Winchester Cathedral is considered one of the greatest cathedrals in England. Situated 70 miles southwest of London and only 32 miles southeast of Stonehenge, Winchester Cathedral draws many visitors each year. Its beautifully festooned nave is the longest of all European Gothic cathedrals, making Winchester Cathedral one of England’s most impressive sacred sites.
The predecessor to Winchester Cathedral, a small, Anglo-Saxon structure called Old Minster, was originally built in 642 AD. The importance of this small church grew into a cathedral over the centuries, and its burial ground became home to several notable people, including King Alfred the Great and a bishop called Saint Swithun. In 1079, a newer Norman cathedral was erected just south of Old Minster. In 1093, the remains of Saint Swithun were moved from Old Minster, and the new Winchester Cathedral was consecrated. Winchester Cathedral was also one of the few English churches to survive King Henry VIII’s seizure of power over the church in the 16th century. In the early 20th century, the cathedral’s waterlogged foundation threatened to collapse the entire structure. Between 1906 and 1912, a diver named William Walker braved zero visibility in 20-foot deep waters to reinforce the cathedral’s foundations with concrete and bricks.
Today, Winchester Cathedral is most widely known for holding the tomb of Jane Austen. After her funeral in the cathedral on July 18, 1817, she was buried under a tombstone that reads, “Known by her writings.” Austen fans flock to the cathedral every day to witness the final resting place of this beloved English author.
Winchester Cathedral has undergone many repairs and updates over its long history. Though today’s existing building started as a square, Norman structure with round-headed windows, it bears witness to its many architectural changes as centuries past. In the 14th century, parts of the nave were rebuilt in the popular Gothic style, with soaring, pointed arches. These were further embellished during the centuries to follow.
One of Winchester Cathedral’s most unique features is its large West Window, a mosaic of colored glass. While the original stained glass displayed pictures in traditional fashion, today’s explosion of hues is the result of necessary repair after Cromwell’s military forces destroyed the original medieval window in 1642. Winchester Cathedral is also home to the only diatonic ring of 14 church bells in the world.