In 635 A.D Cynegils King of the West Saxons was baptised, his son Cenwalh built the first Christian church ten years later in Winchester, centre of Anglo Saxon Wessex.
This small cross shaped church known as Old Minster, the footprint of which can still be seen today north of the present building.
Old Minster became a cathedral housing a throne (cathedra) of a bishop whose huge diocese stretched from the English Channel to the river Thames. This was the most important royal church in Anglos Saxon England and was the burial place for some of the kings of Wessex including Alfred the Great, also King Canute is here with his wife Queen Emma.
By the 10th century Old Minster was the priory church to a community on Benedictine monks.
The church was made bigger and grander by it’s 10th century bishop Aethelwold, the bones of St Swithan a former bishop were dug up from the forecourt and re-housed in a new shrine within the church. St Swithans fame spread far and wide, all around his tomb were hung the crutches of the people he’d healed.
By the year 1000 A.D. Old Minster was a multi purpose building, a cathedral, a priory church, a place of pilgrimage and the final resting place of Saxon kings.
Things changed with the arrival of the Normans. William once crowned at Westminster replaced the last Saxon bishop with his own chaplain Walkelin.
The French bishop then began a huge building project replacing the Old Minster with a new church in the Norman Romanesque style.
After 450 years Old Minster was demolished and it’s stones were used in the new cathedral which was consecrated in 1093 A.D.
The Norman cathedral flourished and William Rufus the Conquerers son was buried here in 1100 A.D.
Sumptuous new art works were commissioned, a font celebrating St Nicholas and the famous Winchester Bible both of which can still be seen at the cathedral.
Over the next three centuries wealthy and powerful bishops added to or remodelled various bits of the building. They also commissioned their own chapels were priests would say daily masses over their tombs to speed their souls to heaven. Again these lovely chantry chapels can still be seen at the cathedral.
During the dissolution of the monasteries even the great cathedral of Winchester did not escape unscathed, the Benedictine monastery St Swithans Priory came to an end and the shrine to it’s patron saint was ransacked under the cover of darkness of course and it’s cloister was demolished.
It saw a brief revival under Mary Tudor who married her Spanish husband here, but from then on it came under the auspices of the Church of England.
The 20th century saw much needed restoration work including new stone statues for the huge 15th century Great Screen behind the alter. The cathedral bought a huge organ displayed at the Great Exhibition of 1851 and had it cut down to fit. By the early 1900’s there were fears that the east end of the building would collapse after centuries of subsidence. A deep sea diver named William Walker worked under water in a trench cut under the cathedral but also below the water table for six years in total darkness placing bags of concrete to stabilise the building, he is commemorated by a small statue in the cathedral.