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 medieval skyscraper
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. Old 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 rebuild 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 1.2m (4ft) deep. The ground beneath must remain wet, creating a solid base. Construction began in 1220 and was completed in 1258. Although the damp riverside location was ideal for communication, flooding was a recurring problem, and the bishops often held services up to their knees in water.
The spire was an afterthought and was 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 that 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 scene of England, an image recreated many times on tea towels, plates and printed copies.
Built-in 1386, yes, that is correct, 1386. The timepiece 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 allowing daytime 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 the world-famous Stonehenge and the Georgian city of Bath.
Touring and accommodation
In the heart of the west country, Salisbury is surrounded by historical sights, such as; Wilton House, recently used as a film location for the hit drama Bridgerton. The world-famous ancient monument of Stonehenge is 15 minutes away. Old Wardour Castle is a delightful picnic spot, and Stourhead Gardens are the finest landscaped grounds anywhere. Longleat Safari Park is a great family stop.
Salisbury Cathedral is an easy day tour from London. Combining; Windsor Castle, Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral tour makes a great day out. Salisburys' sister cathedral city is Winchester. Once the capital of England and subsequently, the church contains the bones of Anglo-Saxon and early Norman Kings. Winchester Cathedral is also the last resting place of Jane Austen. If you like the author, please consider our suggested Jane Austen's England Tour. Prefer to stay overnight and tour the glorious English countryside? We recommend our suggested Town and Country Tour for a first-time visit to England. We can customise the itinerary to include Warwick Castle and make other suggestions based on your interests and accommodation preferences.
When wishing to stay in the Salisbury region and maybe needing access to the Southampton cruise terminals, we recommend staying at Chewton Glen Hotel and Spa. Further west in the delightful Dorset countryside (Thomas Hardy Country) is Summer Lodge and Acorn Inn. North is the UNESCO World Heritage City of Bath. Where you can stay at the Royal Crescent or Bath Priory Hotel.
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
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