Bell's Cathedrals: The Cathedral Church of Winchester Part 1

Bell's Cathedrals: The Cathedral Church of Winchester.

by Philip Walsingham Sergeant.


This series of monographs has been planned to supply visitors to the great English Cathedrals with accurate and well illustrated guide-books at a popular price. The aim of each writer has been to produce a work compiled with sufficient knowledge and scholarship to be of value to the student of Archaeology and History, and yet not too technical in language for the use of an ordinary visitor or tourist.

To specify all the authorities which have been made use of in each case would be difficult and tedious in this place. But amongst the general sources of information which have been almost invariably found useful are:--(1) the great county histories, the value of which, especially in questions of genealogy and local records, is generally recognised; (2) the numerous papers by experts which appear from time to time in the Transactions of the Antiquarian and Archaeological Societies; (3) the important documents made accessible in the series issued by the Master of the Rolls; (4) the well-known works of Britton and Willis on the English Cathedrals; and (5) the very excellent series of Handbooks to the Cathedrals originated by the late Mr John Murray; to which the reader may in most cases be referred for fuller detail, especially in reference to the histories of the respective sees.

GLEESON WHITE, E.F. STRANGE, _Editors of the Series._


It would be useless to attempt to record all the sources of information to which it has been necessary to have recourse in preparing this short account of Winchester Cathedral and its history; but I should like to acknowledge the main portion of the debt. "The Proceedings of the Archaeological Institute of Great Britain in 1845" must, of course, take the first place, for to Willis's paper every one must go who wishes to know the cathedral well. Britton's "Cathedrals," Browne Willis's "Survey of the Cathedrals," and Woodward's "History of Hampshire," with the more recent Diocesan History of Winchester by Canon Benham, and the "Winchester Cathedral Records" of various dates, have been of great service. An article in the _Builder_ of October 1, 1892, and one on St Cross in _Architecture_ for November 1896, must also be mentioned. Above all, I am glad to be able to express my gratitude to one of the editors of this series, Mr Gleeson White, without whose assistance this account would never have been commenced. The engraving of the iron grill-work is reproduced from Mr Starkie Gardiner's "Iron-work," Vol. I., by permission of the Science and Art Department, South Kensington.





Unlike many of our cathedral cities, "Royal" Winchester has a secular history of the greatest importance, which not only is almost inextricably interwoven with the ecclesiastical annals down to a comparatively recent date, but should at times occupy the foremost position in the records of the place. To attempt, however, to trace the story of the city as well as that of the cathedral would be to recapitulate the most important facts of the history of England during those centuries when Winchester was its capital town. Its civic importance, indeed, was not dependent upon the cathedral alone, for before the introduction of Christianity into the island Winchester was undoubtedly the principal place in the south of England. The Roman occupation, though it seems a mere incident in its record, lasted over three centuries, about as long as from the reign of Henry VIII. to that of Queen Victoria. Richard Warner (1795) sums up the various names of Winchester when he speaks of "the metropolis of the British Belgae, called by Ptolemy and Antoninus Venta Belgarum; by the Welch or modern Britons, Caer Gwent; and by the old Saxons, Wintancester; by the Latin writers, Wintonia" ("Collections for the History of Hampshire").

Even, therefore, when we read the account of the legendary king of the Britons, Lucius, founding a great church at Winchester in A.D. 164, we do not touch the source of its fame, nor have we discovered the record of the first building devoted to religious worship on the site of the present cathedral. How far certain references to early pagan temples may be trusted does not here concern us; but at Christchurch Priory, some thirty-five miles to the south-west in the same diocese, bones "supposed to be those of sacrificial birds" have been exhumed on the site of its church. There was, however, a relapse into paganism after the first dedication of the Christian building, so that there can be no certainty about the date of such discoveries.

On the authority of Vigilantius' "_De Basilica Petri_" (_i.e._ at Wynton or Winchester), quoted by Rudborne in "_Anglia Sacra_," John of Exeter, and other writers, we have it that a great church was rebuilt from its foundations at Caergwent by Lucius after his conversion in A.D. 164; and that he erected also smaller buildings with an oratory, refectory, and dormitory for the temporary abode of the monks until the monastery itself should be completed. Quotations from another lost author, Moracius, provide us with the dimensions of this edifice, the length being variously given as 209 and 200 _passus_, the breadth as 80 and 130, while the tower was 92 _passus_ in height. This church, it was said, was dedicated to S. Saviour in November 169, and endowed with property formerly held by the pagan priests. "The site of the monastery to the east of the church was 100 _passus_ in length toward the old temple of Concord and 40 in breadth to the new temple of Apollo. The north position was 160 in length and 98 in breadth. To the west of the church it was 90 in length and 100 in breadth, to the south 405 in length and 580 in breadth." Willis, from whom the above dimensions are quoted, does not attempt to reconcile the figures except in so far as he suggests _pedes_ for _passus_, substituting one foot for five. During the persecution of the Christians by Diocletian in A.D. 266 the buildings were destroyed; and the new church, dedicated to "S.

Amphibalus," who was said to be one of the martyrs in that persecution, was not so large as its predecessor. In writers of the period we find occasional references to the "Vetus Coenobium" or old monastery at Winchester. The new building was not destined to remain long undisturbed in the service for which it was intended, for when Cerdic, King of the West Saxons, was crowned at Winchester and the pagans once more gained the ascendancy, the monks were slaughtered and the church, devoted to other rites, remained a temple of "Dagon" from 516 to 635. In the latter year S. Birinus, in pursuance of his mission from Honorius to "scatter the seeds of the holy faith in those farthest inland territories of the English which no teacher had yet visited," converted King Cynegils to Christianity. This king intended to erect a great new church, and, with that end in view, destroyed the desecrated building and granted the law for seven miles round to the monks whom he destined to take possession of the new building. He died, however, within six years of his conversion, and was buried before the altar of the partly-erected church. His son Cenwalh therefore completed the building, which S.

Birinus dedicated to Christ in honour of the Holy and Indivisible Trinity. Birinus was followed by Aegelberht, afterwards Bishop of Paris, who resigned in 662; Wina, who died as Bishop of London, ejected in 666; and Eleutherius, who died in 676.

So far the see was not at Winchester, but was temporarily placed at Dorchester in Oxfordshire. Under Hedda, the fourth successor of S.

Birinus, the seat was at last moved to Winchester, in accordance with the intention of the royal founder, and at the same time the body of the saint, which had hitherto rested at Dorchester, was removed to the cathedral city. King Cenwalh himself also on his death was buried in the building which he had completed.

Practically nothing is known of the actual Saxon building, and the very legends are scanty. We learn that the city was ravaged by the Danes two years after the death of S. Swithun, but the cathedral itself appears fortunately to have escaped damage.

The bishopric of Athelwold, commencing with his consecration by Dunstan on November 29, A.D. 963, has more importance in the history of the cathedral than that of his immediate predecessors. He was chosen by King Edgar to undertake the work of a new monastery in which the king took such pleasure that he is said to have measured the foundations himself.

This work carried out at Winchester by Athelwold is described at great length in a Latin poem by Wolstan. No doubt the florid eulogy of the poem is open to grave suspicion where it concerns the details of the building, but, even when we make full allowance for poetic exaggeration, the church appears certainly to have been a large and important one. The poem in its first form is reproduced in Mabillon's version of Wolstan's "Life of S. Athelwold," but in its entirety it consists of an epistle of over 300 lines to Bishop Elphege Athelwold's successor. Some passages deserve quotation. "He built," says Wolstan, "all these dwelling places with strong walls. He covered them with roofs and clothed them with beauty. He repaired the courts of the old temple with lofty walls and new roofs and strengthened it at the north and south sides with solid aisles and various arches. He added also many chapels, with sacred altars which distract attention from the threshold of the church, so that the stranger walking in the courts is at a loss where to turn, seeing on all sides doors open to him, without a certain path. He stands with wondering eyes until some experienced guide conducts him to the portals of the farthest vestibule. Here marvelling he crosses himself and knows not how to quit, so dazzling is the construction and so brilliant the variety of the fabric that sustains this ancient church, which that devout father himself strengthened, roofed, endowed, and dedicated." Later Wolstan speaks of Athelwold's addition of "secret crypts," of "such organs that the like were never seen," of a sparkling tower reflecting from heaven the sun's first rays, "with at its top a rod with golden balls and a mighty golden cock which as it turns boldly sets its face to every wind that blows." More might be quoted, but it is sufficient here to refer those interested in the matter either to the chronicle itself or to Willis in the "Proceedings of the Architectural Institute" for 1845. Though Wolstan thus describes Athelwold's undertaking at great length, it does not appear that the bishop actually did more than commence the restoration of the original buildings, for his successor is exhorted in the letter to carry out Athelwold's design.

The chronicler Rudborne makes mention only of the dedication of a minster in honour of the Apostles Peter and Paul, in the presence of King Aethelred, Archbishop Dunstan and eight other bishops, on October 20, 980 A.D. John of Exeter ascribes to Athelwold the entire rebuilding of the cathedral, but the Winchester annalist does not mention Athelwold's great works.

From Athelwold's death to the succession of Walkelin the history of the cathedral is little more than a record of its bishops; but with Walkelin we reach a very important epoch in its existence. In 1079, the Winchester Annals relate, this bishop began to rebuild the cathedral from its very foundations, as was commonly done by the Norman ecclesiastics of the time. According to this account, it was in 1086 that the king granted Walkelin, for the completion of his new building, as much wood from the forest of Hempage (three miles distant from the city on the Alresford road) as he could cut in four days and nights.

Walkelin collected all the men he could, and within the given time removed the whole forest. The king, passing its site, cried: "Am I bewitched? or have I taken leave of my senses?" But the bishop, when he heard of his anger, pleaded to be allowed to resign the see if he might but keep the chaplaincy and the king's favour. At this William relented, saying: "I was as much too liberal in my grant as you were too greedy in availing yourself of it" (Willis). In 1093 the new church was formally consecrated, and on April 8, "in the presence of almost all the bishops and abbots of England, the monks came with the highest exultation and glory from the old minster to the new one: on the Feast of S. Swithun they went in procession from the new minster to the old one and brought thence S. Swithun's shrine and placed it with honour in the new buildings; and on the following day Bishop Walkelin's men first began to pull down the old minster, and before the end of the year they demolished the whole of it, with the exception of one apse and the high altar." When the old high altar was pulled down, we are told, "the relics of many saints were found." The cathedral, as Walkelin designed it, was for the most part so strong that its core and much of its actual work remains to this day; but the central tower lacked the stability of the rest, for on October 7, 1107, during the vacancy which occurred after Walkelin's death, it fell. The monkish chroniclers attributed the fall to the fact that William Rufus, "who all his life had been profane and sensual and had expired without the Christian viaticum" (Rudborne), was interred beneath it in 1100. William of Malmesbury, however, with a degree of incredulity rare in his days, says it may have been that it would have fallen in any case "through imperfect construction." He describes the burial thus:--"A few countrymen conveyed the body, placed on a cart, to the cathedral of Winchester, the blood dripping from it all the way. Here it was committed to the ground within the tower, attended by many of the nobility, but lamented by few. The next year the tower fell; though I forbear to mention the different opinions on this subject, lest I should seem to assent too readily to unsupported trifles."

After Walkelin's death the history of the building is lost sight of for some time, owing to the continual disturbances which all England was undergoing. With De Lucy's accession, however, in 1189, considerable additions were made to the cathedral, in the form of the Early English retro-choir, of which the details are given later in this volume. De Lucy's work, it has been pointed out, was carried out in such a way as to leave the Norman building undisturbed as long as it was practicable to do so, the circular apse being left _in situ_ until the new external walls had been erected, while the presbytery itself was not touched until the Decorated Period set in. De Lucy would doubtless have made further alterations but for his death in 1204. As it was, two years before that event he instituted a confraternity to carry on his work for the space of five years, and to this body is due some of the work which is attributed loosely to him.

It was during De Lucy's tenure of Winchester that Richard was re-crowned by the Archbishop of Canterbury after his return from captivity. He passed the night before at S. Swithun's Priory, and was brought thence in the morning to the Cathedral "clothed in his royal robes, with the crown upon his head, holding in his right hand a royal sceptre which terminated in a cross, and in his left hand a golden wand with a figure of a dove at the top of it, ... being conducted on the right hand by his chancellor, the Bishop of Ely, and on the left by the Bishop of London"

(Roger de Hoveden). The Bishop of Winchester himself does not seem to have been present, probably on account of a dispute with the king.

Another period of disturbance follows the comparatively quiet rule of Bishop De Lucy, and it is not until we reach 1346 that we come to a fresh outburst of architectural zeal on the part of the incumbents of Winchester. But Edingdon, and still more his successor Wykeham, left very lasting monuments of their occupancy at Winchester. It must not be forgotten that, while to Wykeham is due the credit of most of the actual transformation of the building, Edingdon must have first conceived, however vaguely, the design. Edingdon's attachment to Winchester is well illustrated by his quaint reason for refusing the offer of Canterbury: "if Canterbury is the higher rack, Winchester is the better manger." He is, indeed, charged with having left a considerable debt on the building, since his successor seems to have recovered a large sum from his executors, who had also to compensate Wykeham for large numbers of cattle which had "disappeared from the various farms of the bishopric."

Yet it appears from Edingdon's own will that he began rebuilding the nave and left money for the continuation of the work.

Wykeham, as we shall see, had already a reputation for architectural skill when first introduced to Edward III., and this reputation stood him in good stead in the matter of preferment. When he was elected to Winchester he found the bishop's palaces of Farnham, Wolvesey, Waltham, and Southwark in a very dilapidated condition, and he set these in order before he turned his attention to anything else. New College, Oxford, and Winchester College practically occupied him up to 1393; whilst his work in the cathedral was really the last great undertaking of his life, inasmuch as it was not finished at the time of his death. The actual method of Wykeham's transformation of the interior is described more fully elsewhere, and we will not therefore do more than quote a few words from Willis on the work done. "The old Norman cathedral was cast nearly throughout its length and breadth into a new form; the double tier of arches in its peristyle was turned into one, by the removal of the lower arch, and clothed with Caen casings in the Perpendicular style. The old wooden ceilings were replaced with stone vaultings, enriched with elegant carvings and cognizances. Scarcely less than a total rebuilding is involved in this hazardous and expensive operation, carried on during ten years with a systematic order worthy of remark and imitation.... Judging from the provision of his will of the expenditure for the last year and a half, the cost of this great work to the bishop in present money cannot be estimated at less than 200,000."

Wykeham's successor, Beaufort, was far less a bishop of Winchester than an English statesman. His contributions to the architecture of his see are very small. He did indeed so add to the hospital of St Cross as to make it almost a new foundation; but in the cathedral he only left one monument, though this Milner styles the "most elegant and finished chantry in the kingdom," lying on the south side of the retro-choir.

Waynflete, who followed him, left another fine chantry in a corresponding position to the north. Under Bishops Peter Courtenay and Thomas Langton, the latter of whom has his chapel at the east end, next the Lady Chapel, considerable additions were made to the architecture of the cathedral, though most of the credit is due to the priors Hunton and Silkstede, who seem to have been chiefly responsible for the new work.

This included a prolongation of De Lucy's Lady Chapel, carried out in all probability between the years 1470 and 1524; and the erection of the present side aisles of the presbytery, in place of the original Norman aisles. In the latter year (1524) the side screens of the presbytery were added by Bishop Fox, whose motto can be read on them. The work of Fox, whose chapel is behind the reredos to the south, began in 1510, and was carried out under early Renaissance influence. He found the choir and presbytery converted, to a great extent, to the Decorated style, though the Norman aisles remained. He completed the transformation, adding the above-mentioned screens, together with a wooden vaulting. He would probably have also replaced with his own work De Lucy's additions at the east end and the Norman transepts, had he but had the time. This, however, he did not live long enough to do, for he died in 1528. Roughly speaking, his work lies between the transepts and the Early English east end.

The Reformation Period did not benefit much to the architectural features of Winchester Cathedral, while it most certainly did them harm.

"The bones of S. Swithun," says Woodward, "were doubtless lost at the Reformation, when his costly shrine was taken from the feretory, where it stood so long, and destroyed." The period was now at hand when many seem to have considered it a religious duty to destroy monuments, or at least deface them; and Winchester, though it suffered less than many churches, by no means escaped damage. Under Stephen Gardiner, however, no great evil befell the building. Gardiner's own chantry behind the reredos commemorates his connection with the cathedral, and distinctly illustrates the inferior taste of his day, when compared with the earlier tombs about him; though it might easily have been far worse. The Puritans maltreated it on other grounds than those of taste, it is to be feared. It was during Bishop Gardiner's tenure of the see that Philip of Spain and Mary were married at Winchester. Contemporary records by a Spaniard in Philip's suite, and by an English observer of the same date, recently revealed to us by Mr Martin A.S. Hume, set forth the story of the marriage most vividly. The king arrived from Southampton in a storm of rain, and "donned a black velvet surcoat covered with gold bugles and a suit of white velvet trimmed in the same way, and thus he entered, passing the usual red-clothed kneeling aldermen with gold keys on cushions, and then to the grand cathedral, which impressed the Spaniards with wonder, and above all to find that 'Mass was as solemnly sung there as at Toledo.' A little crowd of mitred bishops stood at the great west door, crosses raised and censers swinging, and in solemn procession to the high altar, under a velvet canopy, they led the man whom they looked upon as God's chosen instrument to permanently restore their faith in England." Two days after the wedding took place. Great attention is paid to the clothes by both English and Spanish narrators, and the ceremony and dresses were very magnificent; the Queen's ladies "looked more like celestial angels than mortal creatures." The Queen, we are told, blazed with jewels to such an extent that the eye was blinded as it looked upon her; her dress was of black velvet flashing with gems, and a splendid mantle of cloth of gold fell from her shoulders; but through the Mass that followed the marriage service she never took her eyes off the crucifix upon which they were devoutly fixed. The marriage took place in the July of 1554, and the chair used by Queen Mary is now standing in Bishop Langton's chapel.


Some stormy years at the end of Gardiner's interrupted episcopacy and during the rule of his immediate successors did not much affect Winchester externally; but under Robert Horne the whole diocese suffered terribly through the "Puritanical" views of its bishop. The Norman chapter-house was pulled down, part of the lead on the cathedral roof was stripped off, and stained glass, architectural decorations, etc., throughout the neighbourhood were ruthlessly destroyed. However, after a short period of comparative peace, far worse had yet to come. Under James I. and during the early part of the reign of Charles I., little happened to the building beyond the institution of Curle's passage through the buttress at the southern end of the cathedral, with its quaint inscription on the western wall. The Great Rebellion, as was only to be expected, brought Winchester into the utmost peril. The important situation of the town in the south of England caused it to become the centre of much hard fighting. Sir William Waller, whom Winchester has no cause to remember with affection, came very near to destroying the interior of the cathedral entirely. His troops marched right up the nave in full war equipment, some even being mounted. Tombs were defaced, relics scattered, statues mutilated, stained glass smashed, and the more portable objects carried out into the streets. It is difficult to estimate with any exactitude what was the whole extent of the damage done; but we have sufficient testimony in the broken figures, empty niches, etc., to see that it was great. One highly creditable incident in the midst of the general disgrace has been recorded--namely, the preservation from insult of Wykeham's chantry. This was the work of a Colonel Fiennes, who had been educated at Wykeham's College at Winchester. The protests of the inhabitants seem to have finally induced Waller to call off his fanatical troops from their work of destruction and violation. What might have happened to the cathedral, had this not been done, it is quite impossible to imagine. "Of the brass torn from the violated monuments" in 1644 "might have been built a house as strong as the brazen towers of old romances" (Ryves's "_Mercurius Rusticus_"

quoted by Milner).

Here the architectural history of Winchester Cathedral practically ends.

We find tombs and memorial brasses of all dates, but until the modern restorations nothing of importance affected the actual appearance of the church. Among the few examples of Jacobean work to be seen within, the nave pulpit can hardly be classed, since it was brought from New College Chapel at Oxford as late as 1884. The two statues of James I. and Charles I. by the west door are the work of Hubert le Sueur, who came to England in 1628. The urns which were supposed in the last century to decorate the reredos have long ago been removed, as has also the gilt Jacobean canopy which formerly disfigured the centre of this screen; but Benjamin West's "Raising of Lazarus" still remains above the altar.

This century's work in the cathedral is not very formidable in its extent. All of it is mentioned elsewhere in this book, and it is sufficient here to say that the erection of Sir G. Scott's choir-screen and the restoration of the reredos are the most noticeable "modern"

features, though the latter was carried out on the old lines as nearly as was thought advisable. Sir G. Scott's additions to Winchester have by no means given universal satisfaction, severe language having been applied to them by more than one expert. The most recent alterations have consisted chiefly of a very necessary, though costly, strengthening of the nave roof. This work is, of course, invisible from the ground level, but can be reached from the stair in the south transept. A repair of the organ has also been provided for, and new glass has been inserted in the large south window of the Lady Chapel, in memory of Bishop Thorold.


(From Carter's "Ancient Architecture of England.")]



Before any detailed consideration of the architecture of the cathedral, it is well to be clear as to the various dates of the chief parts. But it must here be remembered that practically in every instance the now existing portions replaced still earlier structures on the same site.

Mention has been made already of the changes from the original building to the one commenced in the eleventh century. In 1079 Bishop Walkelin laid the foundations of a great Norman church, of which the transepts, the outer face of the south nave wall, the core of the nave itself, the crypts, and a portion of the base of the west front are still existing.

Walkelin's work was completed in fourteen years, just before the end of 1093. The tower fell in 1107, but was rebuilt soon afterwards in the form which we now see it. Bishop de Lucy's work, which came next in date (1189-1204), includes the Chapel of the Guardian Angels, flanking the Lady Chapel, at the north-east end of the cathedral, and the corresponding chapel on the south-east, which afterwards became the chantry of Bishop Langton. The piers of the presbytery probably date from about 1320. The west front was rebuilt in Edingdon's time (1345-1366), and a small part of the reconstruction of the nave, the first two bays of the north aisle, and a bay of the south are generally attributed to him. The great re-modelling of the nave, the outer walls of the presbytery, and the continuation of the Lady Chapel range in date of completion from the end of the fourteenth to the sixteenth century.

So much, however, of each period has been altered, and often modified almost beyond recognition by later additions, that it is impossible to make more than a rough guess at the age of the various portions. The work of Wykeham and his successors is so important that it must be left until we reach it in its proper place.

The ground covered by the actual building is one and a half acres in extent. The close is fine and extensive, and is surrounded by a high and stout wall which marks the limits of the old Benedictine monastery. The houses within the close are of widely different dates, from the Early English period to recent years. They comprise the official residences of the dean and the canons, together with some private houses. The changes made from time to time in the distribution of the ground have involved the disappearance of the old priory buildings, and it is not possible to trace with certainty their original form. The laying out of the close has concealed the ground plan of the cloisters which once adjoined the cathedral. What is now called by the name is the passage between the south transept and the former chapter-house, which was pulled down in 1570 by the destructive Bishop Horne, in order, it is said, that the lead in the roof might be sold. Five extremely fine Early Norman arches which were once part of the chapter-house still remain, and may be seen in a line with the end of the slype, beyond the south transept. Some traces of small arches on what is now the extreme outer wall of the transept mark where arcading once ran along the inner wall of the chapter-house. No vestige of the roof remains. The "slype" is a passage which was cut through the southern buttress by Bishop Curle, to put a stop to the constant use of the nave and south aisle as a thoroughfare by the townspeople. The anagrams on the walls commemorate the purpose of the passage; the first, on the western arch, reading:--

Chapter end

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