May 18, 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 sixth part of the series takes a journey in the footsteps of the Monks and what they saw of the cathedral stones.
Up until the reformation in the 1530s, monks were a large part of early cathedral life. Founded in the 600s, St Swithun’s Priory provided the clergy for Old Minster. The monastery thrived over the centuries, even surviving Viking attacks in 860 and 879. When the Normans invaded and built a new cathedral, the monastery continued to be an important part of the Cathedral.
The life of the monks involved many different parts of the cathedral, and were always eventful. One legend goes that the monks were instructed to pray at St Swithun’s shrine whenever he performed a posthumous miracle. When this started to occur three or four times per night, however, many of the monks decided to stop going. This went on until St. Swithun appeared to someone in a dream, telling them that if they stopped going to church, the miracles would stop. This person warned the monks about their dream, and the monks finally caved in and continued praying.
During the reign of King Henry VIII, the monastery was disbanded and many of its buildings completely destroyed. Fortunately, some of the structures survived and remain to this day.
The first of these is the Pilgrims’ Hall, which still stands today. Now part of the Pilgrims School, the hall was originally built in 1310 as a guesthouse for the many visitors to St Swithun’s Priory. From the outside, you can see the gorgeous brick work and ancient timber beams. The roof is the oldest surviving example of ‘hammer-beam’ construction in England.
In the cathedral’s inner close, you can see the remains of the chapter house arcade. These soaring Norman arches were once part of the monastery’s chapter house, where the monks would meet daily to hear readings from St Benedict and discuss various matters of business. These arches are some of the only traces left of the original Norman monastery buildings.
The last remaining site where you can see the remains of the priory is Dean Garnier’s Garden. This beautiful garden stands on the site of the monks’ communal dormitory. On the southeast side was the monks’ wash place. Their lavatory stood over part of the Lockburn stream, a medieval channel that acted as Winchester’s only main drain until the 1870s. The garden was created in the 1990s to commemorate Dean Thomas Garnier, who was the dean of Winchester Cathedral from 1840-1872.
Take a walk around the Cathedral’s Inner Close to find these spots and imagine what life would have been like for the monks who lived there 500 years ago.