Winchester Cathedral


Winchester Cathedral

The current Cathedral was begun in 1079, 13 years after William the Conqueror invaded England. During its construction it was the largest church north of the Alps. It was built in the Romanesque style of Normandy and later extended. The only parts of the Norman original to remain are the north and south transepts and the crypt. The construction of this new cathedral was well under way and had received its first dedication before the Anglo-Saxon minster was demolished with some of its stones being used in the new cathedral.

The first church at the site where Winchester Cathedral now stands was built around 648. It was a small Anglo-Saxon church, which later became known as Old Minster. This original modest church was enlarged between the years of 973-994. In the grounds to the north of Winchester Cathedral a red brick outline shows the position of original cruciform church and a grey outline shows the footings of the enlarged church.

The cathedral is impressive from the outside but when you step inside, the immense height and scale of the building inspires a sense of awe. Today, the cathedral contains many treasures and on entering the building you are greeted with the stunning beauty of the nave. The columns draw the eye towards the quire which is concealed behind a finely carved wooden screen.

Walking down the north aisle, and due to the number of people congregating, it is impossible to miss the grave of Jane Austen with its nearby brass commemorative plaque and memorial window. Not far from the grave in the nave is a carved 12th century font made from Belgian black Tournai marble.  It depicts scenes from the life of St Nicholas who was Bishop of Myra in about AD300.


The Crypt with Sound II by Antony Gormley

The oldest part of the cathedral is the crypt which was designed to raise the east of the cathedral to emulate the ‘holy hill’ on which Jerusalem and the temple were built. Beneath the crypt is a well in the place of the original high altar. Within the crypt is a modern sculpture called Sound II, designed by Antony Gormley. The crypt regularly floods so the sculpture was designed to stand in water and with cupped hands to hold water, the symbolism being that we should be still for a moment to ‘sound’ the depths of our own spirit.


Icons by Sergei Fyodorov and the tunnel entrance

Steps not far from the crypt were used by pilgrims in the last part of their journey to visit the shrine of St Swithun. After climbing the ‘pilgrim steps’ the pilgrims entered a tunnel through a still visible ‘Holy Hole’ so they could be closer to the Holy Relics. St Swithun was initially buried outside the Old Minster but was later reinterred inside that church on 15th July 971 against his original wishes. It is alleged that it rained for forty days giving rise to the legend, that if it rains on St Swithun’s day, it will rain for the next forty days. In 1093 his remains were once again removed to the present cathedral and it is thought that from 1150 his shrine was situated on a platform behind the high altar. The shrine was later moved to the location of the current memorial, the original having been destroyed in 1538 on the orders of King Henry VIII.

Near to the current shrine, above the ‘Holy Hole’ can be seen a series of Russian icons, painted by Sergei Fyodorov, from the left they depict; St Birinus, St Peter, Archangel Michael, Mary, Christ, John the Baptist, Archangel Gabriel, St Paul and St Swithun.


William Walker by Glynn Williams

In front of the three chapels that are situated at the east end of the cathedral stands a small memorial statue of William Walker who is known as the ‘Winchester Diver’. In the early 1900s large cracks appeared within the walls of Winchester Cathedral, Soft peat and a high water table had caused the foundations to sink. A diver, William Walker was employed to underpin the foundations of the cathedral. William spent six hours a day for six years in water below the cathedral in order to shore up the foundations.


The Quire

Behind the high altar stands a stunning Great Screen which was completed in 1745. Originally it was covered in brightly coloured statues of the saints but these were removed during the Reformation. The current statues were added in the 1880s and include representatives of the English church. If you face away from the altar you can see the intricately carved quire stalls designed to keep the monks warm and comfortable as they prayed, the symbolism depicted on the stalls assisting their prayers. The stalls date from the 1300s and feature mythical beasts, foliage, animals, the pagan ‘green man’ and motifs from everyday life. The fact that these were not Christian symbols means that they survived the Reformation.


The Chapel of St John the Evangelist and the Fisherman Apostles

One of the south transept chapels, The Chapel of St John the Evangelist and the Fisherman Apostles, drew me in.  Within this chapel can be found the grave of Izaak Walton, who became famous as the author of ‘The Complete Angler’.  The modern altar by Peter Eugine Ball is carved from an oak tree that was felled in a storm. It depicts scenes of swirling water and several types of fish that are mentioned in Isaak’s book. Next to the altar is a statue, also by Peter Eugine Ball, entitled Pieta, which depicts the deep grief and faith of the Mother of Jesus. The statues to either side of the altar depict the fisherman’s apostles Peter and Andrew as do the stained glass window which also incorporates Isaak Walton sitting next to Winchester’s River Itchen. The seats made of green oak by Alison Crowther feature gentle ripples and wave-like backs. This completes the theme of sitting by a riverside and being refreshed by the blessings of nature.

I took time to sit quietly and reflect in this tranquil space…

I would have liked to see the Winchester Bible and the Triforium Gallery but that was not possible on my two visits. Maybe next time…

I have shared just a few of the cathedral’s many treasures and now I leave it for you, if you choose to visit, to seek out your own treasures and pathway through the Cathedral of Winchester.

Information sources Winchester Cathedral Pitkin guide and Winchester Cathedral, A short guide – Official Cathedral Guide.


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Alfred the Great

Winchester is a city with many fine architectural buildings.  As you enter the city a huge statue of Alfred the Great looms overhead looking out over the Guildhall and Abbey Gardens towards the city centre.

Winchester Cathedral Knave

Winchester Cathedral nave

The Cathedral has a prominent position within the city. The New Minster was built close to the Old Minster whose foundation lines can today still be seen marked out in brick on the grassy green next to the Cathedral (New Minster). From the outside the Cathedral is relatively modest but as I stepped through the door the immense size and beauty of it took my breath away.  On further exploration the Cathedral’s secrets reveal themselves. Some of these are the 14th century font made of Tournai marble, the mortuary chests holding remains of pre-conquest Wessex monarchs, the memorial to St Swithun and the pilgrim steps where pilgrims filed to reach the Shrine of St Swithun before crawling through the still visible ‘holy hole’ that allowed them closer access to the holy relics of St Swithun.

The Cathedral is home to the Winchester Bible which is a fine example of 12th century illumination. Sadly I wasn’t able to see it on my visit as the Triforium Gallery in which it is housed is now closed for several months for refurbishment.

The Cathedral’s Norman crypt often floods. In the crypt is a statue by Antony Gormly, entitled ‘Sound II’. It was designed to stand in water.

Cheyney Court

Cheyney Court

Not to be missed is the adjacent Cathedral close with its interesting buildings; the Deanery fronted by a 13th century vaulted porch; the Norman Chapter house ruins; Pilgrims’ Hall and School, Priory Stables (now part of Pilgrims’ School) and the most striking of the buildings, the 16th century Cheyney Court. Joined to Cheyney court is the 16th century Priory Gate, above which is a tiny room originally intended for the Cathedral’s organist.

Just outside Priory Gate is Kingsgate, one of two remaining medieval gates into the city. On top of the gate is the small church of St Swithun upon Kingsgate, a rare example of a church located above the gates of a city. Hidden away nearby is a Victorian post box still in use today. Opposite the post box is the Wykeham Arms which is furnished with old desks and memorabilia from the nearby Winchester College.

I recommend taking a guided tour around the college. The knowledgeable guide told us about the history and traditions of the college and its connection with the wider history of the area. The guide also pointed out many interesting architectural features that are hidden within the college. Not far from the college is the residence of the Bishop of Winchester, which is all that remains of the 17th century New Bishop’s Palace. The ruins of the first Bishop’s palace (Wolvesy) are situated next to the current Bishop’s residence.

The Pentice

The Pentice

More architectural gems can be found in Winchester High Street, where old and new buildings stand side by side; the 15th century Butter Cross, the Old Guildhall (now Lloyds bank), The Pentice (an attractive walkway that was created in the 16th century when upper floors of the timber framed houses were extended). It is in this street that you will find the quaintly named God Begot house which stands on the site of the ancient manor of God Begot.

At the top of High Street stands Westgate, the second of the two fortified gateways that once formed part of the city wall is now a museum.

The Great Hall

The Great Hall

Just behind the gate is Henry III’s Great Hall.  It dates from 1235 and it is all that remains of Winchester Castle.  The Great hall has breath-taking proportions as does ‘King Arthur’s Table’ which is mounted on the wall at one end of the hall. The table was probably created around 1290 for a tournament to celebrate the wedding of one of Edward I’s daughters.  Just outside the hall is a reconstructed medieval garden based on illustrations from a 14th century manuscript. The steps from the garden lead to Peninsula Barracks, the home of five of Winchesters military museums; The Adjudant General’s Corps, the Light Infantry, the Gurkhas, The King’s Royal Hussars and the Royal Green Jackets. The museum of the Royal Hampshire Regiment can be found nearby.

Another of Winchesters museums, the City Museum, is located in ‘The Square’ which overlooks the Cathedral. The museum illustrates the history of Winchester and has a fine example of a 2nd century Roman mosaic pavement and 4th century wall paintings. The square is also a good place to dine whilst overlooking the cathedral and its grounds.  Nestling away between offices and shops in the square is the tiny 15th century church of St Lawrence. Easily missed, this is the church that each new Bishop comes to for private prayer before his enthronement in the cathedral.

Time did not permit me to walk along the water meadows to St Cross with its hospital that has provided sheltered accommodation for elderly gentlemen since it was founded in 1136 along with its 800 year old tradition of the ‘Wayfarers Dole’. Maybe next time…

For more information:



Martin’s Patershof breakfast room

Martin’s Patershof breakfast room

Last Christmas Mr C and I didn’t really want anything in the way of presents so we decided to treat ourselves to a relaxing weekend away instead.  This ruled out flying because that would mean several (non-relaxing) hours in an airport waiting to fly…

As luck would have it an email arrived from the Belgian hotel chain that we used when we stayed in Bruges.  It gave us inspiration and I fell in love with one of the hotels in the chain.  The Hotel, Martin’s Patershof, is a converted Church.  I researched the hotel’s town, Mechelen (Malines in French rather than Flemish), and found that it had many things of interest.  The guidebooks describe it as a beautiful medieval town, with charm and outstanding architectural treasures.

We decided that the best way to travel was by train.  The ‘end to end’ journey could easily be booked via the Eurostar site.  As well as travel to Brussels by Eurostar, we also booked travel by rail to London and onward from Brussels.

The Town Hall viewed from the Grote Markt

The Town Hall viewed from the Grote Markt

The journey to and from Mechelen by train including Eurostar was enjoyable and relaxing.  We had the luxury of being served with meals and drinks on both inward and outward journeys.  On arrival in Mechelen we quickly unpacked our bags before setting off to explore the town.  During my stay one thing I couldn’t help but notice was the abundance of bicycles both with and without riders.  I will always remember Mechelen as the town of bicycles. This inspired me to purchase a Dutch style bicycle shortly after I returned home from my travels.

 The hotel lived up to expectations.  Architectural features and stained glass windows are prominent throughout the hotel and our room had a stained glass window and stone pillars.  The breakfast room is quite stunning being situated in what was the choir of the church.  The breakfast buffet was one of the best I have ever seen.  There was even a decadent option of having a complimentary glass of Cava; I decided not to indulge so early in the morning.

St Rumbold’s Cathedral  from Grote Markt

St Rumbold’s Cathedral from the Grote Markt

Although this hotel is no longer a place of worship there are many historic churches still in use and eight are promoted as especially worthy of a visit. St Rumbold’s Cathedral with its wonderful architecture, artworks and stained glass windows was on our ‘to visit’ list but it was difficult to decide which others to include.  We settled on the Beguinage Church (which we found to be full of amazing artworks and treasures), Church of our Lady Hanswidj (whilst there we learned that it would shut for renovations in just two weeks’ time for four years), and the Church of our Lady across the Dyle. The custodians of each of the churches were very proud of their churches and keen to point out the special features of each to us. Being English we were somewhat of a novelty to them, with Mechelen not being an obvious choice for British travelers.

Kazerne Dossin military barracks

Kazerne Dossin military barracks viewed from the museum

Mechelen played a sobering part in the history of WW2 so the Kazerne Dossin museum and military barracks were also on our ‘to visit’ list.  The barracks and museum serve as a permanent history and memorial to the Jews who were held there awaiting deportation.  I found the museum thought provoking.  It serves as a poignant reminder that atrocities still occur today and invites the visitor to ask questions and look for answers.  Alongside the barracks is a restored railway goods wagon that had been used to transport the Jews from the barracks to Auschwitz Birkenau.

Haverwerf on the banks of the River Dyle

Haverwerf on the banks of the River Dyle

We visited many other things of interest; the garden of the former palace of Margaret of Austria (Belgium was, at one time, a part of the Holy Roman Empire, which was ruled by the Austrian Habsberg dynasty), an art exhibition of the work of Rik Wouters which is housed in the Schepenhuis, the toy museum, the Beguinages and we strolled through the botanic garden to see the ancient wooden fulling mill and also along the River Dyle passing the Haverwerf and three noticeable houses from the sixteenth and seventeenth century.  We were even lucky enough to find ourselves next to the Grote Markt when the annual carnival was in full flow. The town has its own brewery as do many towns in Belgium, although we didn’t go inside we passed it on more than one occasion as we explored Mechelen.

No visit to Belgium is complete without sampling some chocolate.  We came home with a box for ourselves and some as gifts.  The lady in the shop guided us through the different options and helped us to choose a bespoke collection for someone who has nut allergies.  The delicious chocolates didn’t last long…

I enjoyed my stay in Mechelen and the Hotel Patershof; there is more than a passing chance that I may return there one day.

You can read the unabridged version of my travels in the following links; Mechelen Day OneMechelen Day TwoMechelen Day ThreeMechelen Day Four and Mechelen Day Five

The best place to find out about the attractions of Mechelen is the official tourism site.

Lives of the First World War

Lives of the First World WarTo help commemorate the First World War, the Imperial War Museum (IWM) has launched a digital memorial to record the life of every person who served in uniform or worked on the home front during World War One.

During the next five years the “Lives of the First World War” will become the permanent digital memorial to over 8 million men and women. This memorial is still a work in progress; not all of the records are yet online and more will be added over the coming months.

Over the coming months, millions of additional new records will be added to Lives of the First World War – from the Royal Flying Corp/Royal Air Force, the Royal Navy, the Canadian Expeditionary Force, the Australian and New Zealand Imperial Forces along with the records of almost 17,000 conscientious objectors. IWM is also seeking to include the Indian Army, Home Front workers and all others who made a contribution from across the British Empire.

Lives of the First World War will continue to evolve over the First World War Centenary and new functionality will be added so that people can easily share and discuss who they are remembering online.

The “Lives of the First World War” is a project that anyone can contribute to by adding to the records, perhaps by uploading a picture, sharing a family story or connecting to official records that will help build up a picture of what happened to someone who served during the war.

You might recall I wrote about my great uncle who served in the RAMC during the war. His name was Harry Jefferson and I found a record for that name. The record has no other details against it so I wasn’t sure if it was the right Harry Jefferson. We have a medal with his name on the edge which my grandfather (Harry’s brother) gave to me when I was a child. I had given the medal to my dad and he kept it with his own service medal.

A couple of weeks ago my Mum and I had a little trip down memory lane by way of looking through dad’s bedside box of trinkets and cufflinks etc. I found a medal but not the one I was expecting to find (which I hope will turn up eventually). Luckily, the medal I found was Harry’s British War Medal, 1914-18 which has his service number, rank and name engraved on the side.

I was therefore able to establish that the digital memorial record I had found was his. I will be taking part in the project by adding the few things I know about him to his individual memorial record.

Kazerne Dossin

Kazerne DossinMechelen played a sobering part in the history of WWII.  Within the city, the Kazerne Dossin museum and military barracks serve as a permanent history and memorial to the Jews who were held there awaiting deportation to Nazi concentration camps.

The Kazerne Dossin museum of ‘deportation and resistance’ was initially housed in the former Dossin barracks until a new purpose built building, containing a more permanent exhibition took its place.

The Dossin barracks was a waiting room for death for more than 25,000 Jews and gypsies from Belgium and Northern France during the Second World War. The museum serves as memorial to those deportees and as a poignant reminder that atrocities still occur today and invites the visitor to ask questions and look for answers.

From Museum website:

The barracks were designated ‘Sammellager’, a transit camp for Jews and gypsies. The central location of the barracks (between Antwerp and Brussels where most of the Jews lived), the railway next to the barracks, and the enclosed structure made this location the ideal deportation centre. Between July 1942 and September 1944, 25,492 Jews and 352 gypsies were rounded up and transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau and to a number of smaller concentration camps. Two-third of the deported persons was gassed immediately upon arrival. At the liberation of the camps, only 1,395 were still alive. On 30 May 1948, a commemorative plaque was attached to the façade of the Dossin barracks as commemoration to this abomination. Since 1956, an annual ceremony is organised to commemorate the victims.

Between 1942 and 1944, 25,484 Jews and 352 gypsies were deported from the barracks to Auschwitz-Birkenau.  Only 5% (approximately 1200 – 1300) returned!

The museums introductory film presents some chilling images and poses some disturbing questions. The film highlights the part that Belgium played in the Holocaust and touches upon other human rights issues in recent times.

The Kazerne Dossin museum deals with wider issues than the ‘Belgian Case’ and deportation of the Jews by focusing on massive violence as a central theme.  Starting with the Holocaust it looks at how group pressure and collective violence can, under certain conditions, lead to mass murder and genocide.  The behaviours of instigators and opportunists are explored and how they instigate collective violence.  It questions why individuals find it difficult to say, ‘No’.

An enormous photo wall spans five floors showing the faces of the 25,856 deportees and their human aspect contrasts with those whose propaganda and mass hysteria persecuted the deportees and threatened them with annihilation.

Within the museum two of the rooms are dedicated to present the names and faces of those who were deported therefore breaching the anonymity of the victims and going against the aim of the Nazis which was to extinguish them without a trace.

The two rooms can be viewed here and here.

The museum is both sobering and thought provoking, inviting the visitor to ask questions and look for answers.

A railway ran alongside the barracks and today a restored railway goods wagon that had been used to transport the Jews from the barracks to Auschwitz Birkenau can be seen next to the barracks in the place where the tracks used to lie.

The former barracks have now been turned into residential apartments but a memorial remains in one corner of the Dossin barracks.  When I stepped into the quadrangle I heard the beautiful sound of birds singing and it was so peaceful that I found it difficult to imagine the sadness of its former use.

We must ensure that we remember, think and act to stop these atrocities recurring…

The Victoria Cross

My contributions to a conversation in Amfortas’ Tavern.

You asked so I will tell…

A number of years ago a colleague and I showed a couple of visitors from another department around the Weapons collection that was held at MoD Donnington.  One of the exhibits was a replica of the Victoria Cross metal.  

After we had finished our visit we called in on the senior military officer who was OIC of the building where the museum was housed, in order to say thank you for allowing us to arrange the visit.  We got chatting with him and he asked if we would like to see the Victoria Cross metal.  Well there was only ONE answer to that question!  He then produced a locked box from within a locked cabinet in his office.  He showed us the fragment of metal and pointed out the smooth side where the metal had been sliced to send for casting.  He explained that a portion is always kept ready the jewelers, so they can start work on a medal when it is needed.

The security of the metal seems to have stepped up a bit since those good old days 😉

The weapons collection has now been moved from Donnington and is available for public viewing:

In my early days at work the piece of VC gun metal had a Nato Stock Number (NSN) and was part of the weapons inventory in the storehouse.  The VC gun metal was stored and locked in a secure cage along with other attractive items…

The following link refers to a stock record card, that is how the stores were accounted for before the advent of computers (the army were well behind the curve introducing computers into regular use).

Recording of the VC gun metal.

I think the picture in the link is showing the replica as it was displayed in the museum at Donnington.   The cut portion of the metal is to the rear.

Then later as I mentioned below the gun metal was moved from the stores inventory (and stores location) and kept under lock and two keys by an Army officer.

Somehow you (often) seem to  have the knack of getting me reminiscing 😉

The full conversation can be viewed here.

Poppies and Remembrance

Poppies and RemembranceI recently received the spring edition of the National Trust magazine.  The front cover carried a faded black and white image of a building in the background contrasting with bright red poppies in the foreground.  The building is Dunham Massey and one of the features in the magazine explains how the house is being transformed back into the Stamford Military Hospital it was in 1917-19.

This is one of a series of nationwide and international events that will be taking place during 2014-18 to commemorate the centenary of World War One. The series of events are being led by the Imperial War Museum, which has a dedicated website entitled

The events will serve to remind us of those who sacrificed their lives so that we can enjoy the freedoms we have today as well as reminding us to be grateful for their sacrifice.

The poppy fields as described by the ‘War Poets’ are a poignant reminder to me of the lives that were lost in both World War One and World War Two and also the lives lost in more recent wars.

Poppies to me are a simile of the lives that were lost.  They are vibrant, standing strong and bold yet fragile and defeated by a heavy downfall or a spring breeze.   They remind me of the fragility of peace and freedom and how easily our freedom can be lost.

The 1914 website points out that “one hundred years on we are all in some way connected to the First World War, either through our own family history, the heritage of our local communities or because of its long-term impact on society and the world we live in today.”

Reflection on World War One serves as a reminder of what might have been if the outcome of that war had been different…