May 4, 2018
Categorised in: History
To celebrate our upcoming Stone Festival, we have been investigating some of the mysteries and people behind the stones of the cathedral and the stories they tell, to find out more about this incredible building.
The fourth part of the series takes a journey in the footsteps of the Anglo Saxon Kings and Saints and what they saw of the cathedral stones.
Before the Winchester Cathedral building as we know it today was built, a much smaller building known as Old Minster stood on the site. Built in 648 AD for King Cenwalh and Saint Birinus, Old Minster became the first Christian church in Winchester. It was an incredibly important building for both religious leaders and royalty, as both King Alfred the Great and Saint Swithun of Winchester were buried there. The remains of Saint Swithun’s grave can be seen today in the outline of the original building that lies to the north of the cathedral.
Old Minster was made from re-used Roman stone and had an arched walkway that connected it to the Royal Palace that lay opposite it. It also had a small tower that was dedicated to St Martin. Soon after the building’s completion, it was made a cathedral church with its own diocese.
During the reign of King Alfred, a church named New Minster was commissioned, and completed by his son, Edward the Elder. Legend has it that it was built so close to Old Minster that each church’s choir had to compete be heard during services. In order to rival the larger Old Minster, New Minsters’ building contained a large bell tower. It was said to be six storeys tall and covered in rich, decorative carvings.
Old Minster and New Minster were both destroyed when the Norman cathedral was built. Many of the Kings and Bishops who had been buried there were exhumed and placed in the new cathedral. The site of Old Minster was excavated in the 1960s and a brick outline can be seen of the original building outside the cathedral today.
Illustrations by Simon Hayfield (2006)