Our Winter Ride: FINALE

Monday, December 14 (continued…)


In spite of being a bit cathedraled-out we nonetheless felt the need to see this city’s famous building. And, we truly lucked out when we met John O., a guide who answered our questions and offered a tour. With him this cathedral became illuminated with treasures and connecting points to other historical facts and figures.


As one would expect of a building this size, the grounds on which it sits ensures the cathedral maintains a prominent position in the city.

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When approaching the entry both Max and I noticed the face carvings that on closer inspection displayed tortured contortions. Welcome to Medieval Christianity.

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Once inside, the cathedral opens up into a huge central area (nave) leading to the choir area (quire) and ending at the altar with Trinity Chapel behind it. Sitting in the middle of the nave between the north and south transepts (perpindicular to the nave) is the spire, the largest of all of Britain’s cathedrals.


For the holiday season a huge tree stood at the entrance to the nave, which made the space less austere in its Gothic grandeur.

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Before we met our guide we began looking around and noticed a detailed model of the cathedral under construction. The display provided an excellent lesson on the coordinated activities required for each construction phase, helping us understand how these remarkable medieval craftsmen could create such a magnificent cathedral with relatively simple yet clever tools.

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We wandered towards the center of the aisle to a large modern fountain. The plaque identified it as a font commemorating the 750th anniversary of the cathedral in 2008. And, this leads to the truly astonishing fact that this impressive structure was built in only 38 years (1220-1258). What a feat considering most cathedrals at the time required up to 100 years.

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The font also provided a great photo op.

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When we met up with John we began our informative tour at the medieval clock, considered to be the world’s oldest working mechanical one (1386) and still running today. It keeps time by only striking the hour (no clock face with minutes is displayed).

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From there we saw the tomb of William Longespee (1176-1226), the first person to be buried in the cathedral.

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It retains some of its original color, painted over 800 years ago.

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What’s more interesting, though, is Longespee’s history. As the recognized illegitimate son of Henry II (the one of Dover Castle and husband to Eleanor of Aquitaine… the 1968 movie THE LION IN WINTER provides an interesting take on the history of these two), Longespee’s half-brothers were King Richard I aka Richard the Lion-Hearted (ruled 1189-99) and King John (ruled 1199-1216).

Through his marriage to the Countess of Salisbury, he became an Earl (3rd one of Salisbury). He served under both of his half-brothers, fighting alongside Richard in Normandy and later holding appointed positions under John. He was John’s advisor during the 1215 Magna Carta negotiations and one of the reasons one of the four original copies resides at this cathedral.

Magna Carta British Library Cotton MS Augustus II 106

In spite of John’s putting his seal on the Magna Carta June 15th 1215, he renounced clause number 61, which provided 25 barons the power to over-rule the King. This set in motion the First Barons’ War (1215-17) to which the French added their two cents. John died during the war and his son, Henry III, was crowned King. I won’t go into any more detail but the lead-up to the Barons’ rebellion is fascinating. As one writer put it, there was a perfect storm composed of land, power, women, religion, and money (http://www.thamespathway.com/chapter9/runnymede-and-magna-carta.aspx).

William Longespee supported the young king and continued to wield influence both in administrative and military positions. He was rumored to have been poisoned by Hubert de Burgh (as chief political and justice official for Henry III perhaps he was jealous of Longespee’s influence over the young king?) and upon opening his tomb in 1791 remnants of a rat was found inside his skull carrying traces of arsenic. Lovely story but could be just a story as opposed to a true story.

During our time in the cathedral a boys choir was rehearsing,

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and, at one point, John asked us to sit and just listen to the singing. He mentioned it was his favorite carol, “Abide with me”, one of Max’s favorites as well.

Continuing on we entered a small chapel where the only remaining carved symbol (the pomegranate and the rose) of Katharine of Aragon and Henry VIII still rests on the ceiling (all others in the country were replaced by Anne Boleyn’s falcon). Tucked away in a little side chapel evidently it wasn’f found by Henry VIII’s smashing squad.

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There were other tombs such as the Shrine Tomb of St. Osmund, the first Bishop of Salisbury, who died in 1099 and was made a saint in 1457),

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the tomb of John, Lord Cheney (1442-99, served as bodyguard to Edward IV, Richard III and Henry VII during the War of the Roses),

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and Edward Seymour (1561-16120 and wife Lady Catherine Grey (1540-68), younger sister of the nine-days-queen, Lady Jane Grey (both Grey stories are tragic). I won’t go into Catherine’s life story here but did discover there’s an Ipswich connection:  because she married Edward secretly without her cousin Queen Elizabeth I’s permission, Catherine tried to get help in pleading her case. The place she did so was in Ipswich (!) when the court was on progress (when a ruler toured his/her realm).


Our tour with John ended in the Chapter House where Salisbury’s original copy of the Magna Carta resided.

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John also pointed out the intricate needle-pointed cushions sitting atop the stone seats against the walls , several of which were created by his wife.

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We left the Chapter House walking out into the open-air corridor surrounding the Cloisters, the largest of the British cathedrals and designed for processions.

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Must say our tour of Salisbury Cathedral was another major highlight of our Winter Ride thanks to the considerable knowledge and warm welcome we received at the hands of our gracious guide John. He certainly added some wonderful Christmas spirit to our December in the UK.

Our Winter Ride finale ended with candlelit singing in St. Martin’s Church, reputedly the oldest building in Salisbury (mentioned in a 1091 document). Named after the earliest settlement of Salisbury, the Sarum Voices choir beautifully highlighted ethereal notes with their a cappella singing. sarum voices

May there be peace on earth and joy in everyone’s lives.


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