From saints to novelists, divers and other prominent figures, you can find out more about some of them, and how they became connected to the Cathedral, below.
Jane Austen is now celebrated as one of England’s greatest novelists, but when she was buried in the Cathedral in 1817 at the age of 41, her original memorial stone made no mention of her books. You can read the brass plaque erected in 1872 to redress the omission in the north side aisle.
The life of St Swithun, an Anglo-Saxon bishop, is rich in legend. A century after his death in 863, he was chosen as patron saint for the Cathedral’s Benedictine monastery. His bones, housed in a splendid reliquary, became famed for their healing powers. His cult lasted until the Reformation, when all traces of his shrine were swept away.
Why is St Swithun is most widely known for his association with rain?
Legend suggests that Swithun was so dismayed at his translation from a ‘humble’ grave (which was his request) to the high altar in Old Minster, that 40 days of rain ensued. The legend has grown over the centuries, possibly due to the mistranslation of Wulfstan’s poem, (which you can see on the fabric of the shrine marker in the East End of the cathedral), whereby it is thought that if it rains on 15th July, we could be in store for 40 days of rain.
When huge cracks started to appear in the early 1900s, the Cathedral seemed in danger of complete collapse. Early efforts to underpin its waterlogged foundations failed until William Walker, a deep-sea diver, worked under water every day for six years placing bags of concrete. You’ll find a small statue of him at the far end of the Cathedral.
Famed during his life as a biographer, Izaak Walton is now remembered for his much-loved treatise on the joys of fishing, The Compleat Angler. You can see his grave and stained glass image in the Chapel of St John the Evangelist and the Fisherman Apostles – visited by anglers from all over the world.
In 1876 Mary Sumner, a clergyman’s wife living in nearby Old Alresford, became concerned about how local mothers related their Christian faith to family life. Wishing to encourage them, she founded a small group called the Mothers’ Union. She lived to see it become a worldwide organisation, now with millions of members. She is buried outside Winchester Cathedral.
In 1869, Josephine Butler, a clergyman’s wife then living in Liverpool, agreed to spearhead a campaign against state inspection of women suspected of being prostitutes for venereal diseases. By the time her husband George was appointed a Residentiary Canon of Winchester Cathedral in 1882, she had turned her work towards the eradication of sex trafficking across the world, but also made time to found a refuge for recovered prostitutes in Winchester.
2018 marked the centenary of the end of the First World War, and also of the visit of a certain Bill Wilson to Winchester Cathedral. A young officer sent from America to fight in the trenches, Bill survived the war and went on to write one of the world’s best-selling books – the “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous. And on the first page he recounted the story of his wartime visit to the Cathedral. Today people from all over the world make the trip to see the grave of Thomas Thetcher which inspired him.