See the Magna Carta and Marvel at the World's Tallest Medieval Church
There are many impressive cathedrals in Britain; all have their attributes, details, stories and architectural wonders. Salisbury is just outstanding; let us explain why.
Builders took only 38 years to build when most cathedrals of this scale take hundreds of years to finish. The church had the financial resources and ability to mobilise large numbers of skilled masons, carpenters and labourers at just the right time. The construction speed resulted in a refined early English gothic design without various conflicting styles; the effect is impressive and satisfying.
The spire is the tallest of any medieval church in the world, at 404 ft. The largest cloister of any church in England and you will see a well-preserved copy of the Magna Carta in the chapter house. Let us impress you more on a tour of Salisbury Cathedral, Stonehenge and Windsor Castle.
A brief history of Salisbury Cathedral
Salisbury Cathedral was the vision of Bishop Richard Poore who became Bishop of Sarum after his brother died in 1217. Sarum near today’s Salisbury was the original site of a much smaller cathedral city. The exposed, chalky hill, offered security, but an inconvenience. It was a pretty uncomfortable place and not suitable for a Cathedral. So they elected to relocate and re-build a new Cathedral and eventually a city would grow-up around it. The new Bishop decided to let God take the lead on where the new church should be. The Bishop notched up an arrow, launched it for God to guide, and it flew hit a deer, who then ran into the valley before dying. The chosen site was where the dead deer lay.
The water meadows in the valley became the new site, and remarkably the whole structure stands on sodden foundations just 1.2m (4ft) deep. The ground beneath must remain wet, creating a solid base. Construction began in 1220 and completed in 1258. Although the damp riverside location was ideal for communication, flooding was a recurring problem, and the bishops held services up to their knees in water.
The spire was an afterthought and built between 1310 and 1333. The tower and spire soar to 404 ft. It is the most beautiful spire in England, and England has many. The extra 6,500 tons caused subsidence. Cleverly installed flying buttresses and scissor arches saved the building from collapse. Although, you can see the Purbeck marble columns bend under pressure, which is a little unsettling. Hopefully, your driver-guide will put you at ease and explain all the devices that make the Cathedral safe.
Salisbury Cathedral in art
The elegance of Salisbury is unarguable, so much so it became irresistible to paint. John Constable, the famous English landscape artist, painted the Cathedral several times. Constable was a close friend of the Bishop and stayed in the cathedral close. When John’s wife Maria died, it broke his heart. The Bishop invited him to stay and to offer his friend counsel; bishop Fisher encouraged John to paint the Cathedral as a way of seeking some solace. His depictions remain an idealised and romantic image of England; an image recreated many times on tea-towels, plates and printed copies.
Built-in 1386, yes that is correct 1386. The time-piece was re-discovered by a visitor in 1929. Intriguingly, the clock has no face and notifies you of the time of day with a bell ring - the number of chimes indicating the hour of the day. People working in the fields far and wide could hear the time and act accordingly.
The well-preserved chapter house in Salisbury is a place used by the governing body of the church, much like a company board room. Conceived long before reliable artificial light; the design incorporates vast glass areas, allowing natural light to illuminate the space and so allow day time reading. The medieval frieze inside the chapter house is in remarkable condition considering its age. It details the Old Testament story, allowing the illiterate to see and understand the tales; it dates from the 1380s.
The Magna Carta is the most famous historical document in western culture. The charter limited the power of an unfit ruler, King John, and is one of the first bastions against tyrannical rule. The list of grievances England’s barons had was long. The Magna Carta is one of the cornerstones of liberty; clauses include the beginnings of trial by jury, Crown respect of local customs and a women’s right not to marry – if she preferred to live without a husband.
The spire of Salisbury Cathedral has attracted nesting peregrine falcons since the 19th century. When diving to attack peregrines can reach speeds of 200 mph, which is faster than a formula one racing car. A short hop from Salisbury is world-famous Stonehenge and the Georgian city of Bath.
Touring and accommodation
Salisbury Cathedral is an easy day tour from London, and a combined, Windsor Castle, Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral tour make a great day out.
Staying outside of London makes the logistics much more convenient when touring multiple southern England places in one day.
Staying overnight in Bath for a couple of nights makes travelling west of London very pleasant and relaxing. Add on a night at Cliveden House near Heathrow, and you have the makings of a superb multi-day tour of England. Our Town and Country Tour is a well-designed trip perfect for the first visit to England. Please ask us to customise your tour of England and make it your own.
Salisbury Cathedral, Soaring Towards the Heavens
Early English Gothic Gem
- See the Magna Carta
- VIP Tours Available
- World's Oldest Working Clock
- England's Largest Cathedral Close and Cloister
- Driver Guided tours from London
Salisbury's Baptismal Font
Salisbury Cathedral in Autumn
Salisbury Cathedral Nave