Salisbury Cathedral

sights / Religious

Salisbury Cathedral information

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England is endowed with countless stunning churches, but few can hold a candle to the grandeur and sheer spectacle of Salisbury Cathedral. Built between 1220 and 1258, the structure bears all the hallmarks of the early English Gothic style, with an elaborate exterior decorated with pointed arches and flying buttresses, and a sombre, austere interior designed to keep its congregation suitably pious.

Beyond the highly decorative West Front , a small passageway leads into the 70m-long nave, lined with handsome pillars of Purbeck stone. In the north aisle look out for a fascinating medieval clock dating from 1386, probably the oldest working timepiece in the world. At the eastern end of the ambulatory the glorious Prisoners of Conscience stained-glass window (1980) hovers above the ornate tomb of Edward Seymour (1539–1621) and Lady Catherine Grey. Other monuments and tombs line the sides of the nave, including that of William Longespée, son of Henry II and half-brother of King John. When the tomb was excavated a well-preserved rat was found inside Longespée's skull.

The cathedral really comes into its own during evensong , which takes place at 5.30pm Monday to Saturday and 3pm on Sunday, during term time only.

Salisbury's 123m crowning glory, its spire , was added in the mid-14th century, and is the tallest one in Britain. It represented an enormous technical challenge for its medieval builders; it weighs around 6500 tons and required an elaborate system of cross-bracing, scissor arches and supporting buttresses to keep it upright. Look closely and you'll see that the additional weight has buckled the four central piers of the nave.

Sir Christopher Wren surveyed the cathedral in 1668 and calculated that the spire was leaning by 75cm. A brass plate in the floor of the nave is used to measure any shift, but no further lean was recorded in 1951 or 1970. Despite this, reinforcement of the notoriously 'wonky spire' continues to this day.

Salisbury Cathedral's Chapter House is home to one of only four surviving original copies of the Magna Carta , the historic agreement made between King John and his barons in 1215 that acknowledged the fundamental principle that the monarch was not above the law. It's a still-powerful document; beautifully written and remarkably well preserved.

The best way to experience the cathedral, is on a 90-minute tower tour ; these see you climbing 332 vertigo-inducing steps to the base of the spire for jaw-dropping views across the city and the surrounding countryside. Bookings are required.