Winchester Cathedral at Winchester in Hampshire is one of the largest cathedrals in England, with the longest nave and overall length of any Gothic cathedral in Europe. It is dedicated to the Holy Trinity, Saint Peter, Saint Paul and Saint Swithun and is the seat of the Bishop of Winchester and centre of the Diocese of Winchester. Since March 2006 an admission charge has been required for visitors to enter the cathedral.
Construction of the cathedral began in 1079 under bishop Walkelin, and on April 8 1093, in the presence of nearly all the bishops and abbots of England, the monks removed from Saxon cathedral church of the Old Minster to the new one, "with great rejoicing and glory" to mark its completion. The earliest part of the present building is the crypt, which dates from that time. William II of England and his brother, Richard, Duke of Bernay are both buried in the cathedral. The squat, square central tower was begun in 1202 to replace an earlier version which collapsed, partly due to the unstable ground on which the cathedral is built. It has an indisputably Norman look to it. Work continued on the cathedral during the 14th century, in 1394 the remodelling of the Norman nave commenced to the designs of master mason William Wynford, this continued into the 15th and 16th centuries, notably with the building of the retroquire to accommodate the many pilgrims to the shrine of Saint Swithun. After King Henry VIII seized control of the Catholic Church in England, and declared himself head of the Church of England, the Benedictine foundation, the Priory of Saint Swithun, was dissolved (1539) and the cloister and chapter house were demolished, but the cathedral continued.
Restoration work was carried out by T.G. Jackson during the years 1905–1912, including the famous saving of the building from total collapse. Some waterlogged foundations on the south and east walls were reinforced by a diver, William Walker, packing the foundations with more than 25,000 bags of concrete, 115,000 concrete blocks and 900,000 bricks. He worked six hours a day from 1906 to 1912 in total darkness at depths up to 6 m, and is credited with saving the cathedral from total collapse. For his troubles he was awarded the MVO.
Nowadays the cathedral draws many tourists as a result of its association with Jane Austen, who died in the city and is buried in the cathedral's north aisle of the nave. The original 19th century marker gave reluctant praise for her writing ability. Much later a more descriptive marker about Austen's talent was placed on a nearby wall.
Another reason for its popularity is that the cathedral was the setting for works of fiction by Anthony Trollope, for example, his novels of 19th century church life known collectively as the Chronicles of Barsetshire. In 2005, the building was used as a film set for the The Da Vinci Code with the north transept used as the Vatican. Following this the cathedral hosted discussions and displays to debunk the book.
In addition Winchester Cathedral is possibly the only cathedral to have had popular songs written about it. "Winchester Cathedral" was a UK top ten hit and a US number one song for The New Vaudeville Band in 1966. The cathedral was also the subject of the Crosby, Stills & Nash song, "Cathedral" from their 1977 album CSN.
In the south transept there is a "Fishermen's Chapel," which is the burial place of Izaak Walton. Walton, who died in 1683, was the author of The Compleat Angler and a friend of John Donne. In the choir is the bell from HMS Iron Duke which was the flagship of Admiral John Jellicoe at the Battle of Jutland in 1916.
The Epiphany Chapel has a series of Pre-Raphaelite stained glass windows designed by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones and made in William Morris's workshop. The foliage decoration above and below each pictorial panel is unmistakably William Morris and at least one of the figures bears a striking resemblance to Morris's wife Jane, who frequently posed for Dante Gabriel Rossetti and other members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
The crypt, which frequently floods, features a statue by Antony Gormley, called "Sound II", installed in 1986, and there is a modern shrine to Saint Swithun.
A series of nine icons were installed between 1992 and 1996 in the retroquire screen which for a short time protected the relics of St Swithun destroyed by Henry VIII in 1538. This iconostasis in the Russian Orthodox tradition was created by Sergei Fedorov (sometimes spelt Fyodorov) and dedicated in 1997. The icons include the local religious figures St Swithun and St Birinus. Beneath the retroquire Icons is the Holy Hole once used by pilgrims to crawl beneath and lie close to the healing shrine of St Swithun. The 'external link' below connects to images of each icon and the retroquire.
Winchester Cathedral is home to an internationally recognized professional choir of 18 boy choristers and 12 lay clerks. The choir sings eight services weekly in the Cathedral as well as making regular recordings, broadcasts, concerts and international tours. The choir is currently directed by Andrew Lumsden.
The Cathedral Girls' Choir was founded in 1998 and sings one service each week alongside the lay clerks.
The Nave Choir of Winchester Cathedral is a mixed voluntary choir of around 40 members. Founded in January of 2007 by Jamie W. Hall, the choir sings those services that fall outside those covered by the Cathedral Choir as well as special services and concerts.