Ancient Winchester

Trip Start Jul 06, 2011
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Trip End Aug 04, 2011


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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Today I got a personal tour around ancient Winchester by a former American college friend who sings as a lay clerk (pronounced clark) in the Winchester Cathedral Choir.  Lay clerks are the men who sing with the boys to complete all parts of a cathedral choir.  The men cover the alto, tenor and bass parts while the boys sing the treble or soprano part.  Over the next three days I will be attending many of the events of the Southern Cathedrals Festival held this year at Winchester.

We began with three hours in Winchester Cathedral.  The first church on the site was an Anglo-Saxon church called Old Minster which was build around 648.  Later that century it became a cathedral, and was then expanded to include a Benedictine Monastery.  It became a destination for pilgrims seeking the obscure ninth century bishop, St. Swithun.

After his triumph at the Battle of Hastings, William the Conqueror built a castle in Winchester, and had plans drawn up to build a new Romanesque cathedral, which was begun in 1079.  Cathedrals were built using two main types of architecture, Romanesque with rounded arches, and Gothic with pointed arches.  The north and south transepts are the only remaining Romanesque parts of the cathedral.  Building went much more slowly than neighboring Salisbury Cathedral, so as the architectural styles changed, so did the cathedral, extending through the early English Gothic style into the later Perpendicular style.  Take a look at the photo where you can see both round arches and pointed ones.  That is a bit of a rarity to see both in one view. 

Not long ago some plaster fell off of a wall in a very small chapel near the crossing.  Some colours were revealed, so conservationists painstakingly took off the rest of the plaster revealing  twelfth century murals on the walls.  One shows, I believe, raising Lazarus from the dead.  The painter made one error, however.  He painted Jerusalem in the distance, and painted the gold-topped Temple Mount Mosque which did not exist during Jesus' day! 

The carvings in stone and wood throughout the cathedral reflect the times, the later the more ornate and finer detail.  In the photo of the choir stalls which date form the early fourteenth century, and the organ you can see some amazing detail.  It is difficult to pick out, but dropping down from the wooden arches above the choir stalls are little heads, each one different.  Some look happy, some sad, some face different directions.  In the backs of the stalls are some fascinating animals, including a monkey playing the harp.  Sadly, my photo of that turned out too blurry do to the dark, so I didn't include it.

The Nave, the long part of the cross of the cathedral, looking from the west entrance to the east end, is the longest north of the Alps.  Its columns are huge due to the fact that they were originally built for the Romanesque architecture.  Somehow, with only one set of windows above the arches, they do not look out of place.

The baptismal font is quite amazing.  It is from the original Anglo-Saxon church, meaning it predates the 1066 takeover of William the Conqueror.  The top is one solid piece of carved marble.  Right next to it on the floor is Jane Austen's tomb.  The house she lived in during the final six weeks of her life is just around the corner from my hotel.

After a refreshing cup of tea and a scone, we headed up the hill to the Great Hall of the old castle.  Outside the Great Hall there are some excavated Roman ruins.  I have included photos of an archway and part of a wall or building, it is a little difficult to tell as it is not completely excavated.

Inside the Great Hall is the famous Round Table of King Arthur.  The wood of the table actually dates to the twelfth century when the Arthur legend is most prevalent.  During that era Winchester was the capital of the county of Wessex, which covers all of the counties from here to the west, including Cornwall where the castle of Tintagel stands on the coast.  Tintagel is meant to be Arthur's legendary Camelot.  So it makes some sense that his round table would be in Winchester.  There was actually a king called Arthur in the west country area in the ninth century, but who really knows if he married Guinevere, or had a best friend called Lancelot du Lac...
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Comments

Linda Horton on

Marjorie,
I'm enjoying your blog and the pictures are wonderful! Have a safe trip and we'll get together when you get home to make another book!

Marcia on

If I didn't like you so much, I wouldn't like you for being there and I'm NOT. The blogs are great, though. Almost like being there. Well, that's a lie...How about "better than nothing". Love reading the blogs every day and have you in our pryares for safe travle home.
Love,
Marsh and Don

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