COVID-19 update: The cathedral is open for worship, please check service listings for more details. While the cathedral is currently closed for general visits or tours, we remain open for private prayer and reflection - find out more.
Do take time to visit our historic Close. Lying at the spiritual and physical heart of Winchester, it’s a large, tranquil green space in a densely built-up city, much of it sheltered behind ancient flint and stone walls. It’s also a busy pedestrian thoroughfare linking the town to Winchester College and the lush water meadows that lie beyond.
This picturesque Elizabethan timber-framed building next to the Close Gate, with its towering gables and leaded windows, once served as the Bishop of Winchester’s courthouse. The long timber-framed building next to it dates from 1479 and was once the priory’s stable block.
These four imposing Norman arches are one of the few remaining traces of the monastery buildings swept away in the Dissolution. They were once part of the monastery’s chapter house, where the monks met daily to hear a reading from St Benedict and deal with business matters.
To the right of the Cathedral’s imposing west front, a narrow pedestrian passage leads through a buttress from the outer to the inner close. Built by Bishop Curle in 1632, the archway created a new outdoor route between the two areas – before that, pedestrians had to walk through the Cathedral. A Latin epigram nearby commemorates the separation of ‘those who would worship and those who would walk.’
Easily recognised by its superb 13th-century vaulted porch with its pointed arches, this building was once the medieval prior’s lodgings. It was substantially rebuilt in the 17th century, but its fine ‘Prior’s Hall’, once his Great Chamber, retains a magnificent timber roof dating from 1459.
In the Inner Close you’ll find a striking modernist sculpture by one of the 20th-century’s great sculptors, Yorkshire-born artist Barbara Hepworth: Construction (Crucifixion): Homage to Mondrian. Created in 1966, its spare, geometric bronze form and bright painted colours suggest the shape of Christ’s Cross and show her debt to the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian.
The north part of the Cathedral’s grassy inner close was once the main cloister of St Swithun’s Priory, off which lay the monks’ dormitory and chapter house. To the south, behind the monks’ refectory, was a smaller cloister with an infirmary to care for aged monks. Beyond that was a more public outer court with a guest-house and stabling for visitors.
A large crowded graveyard once filled the open area between the Cathedral and the town. This was cleared in the 19th century and later became the much-loved public space it is today. To the east, behind some railings, you’ll find the excavated site of the Saxon Old Minster and the New Minster that replaced it.
In 1310, St Swithun’s Priory erected a guesthouse for its many visitors, known since Victorian times as the ‘Pilgrims’ Hall’. Its magnificent timber roof is England’s earliest surviving example of ‘hammer-beam’ construction, complete with splendid carved heads, one of which may be the young King Edward II.
Founded in 1931, this preparatory school for boys aged 4 to 13 is based in a fine late 17th-century redbrick house in the Inner Close. It is also one of the major choir schools in the UK, educating both our own Cathedral Choristers and the Quiristers of Winchester College’s chapel choir.
This fine wisteria-clad late 15th-century gate with its two massive iron-studded oak gates once gave access to the ‘working’ courtyard of the medieval priory, including a guest-house and stabling for visitors. It’s still closed up every evening. The gate is topped by a tiny room, originally part of the organist’s house.
Directly opposite the main entrance to the Cathedral, you’ll find our striking modern Visitors’ Centre, built 1991-93 to house the Cathedral Refectory, Shop and Box Office. Its award-winning contemporary design, large terrace with Cathedral views and pretty walled garden all make it a great place to meet.