It was one of those things: I had been to Salisbury on business a number of times, but I had never had the chance to explore the city. Having recently returned to the UK, I’m keen to see all that the UK has to offer. So, on a recent visit to Salisbury, I had to see inside the walls of Salisbury Cathedral, having walked and driven past it so many times before.
The original cathedral was a few miles away from where the cathedral now stands. It was originally in Old Sarum, where I took this photo, in fact. In the 13th century, the Bishop of Salisbury wanted to build a new cathedral away from the castle. To decide on the location, as legend has it, the Bishop shot an arrow into the air and wherever it landed was where he would build the new cathedral. As this is unlikely to be true because of the distance, there is an alternative version. The Bishop shot an arrow, which hit a deer, and it was where the deer fell that the new cathedral would be built. The most likely explanation, though, for building the cathedral where it now stands is neither of those. The bishop actually owned the flat land.
As you can see in the photo, the cathedral is big, especially in comparison to everything that surrounds it. So how long do you think it took to build? A hundred years, maybe? Wrong! It actually took a mere 38 years to build. The advantage of building it so quickly meant the style of architecture and design stayed the same throughout the build. That makes it different to many other churches and cathedrals. In fact, little has changed in nearly 750 years.
Having a strong foundation is an extremely important element for any building, let alone a massive construction like Salisbury Cathedral. You’d be wrong in thinking its foundations are deep, though, because the foundations are only four feet deep. Four feet deep? Can you imagine? What makes this even more extraordinary is the fact that, one day, someone had this crazy idea of adding a 6,600 ton spire to a building that had such shallow foundations. No one knows how it stayed in place and intact, but it has for a very long time. Adding the spire made it the tallest building in the world for 600 years.
One last thing to mention: Salisbury Cathedral is home to one extremely important document, the Magna Carta. This year marks 800 years since it was first agreed and sealed, giving the people of England the right to justice and a fair trial.
When I entered the cathedral, I was given a short written guide by one of the volunteer guides. As he gave it to me, he mentioned that he would be giving a brief tour of the cathedral. I decided to go along because it was free, and I was there. It turned out to be an extremely interesting talk by someone who is knowledgeable and very enthusiastic about the history of the cathedral and Salisbury, in general. If you happen to be in the cathedral at the right time, join one of the free guided tours.
There is the option of paying to take a tour of the tower up to the base of the spire, ascending 332 steps up a spiral staircase. As my visit was spontaneous, I hadn’t booked it. If that interests you, you will have to make sure you book it in advance.
I have marked on the map where Salisbury Cathedral is and the original site of the cathedral in Old Sarum.
Have your say
Have you been to Salisbury Cathedral? What was your favourite bit? Did you take a tour of the tower?