The Cathedral Church of Holy Trinity, commonly called Winchester Cathedral in Hampshire, is the most extended cathedral building in Britain and Northern Europe; it stretches 169m from the west entrance to the east end and is one of the most important medieval churches in the world.
The Winchester Cathedral was founded in 1079, south of the earlier Anglo-Saxon Cathedral, founded in 642AD, also known as Old Minster. It was demolished in 1093 after the immediate consecration of its successor, Winchester Cathedral.
In 1079, Walkelin, the first Bishop of Winchester and a blood relation of Conqueror William, began to work on the Cathedral. King William I granted Bishop the construction materials, including timber which he could take in four days from the Forest of Hempage Wood in Hampshire. King William II gave him half a hide (60 acres) on the Isle of Wight to excavate stone. The new Cathedral was completed in 1093.
Also, In the same year, on Saint Swithun’s Day, the monks of Old Minster were moved to the new Cathedral, and the veratrum containing the remains of St Swithun himself was also moved to the new building, having been held at Old Minster.
Extravagant works of art were commissioned, such as a new font celebrating the work of St Nicholas. In the 12th century, a magnificent illuminated Bible was made for the monks to use in their daily worship, which can still be seen in the Cathedral Library.
In the centuries that followed, wealthy bishops added to the luxury of the Norman cathedral. They remodelled it with soaring gothic arches in the 14th century and made it more ornate in the 15th and 16th. The dissolution of England’s monasteries during the 1530s under Henry VIII led to Protestantism practised in the Cathedral.
The 19th century saw much restoration work, including new stone statues for the giant 15th-century Great Screen behind the altar. The Cathedral’s Organ was installed as a cut-down version of a vast organ displayed at the 1851 Great Exhibition in London.
By the early 1900s, there were fears that the east end of this ancient building would collapse after centuries of subsidence. The Cathedral was built on a floodplain, and its crypt is full of water. Deep-sea diver, William Walker, worked there in total darkness for six years to stabilise the foundations. A statue commemorating Walker in his diving suit has also been constructed at the end of the Building.
Another statue, a life-sized naked man, modelled by Antony Gormley on himself, stands up to his shins, gazing at his cupped hands.
Today, after 12 centuries, this grand Cathedral remains the throne of the Bishop of Winchester and the centre of the Diocese of Winchester. It is a much-loved and visited beautiful space, especially when echoing to the sound of daily prayers and glorious sacred music.