Darlene Foster's Blog

Winchester Cathedral, You’re Breaking Me Down

Posted on: July 12, 2018


During a recent visit to the historic city of Winchester in Hampshire, I stopped in at the cathedral. My main goal was to visit the grave of Jane Austen, one of my favourite authors. I had been to Winchester a few years ago, but the cathedral was closed for filming the day I was there. This time it was open and I was finally able to pay my respects to Britain’s favourite female novelist.


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Nothing is mentioned of her writing on her gravestone. However, her family later had a brass plaque installed with these words.

Jane Austen

known to many by her writings

endeared to her family by

the varied charms of her character

and enobled by Christian faith and piety

was born at Steventon in the

county of Hampshire on 6 December 1775

and buried in this Cathedral

on 24 July 1817

She opened her mouth

with wisdom and in her tongue

is the law of kindness.

Prov 31.26

I was moved to see her final resting place as were others. A woman from Australia face-timed with her daughter back home and showed her Jane’s grave. Her daughter, another huge fan, was excited to be able to see it from afar. The wonders of modern technology.

I decided to join a guided tour of the rest of the cathedral while I was there and I’m so glad I did. The tour guide was incredibly knowledgeable and interesting. The building has over 1400 years of history. There has been a church on the site since 648. The building of the Norman cathedral took place from 1079  to 1093 with the nave being remodeled between 1350 to 1410.

Here are a few pictures from this amazing place of worship that holds many stories and has been through so much including a reformation, civil war, crumbling foundations – and yet still stands.


The 12th-century Tournal marble baptismal font depicts scenes from the life of Saint Nicholas (yes, that St. Nicholas, the original Santa Claus)

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The west window is particularly interesting. It had at one time been an amazing work of stained glass. During the civil war of 1642 – 1648, Oliver Cromwell’s army stormed the Royalist supporting cathedral, ripped open the graves of the ancient kings, queens and bishops and threw their bones and skulls through the window destroying most if it. Once the Roundheads left, the local citizens picked up the shards of glass and hid them. In 1660, the window was restored using the rescued shards, creating a modern mosaic look.


This is one of six mortuary chests containing the mortal remains of early bishops and kings including the famous Canute (Cnut) and his wife Queen Emma. Of course, the bones are all mixed up after the Roundheads threw them through the window. Forensic archeologists are only just now being able to sort out whose remains belong to who.


These twentieth-century paintings of icons by Sergi Fyodorov include one of Saint Swithun, patron saint of the cathedral. His remains at one time lay behind this wall and pilgrims would crawl through the Holy Hole, at the bottom of the picture, to be close to his bones.


Saint Swithun was the Saxon bishop of Winchester between 852 and 862. He was famous for charitable gifts and building churches and it is said he tutored the young Alfred the Great. Only one miracle is attributed to him. According to legend, a poor woman’s eggs had been smashed by workmen building a church. Swithun picked up the broken eggs and they miraculously became whole again. After his death, his bones became famous for their healing powers and pilgrims from all over visited his shrine.

He asked to be buried humbly and his grave was initially just outside the west door of the Old Minster so that people could walk across it and rain could fall on it as he wished. On 15 July 971 though, his remains were dug up and moved to a shrine in the cathedral. The removal was accompanied by terrible rainstorms that lasted 40 days and 40 nights and was thought to indicate the saint’s displeasure at being moved. This is possibly the origin of the legend that if it rains on Saint Swithun’s feast day, July 15, the rain will continue for 40 more days. His shrine and bones were destroyed during Henry VIII’s Reformation and dissolution of the monasteries in 1538. A modern memorial now marks the spot.

A Traditional Rhyme for St. Swithun’s Day 

St Swithun’s day if thou dost rain
For forty days it will remain
St Swithun’s day if thou be fair
For forty days ’twill rain na mair


Cardinal Henry Beaufort, bishop of Winchester 1404 to 1447


The original Norman Cathedral from 1079, the oldest part of the current church.


The impressive High Altar

The Cathedral has over a thousand roof bosses. These are carvings in wood or stone that cover the joints between the stone ribs of its vaulted ceilings. They range from simple 13th-century leaf designs, to elaborate Renaissance images of angels, animals and beasts, heraldic badges and emblems of Christ’s Passion. When visiting these places one must always remember to look up.


The oldest of the great medieval quires in England to survive unaltered with gorgeous carvings of human figures, animals and even the green man.


The amazing details in the ceilings



A copy of the Winchester Bible hangs on the wall.

Winchester Cathedral holds many treasures but probably the most precious is its 12th century Bible. It is said to be “largest and finest of all surviving 12th-century English bibles.” Henry of Blois, then Bishop of Winchester, came up with the idea in 1160. It is on display but under protection, carefully guarded and no pictures are allowed. It is truly beautiful to see. The Bible is made from the skins of 250 calves, that were soaked, scraped, shaved and stretched before they became suitable for use. Apparently, a single scribe wrote it out in Latin, a labour of love that took many years and was never completed.


I didn’t get a picture of the monument to William Walker but bought a card with his story.

Winchester Cathedral was built on unstable ground and after many centuries, the heavy stone structure started to lean dangerously. The cathedral was found to be sinking in water. An experienced ex-Royal Navy diver, William Walker was hired to excavate the peat under it and place bags of concrete on the gravel to seal off the water. It took him five years, from 1906 to 1911, in the dark and in a heavy diving suit, to shore up the cathedral. An incredible feat for which the cathedral today owes its existence. He is considered a hero.

If the walls of this cathedral could talk, my they would have a lot to say. Queen Mary was married to Philip of Spain in Winchester Cathedral on 25th July 1554. And much later, Queen Victoria refused to visit the cathedral as the Bishop of Winchester at the time did not approve of her marriage to her beloved Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. So many stories contained in these walls.

I couldn’t end this post without mentioning the New Vaudeville Band and their novelty song, Winchester Cathedral from 1966. Now the song will be in your head all day. Sorry.


60 Responses to "Winchester Cathedral, You’re Breaking Me Down"

Our cathedrals and even our churches are great places of our history. We discovered so much in the past couple of years, some things very significant but quite obscure such as Textus Rofensis as the forerunner of Magna Carta in Rochester. Good photos of your visit 👍

Just a few hours in Winchester cathedral and I learned so much. I think as one grows older, one is more aware of the details. At least that is how it is with me.

Same with us, part of the slowing down process!

And that’s a good thing!

It is a marvellous place, isn’t it? I haven’t been there for a good many years, but it is on my hit list… as are the prehistoric remains in the area 🙂

I took a page from you, Sue and paid more attention to the small details. I believe it was you who drew my attention to the Green Man. I could easily return and discover more.

He is a rather spectacular Green man, isn’t he? It is easy to get lost in the splendour of these places, but the stories are in the details 🙂

Yup, the tune was in my head the moment I saw your blog! One of my favourite cathedrals and like all of them too much to take in at one visit. We accidentally saw the crypt flooded with Anthony Gormley’s statue Sound 2 standing in the water – we hadn’t known about it and I’m not sure we were meant to be down there, we just opened a door… But we have not seen the Bible, that room was ‘closed’ the day we went in search of it! Thanks for another interesting tour.

I certainly would be happy to return. I didn’t get to see the crypt or the south transept as they were closed. A special display was set up with the bible. I believe they will be having a huge bible display and event in the library soon. Pleased you enjoyed this.

Yes, you did it. I’ll be hearing this now all day, but that’s okay! What an impressive cathedral. Love the story of the west window! And to see the final resting place of Jane Austen, how great is that!

Another thing off the list, to see Jane Austen’s grave. Sorry about the earworm. LOL

What an incredible building, with so much to see and gasp in awe at. Thank you for the story of St Swithun, I had no idea why he was associated with rain. Taking a tour of a place like Winchester Cathedral makes such a difference to a visit, and when the guide is interesting and informative it can really bring a place to life. It must have been wonderful for you to finally see your heroine’s gravestone.

It is an awesome building as are so many in Europe, full of history and stories. The tour was so worth it! My dream to visit JA’s final resting spot has come true. I was so disappointed when the cathedral was closed 12 years ago. One never knows if they will get back to these places.

I am also a huge fan of Jane Austen. I have not been to Winchester for such a long time, I must visit the Cathedral sometime it is so beautiful. Thanks for such a lovely post:)

I recall that you share my love for Jane Austen. I do hope you get back to visit the cathedral. Glad you enjoyed the post.

We have so many wonderful cathedrals!

I loved your tour of the cathedral. We worshiped there one Sunday. In fact, it was the first Sunday of Advent in 1981. I don’t think a tour was available that day. We did see Jane’s tomb, though. I wish we had gone back on a week day.

Thanks, Anne. How wonderful to have worshipped at this beautiful cathedral. I’m pleased you liked my tour.

It’s a long time since I was in Winchester Cathedral so I enjoyed this very much. My husband’s late father was the Dean of Winchester Cathedral years ago. Somewhere we have a piece of wood from the original foundations!

Glad this brought back some memories, Mary. How cool that your father-in-law was part of the Winchester Cathedral clergy and that you have a piece of it!

What an incredible place! I’ve never been there, so thank you for sharing the photos and stories!

So pleased you enjoyed this post.

The violence perpetrated within in these walls belies the lilting tune from YouTube. Blessings on William Walker and others who have worked to keep the cathedral from total ruin. Wonderful post, Darlene!

It is sad that among all the happy events that have taken place such as weddings, baptisms, singing and worship services, there is also the violent history. But there are always the heroes. Glad you enjoyed the post.

What an interesting post, Darlene! If walls could talk indeed. I am delighted you finally got to see the resting place of your literary heroine and I read yesterday that a new TV series of her last novel is in the making, which made me think of you.
Shame about all those graves being dug up and the bones destroyed or mixed up. What a job to put them all together again, a bit like Humpty Dumpty! And the Bible: what an amazing labour of love!
Thank you for sharing all these fascinating stories with us. 👍❤

It was another dream come true to visit Jane’s grave. There are so many stories within those walls. Happy to hear that you enjoyed the few I shared.

Lovely post, Darlene. You’ve covered it all so well. I have fond memories of visiting Winchester, ancient capital of Wessex, but haven’t been for years – and, of course, it is on the ever-growing list for ABAB. I must confess that ‘A’ level English ruined Jane Austen for me, though, as long as you don’t tell anybody else, I did enjoy a re-watching of ‘Pride & Prejudice the other week and should really give the girl another go!

English classes have ruined the enjoyment of many a good writer. I, fortunately, didn’t read Jane Austen until I was in my late 20s. Winchester would be perfect for ABAB and I thought of you as I visited. Pleased you liked my coverage of the cathedral.

Beautiful photos! This place looks amazing. I would love to visit someday. Thanks for sharing ♥️ ♥️ Hope you can check out our Instagram Auditor at Phlanx.com, where it helps you check your Instagram account for fake followers and likes!


I do hope you have an opportunity to visit someday. Thanks for stopping in.

Yes, look up. Good advice, and look at all that you saw! Absolutely stunning, Darlene. I love the story of the shards of glass, and Saint Nicholas on the baptismal font. Thank you.

I did see a lot and was glad I took the time to discover the details. So many stories. Something for everyone.

You are so right, Darlene! Very much to see, and something for everyone. 🙂

Darlene, so many stories indeed! Not surprising with 1400 years history – I loved hearing the snippets about this glorious cathedral. It was touching to read about the saved stained glass windows, later given back to recreate the original. I had no idea Jane Austen was buried here – I am more keen than ever to visit. You detailed descriptions and wonderful photos take us right along with you – thank you so much for sharing!

I do hope you get to visit as it is certainly worth it. They were not able to recreate the original window from the shards so they made it a hodgepodge which looks like a mosaic and is quite effective. The picture doesn’t really show it well. Pleased you enjoyed the post, Annika.

That makes more sense about the window … I was wondering how they could replicate the original. I’m even more intrigued to see it myself!

It is really sad that people like Oliver Cromwell and Hitler did so much damage to the historical sites of England. It is amazing how others salvaged things and rallied.

I feel the same. And don’t forget Henry VIII. He was responsible for so much damage when he dissolved the monasteries. Not to mention the looting to line his pockets. The common folks are often the heroes.

I hope to get there one day. Such beauty and so much history!

I do hope you get to visit as you would just love it!!

Another spectacular share Darlene. Thank you. And now I hope I get that song out of my head LOL 🙂

Glad you enjoyed the post. Sorry, about the song!!

Lolllllllllllllll!!! 🙂

Thanks for sharing Darlene, I very much enjoyed the visit to the Cathedral. So much history to explore.

You are so welcome! These places are so full of history.

Hi Darlene, Thank you so much for leaving your link at the SeniorSalon. Please share and invite your Fellow Bloggers to also participate and if you have a moment, please check out some of the other posts left and share as well. Thanks and I look forward to seeing you again.

You are welcome, Esme and thank you for continuing Senior Salon.

A lovely post, Darlene, full of interesting history about both Jane Austen and the cathedral itself. Though I’ve never really understood why the man in the song blamed the cathedral for bringing him down and losing his girl – magic powers being attributed to its bell, I think!

Thanks, Clive. I could never quite understand the connection either but it did always make me want to visit the place!! Thanks for visiting my blog.

I guess it just scanned well! They also had a hit with a song about Finchley Central (a London Underground station) – but that doesn’t have a glorious history behind it!

They were a unique band. Us kids in North America thought they were just wonderful.

Oh my goodness my birthday is 24th of July… i now have something in common with Jane Austen. I came by way of Esme’s blue frog and am thrilled that I did. A super informative tour and I hummed the song all the way

You were born on the day Jane Austen was buried, how special. (she died on July 18th). I´m so glad you found me here. I love to write about the wonderful places I have been to. That song does stick in your head, but it is a good one. Thanks for the visit and kind words.

[…] Winchester Cathedral, You’re Breaking Me Down shared by Darlene […]

[…] wrote about my recent visit to Winchester Cathedral here, the final resting place of Jane Austen and King Canute as well as other notables. I spent a couple […]

The story about the Roundheads, the bones, and the window strikes me as particularly fascinating. I can be a bit of a snob about tours (I won’t try to justify that–it just seems to be an attitude I’m stuck with) but when I have made myself join one, it’s been fascinating. As yours seems to have been.

There are good tours and not so good tours and I have been on both but this one was excellent. I do find I learn more if I go on a tour and I ask a lot of questions!

The cathedral is stunning! We were just in England and I had planned to visit Jane’s childhood home but we ran out of time (and my son was less than interested). What a lovely place to be in rest!

It is a perfect place for Jane’s resting place. I have been to her home in Chawton, where she lived at the end of her life and where she wrote most of her books. Alas, her childhood home at Steventon is no longer standing so there wouldn’t have been anything to see anyway. Thanks for the comment.

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