winchester Cathedral: 900 Years (Chichester), 21-36 [note a number of other papers in this volume also refer to aspects of the Norman Cathedral]
Crook, J., 1996. 'Recent archaeology in Winchester cathedral', in T.W. Tatton-Brown and J. Munby (eds), The Archaeology of Cathedrals, Oxford University Committee for Archaeology Monograph 42, 135-51
Pevsner, N. and Lloyd, D., 1967. The Buildings of England: Hampshire and the Isle of Wight (London, Penguin), 661-685