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David Ford, History EditorTours > Winchester Cathedral

Tour the Winchester Cathedral
by David Nash Ford BA, Editor, History on Britannia

Old Minster

The Old Minster, excavated in the 1960's, appears now only as a brick outline on the grounds to the north of the existing cathedral building. The outline marks the site of the first church to appear here, built by King Cenwalh of Wessex in the mid-7th century. Cenwalh felt that Winchester would be a more advantageous location for the administration of his kingdom, than Dorchester. In the 670's, Bishop Haeddi ordered his throne (or cathedra; a Latin word from which we derive our word, cathedral) transferred to Winchester, which had the effect of consolidating both political and ecclesiastical control of the kingdom in one place. Many of the rulers of ancient Wessex were buried here, and their bones now lie in Mortuary Chests in the choir of the cathedral.

In the 960's, monks of the Benedictine Order were introduced, and the Old Minster served as both monastery and cathedral church (a form known as a "cathedral priory" unknown outside of England). The Old Minster was enlarged by Bishop Ethelwold and by 1000 AD, was one of England's largest Anglo Saxon churches. Shortly after the Conquest, though, the new Norman Bishop Wakelin was given the responsibility of building a completely new romanesque-style (Norman) cathedral (parts of which are still visible, today, mainly in the north and south transepts). In 1079 construction began and by 1093, the Old Minster was demolished, leaving only the outline of its foundations behind.

Next Stop: Nave

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