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Secrets of Winchester Cathedral

If you have spent time sightseeing in one great gothic or renaissance cathedral have you experienced all these magnificent buildings have to offer? For the most part we are talking about grey stone buildings adorned with stained glass windows with, for the most part, somber and hushed interiors.

Look a little deeper and get to know the history of the cathedral. Winchester Cathedral of England is an excellent example of the myriad of secrets contained within a cathedral's walls.

Winchester's majestic cathedral was begun in 1079. The Norman conquerors simply tore down the existing Saxon structure to establish their own building. However, the outline of that original structure can still be seen in the Cathedral close. The Cathedral is surrounded by a series of equally historic buildings. The Deanery dates from the 13th century; next to it is Dean Garnier's Garden containing the remains of a Gothic cloister. The huge half-timbered Cheyney Court, by the southern gate of the close, was originally the Bishop's courthouse.

Take time to look for the statues and plaques that commemorate moments of the cathedral's history and humanity. For example, every year Winchester Cathedral annually honors William Walker, a deep sea diver. Why? In 1905 it was discovered that subsidence was causing the Cathedral to list precariously into the marshy ground. The foundations would require shoring up. Francis Fox, one of the men responsible for the construction of the London Underground, was brought in to seek a solution and implement a plan. After several starts and stops Fox decided that the solution lay with the skills of a deep sea diver.

William Walker was selected for the task. For six years, six hours a day, Walker toiled tirelessly replacing the rotting timbers with bags of cement and concrete blocks in black murky waters. Walker's efforts saved the Cathedral from collapse. For his efforts he was awarded the Royal Victoria Medal by George V. But the story doesn't end there.

In 1964, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Walker's accomplishment, a statue was commissioned. When the statue was unveiled Walker's relatives were dismayed to see not the broad, moustachioed face of Walker, but the sharp features of civil engineer Fox. A group photo with the participants misidentified had led to this disaster. However, the statue was to remain in place for decades.

It would not be until 2001, after much campaigning by the Historical Diving Society, that a new statue was created, this time of the correct William Walker was commissioned. It now stands in the cathedral.

Books and authors are also an integral part of the Cathedral's story. The Cathedral would be the final resting place of Jane Austen. Sadly, however, he tombstone makes no mention of her extraordinary literary achievements. But in the upper levels of the cathedral you will find the library and the magnificent Winchester Bible. This illuminated manuscript, begun in 1160 is dazzling. To gaze on these beautiful pages, lovingly preserved for almost a milenium is to look deeply into history.

And let's not forget the legend of St. Swithin. According to the story, the saint's remains were moved against his wishes from their resting place in a simple tomb in the grounds of the Cathedral to a splendid shrine constructed in the inner sanctum. Whereupon it proceeded to rain for the next 40 days as a sign of his displeasure. Now, if it rains on the Saint's Day, July 25, it is said to herald the advent of another 39 days of drippy weather.

Fortunately Cathedral's are among the most organic of structures, moving with the times and trends. Winchester Cathedral is no exception. Scattered around the Medieval close you will find an intriguing collection of entirely modern sculpture.

While visiting Winchester take time to explore this ancient capital of England's rich heritage. Only an hour by train from Waterloo Station in London it was once the seat of King Alfred the Great and inspiration to John Keats. Be sure to visit the Great Hall of Winchester Castle with its' round table. Was this the great table of King Arthur? Or at least inspired by him?

For more information on Winchester: www.visitwinchester.co.uk.


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