Salisbury Cathedral is one of several worthwhile sites on England’s Salisbury Plain, the most popular being Stonehenge only ten miles away. Formerly known as the Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Salisbury Cathedral remains one of the best examples of Early English Gothic architecture still in existence today.
Salisbury Cathedral History
Salisbury Cathedral History
The area originally had a Norman cathedral at Old Sarum. However, strained relations with local military instigated Bishop Richard Poore to raise money for the construction of a new cathedral, namely Salisbury Cathedral. According to legend, the bishop fired an arrow that struck a deer, and the location where the deer finally fell became the site of the future cathedral.
Begun in 1220, the nave, transepts, and quire of the Salisbury Cathedral were built quickly, completed within only 38 years. The land’s water table only allowed for a shallow foundation, resulting in fast construction and a single, consistent architectural style. The Cloisters and the Chapter House were completed only several decades later.
In 1320, the grand 404-foot tall spire was completed. However, its heavy weight required the cathedral to be reinforced with buttresses, bracing arches, and anchor irons. Even legendary English architect Christopher Wren lent his expertise to the support issues presented by Salisbury’s spire in the 17th century. Salisbury Cathedral’s spire remains the tallest in the United Kingdom today. In 1790, architect James Wyatt demolished the cathedral’s bell tower. Today, Salisbury Cathedral is one of three cathedrals in England without bells.
Salisbury Cathedral Architecture
Salisbury Cathedral is one of the best examples of Early English Gothic architecture in existence. The eight-sided Chapter House displays a medieval frieze painted with Biblical scenes. The west front has two stair turrets topped with smaller spires and gables with quatrefoil windows. The entire cathedral is highly decorated, including motifs, columns, a ribbed vaulted ceiling, and pointed Gothic windows. It is also covered with hundreds of niches, many of which display statues of angels and great men such as apostles, philosophers, and royalty.
In addition to the tallest tower in the United Kingdom, Salisbury also boasts the largest cloister and close in Great Britain. The Chapter House is home to the best-preserved copy of the Magna Carta, as well. Visitors are also treated to the oldest working clock, dating from 1386. While the bell tower of Salisbury Cathedral was removed, this medieval clock still marks the hour with bells.
Across from the west front of the cathedral is the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum, displaying an impressive collection of artifacts related to nearby Stonehenge. Exhibits include theories as to how the large stones came to rest in their current place, as well as a gallery of related artwork. Located within the King’s House, this historic three-story English house is a museum itself, complete with mullioned windows, plaster ceilings, and an impressive oak staircase. There is also a Wedgewood Gallery upstairs.
Another of Salisbury’s attractions is Arundells, one of the most impressive homes inside the Cathedral Close. While the house was originally built in the 13th century, Arundells displays as many as six different periods of architecture. The home includes various collections of its many previous tenants, including ceramics, paintings, and political cartoons. Art lovers will also greatly appreciate Fisherton Mill, the largest independent art gallery in southwest England.