#IfWallsCouldTalk Part 2: Gravestones

April 20, 2018

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To celebrate our upcoming Stone Festival, we have been investigating some of the mysteries behind the stones of the cathedral and the stories they tell, to find out more about this incredible building. The second part of this series looks into the gravestones that lay in the Cathedral.

Lost Gravestones

Some of the most common things that have been lost over the centuries are gravestones and burial sites. Bishop Walkelin, founder of Winchester Cathedral and first Bishop of Winchester, died in 1098 and is said to have been buried in the nave. Similarly, his successor Bishop William Giffard was also said to be buried in the nave, but neither Bishops’ memorial stones nor burial sites are marked today.

It’s not only gravestones that can get lost, but the bodies themselves. In the 18th century, a Dr Charles Layfield prepared a burial place for himself in the Lady Chapel and installed a memorial stone with the inscription:

In the year of our Redemption 1705, and of his age 58,
Charles Lay field placed this empty monument,
Prepared, in his lifetime, as his future sepulchre.
But if it should be God’s will that his bones should rest elsewhere,
Then let this stone record at least his name.

However, although Dr Layfield died in 1715, his burial is not recorded in any Cathedral ledgers. His memorial stone has been moved from the Lady Chapel and can be found today in the pavement of the retrochoir, but his final resting place is unknown.

There are many other similar stories in the Cathedral and the best way to find out about them is to ask one of our expert guides when you next visit Winchester Cathedral.

Famous Graves

The most famous mystery that surrounds the graves of Winchester Cathedral is that of King Alfred the Great’s final resting place. When King Alfred died in 899, he was buried in Old Minster, the original church that stood on the site of the cathedral. His bones were moved to Hyde Abbey in 1110, but were lost when the abbey was destroyed during the reformation. His remains have never been found, and the mystery of where they might lie still puzzles archaeologists and historians to this day.

Another famous gravestone that lies in the Cathedral is that of Author Jane Austen. Interestingly, when the gravestone was laid in 1817, it didn’t mention her books. A plaque was later erected in 1872 detailing her achievements, and a memorial window was also added in 1900.

Memento Mori

Have you ever seen this symbol on a gravestone in the Cathedral?

The skull and crossbones stone carving is traditionally known, a memento mori. There is a lot of mystery behind these carvings, as the history behind them is unclear. Some say that it is simply a way of reminding people of their own mortality, but others claim that it was used on the graves of people who died of the plague, or that it was used for people with a connection to the Knights Templar. No one can know for sure what the true meaning behind this memento mori is, so it’s presence on this gravestone in the cathedral remains a mystery.


More details about Stone Festival 2018 can be found here.