Being back in Wiltshire was so great for many reasons, and one big one was being able to go back and visit one of my favourite churches – Salisbury Cathedral. Beautiful, historically significant and welcoming, I would suggest a visit to anyone in the area.
The history of Salisbury Cathedral
To quote from the excellent Salisbury Cathedral website
The first Salisbury Cathedral was completed at Old Sarum in 1092 under Osmund, the first Bishop of Salisbury. The Domesday Book is thought to have been presented to William the Conqueror at Old Sarum a few years earlier, in 1086. Disputes with the military and scarce water supplies led to an alternative location being sought and in 1220 a new site for the Cathedral was consecrated at New Sarum.
The Cathedral has gone through many repairs, renovations, re-organising and re-buildings so what you see inside is and architectural and artistic mix of eras. That said the actual building itself is a rarity in England in that it is of one architectural style rather than the mix that usual happened due to these buildings taking so long to complete – Salisbury Cathedral was built in 38 years so stayed pretty much consistent.
Make sure to walk around the building and take in the magnificent architecture. While the building is under an almost constant works and repairs program and can sometimes have a lot of scaffolding in place, it is still incredibly impressive. Once you have taken in the building as a whole, walk around and look at the decorations – there are a lot of details to take in including some pretty cool gargoyles.
The main building
Entry to the Cathedral is by voluntary donation, with a suggest £7.50 per adult and £3 per child (the Cathedral receives no funding from the government or Church of England but still costs £14,000 a day to run). Once inside there are regular free guided tours, or you can pick up a printed guide in one of various languages. There are also volunteers around the place (they wear green sashes) who are on hand to answer your questions.
Highlights inside the Cathedral include:
What is considered the world’s oldest working clock, dating back to 1386
A multitude of stained glass dating across the ages
Stunning vaulted ceilings
A modern font that is a work of sculptural art
Modern art installations – the Cathedral often hosts art exhibitions, and it is often sculpture. On my visit there was an exhibition ‘Dispersing the Night’ by Ana Maria Pacheo.
The Chapter House
The Chapter House is worth visiting for two reasons. Firstly, it is the home of the world’s best preserved copy of the Magna Carta, which is on display, along with an exhibition about how it was made and why. Second reason is the Medieval frieze depicting sixty Old Testament scenes. This was being repaired last time I was there but is now on full view. One of my favourite sections is the Ark scene, with a particularly cute wren!
Despite never have monks, the Cathedral boasts a beautiful cloister. In good weather the cafe has seats outside you can sit at. In Winter you might even get to see it blanketed in snow, but in Summer it is gloriously green.
When to visit
You have to remember that Salisbury Cathedral is a working church – therefore it may be closed for events (weddings, funerals etc) so check on the website before visiting. You are welcome to join a service, and the choir is one of the best in England (I have heard them rehearsing – truly magical) as well as often there are visiting choirs from around the world. There are also often concerts held in the Cathedral. Evensong on a Friday evening is famous for good reason.
Salisbury Cathedral is open 365 days a year (though as I said above, be mindful of events) and is usually open 09:00 to 17:00 Monday to Saturday and 12:00 to 16:00 on Sundays
Salisbury Cathedral in fiction
While the Cathedral gets a mention in quite a few books, there are two where it really plays a starring role. One is Sarum by Edward Rutherford which follows the history of the Salisbury area from pre-history to the 1980s (it is a really hefty tome but worth the effort). If you are interested in following the other locations mentioned in that book I suggest you start with a visit to the Old Sarum site which is located just outside of Salisbury itself (you can get there by bus from the town centre). Other books that feature Salisbury Cathedral include Ghost Knight by Cornelia Funke and The Spire by William Golding
The most famous book inspired by Salisbury Cathedral however is probably Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth – though he actually had Wells Cathedral in mind when writing the book, he says that the Cathedral he ended up with is much more like Salisbury. There is a TV adaptation of the book, but it was filmed in Hungary, not Salisbury!