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Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Salisbury
Cathedral of Saint Mary
Salisbury Cathedral from the East
Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Salisbury is located in Wiltshire
Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Salisbury
Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Salisbury
Location within Wiltshire
Coordinates: 51°03′53″N 1°47′51″W / 51.06472°N 1.79750°W / 51.06472; -1.79750
Location Salisbury, Wiltshire
Country England
Denomination Church of England
Previous denomination Catholic Church
Churchmanship Anglo-Catholic
Previous cathedrals 2
Architect(s) Richard Poore; Elias of Dereham
Style Early English Gothic
Years built 1220–1320
Groundbreaking 1220; 802 years ago (1220)
Length 442 feet (135 m)
Nave length 234 feet (71 m)
Nave width 78 feet (24 m)
Choir height 84 feet (26 m)
Number of towers 1
Tower height 225 feet (69 m) (without spire)
Number of spires 1
Spire height 404 feet (123 m)
Diocese Salisbury (since 1220)
Province Canterbury
Bishop(s) vacant
Dean Nicholas Papadopulos
Precentor Anna Macham
Canon Chancellor Ed Probert
Canon Treasurer Robert Titley
Organist(s) John Challenger, David Halls
Chapter clerk Jackie Molnar
Lay member(s) of chapter Jane Barker
Luke March
Lydia Brown
Eugenie Turton

Salisbury Cathedral, formally the Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is an Anglican cathedral in Salisbury, England. The cathedral is the mother church of the Diocese of Salisbury and is the seat of the Bishop of Salisbury.

The building is regarded as one of the leading examples of Early English Gothic architecture. Its main body was completed in 38 years, from 1220 to 1258.

The spire, built in 1320, at 404 feet (123 m), has been the tallest church spire in the United Kingdom since 1561. Visitors can take the "Tower Tour", in which the interior of the hollow spire, with its ancient wooden scaffolding, can be viewed. The cathedral has the largest cloister and the largest cathedral close in Britain at 80 acres (32 ha). It contains a clock which is among the oldest working examples in the world, and has the best surviving of the four original copies of Magna Carta. In 2008, the cathedral celebrated the 750th anniversary of its consecration.


Richard Poore
Sculpture on the west front of the cathedral of Bishop Richard Poore who oversaw the early years of its construction, beginning in 1220. He is holding a model of the cathedral
Salisbury cathedral plan
Plan showing the double transepts with aisles and extended east end, but not the cloisters or chapter house

As a response to deteriorating relations between the clergy and the military at Old Sarum Cathedral, the decision was taken to resite the cathedral and the bishopric was moved to Salisbury. The move occurred during the tenure of Bishop Richard Poore, a wealthy man who donated the land on which it was built. The new cathedral was paid for by donations, principally from the canons and vicars of southeast England who were asked to contribute a fixed annual sum until it was completed. A legend tells that the Bishop of Old Sarum shot an arrow in the direction he would build the cathedral; but the arrow hit a deer that died in the place where Salisbury Cathedral is now. The cathedral crossing, Old Sarum and Stonehenge are reputed to be aligned on a ley line, though Clive L.N. Ruggles asserts that the site, on marshland, was chosen because a preferred site several miles to the west could not be obtained.

The foundation stone was laid on 28 April 1220. Much of the freestone for the cathedral came from Teffont Evias quarries. As a result of the high water table in the new location, the cathedral was built on only four feet of foundations, and by 1258 the nave, transepts and choir were complete. The only major sections built later were the cloisters in 1240, the chapter house in 1263, the tower and spire, which at 404 feet (123 m) dominated the skyline from 1320. Because most of the cathedral was built in only 38 years, it has a single consistent architectural style, Early English Gothic.

Although the spire is the cathedral's most impressive feature, it has proved to be troublesome. Together with the tower, it added 6,397 tons (6,500 tonnes) to the weight of the building. Without the addition of buttresses, bracing arches and anchor irons over the succeeding centuries, it would have suffered the fate of spires on later great ecclesiastical buildings (such as Malmesbury Abbey) and fallen down; instead, Salisbury remains the tallest church spire in the UK. The large supporting pillars at the corners of the spire are seen to bend inwards under the stress. The addition of reinforcing tie beams above the crossing, designed by Christopher Wren in 1668, arrested further deformation. The beams were hidden by a false ceiling, installed below the lantern stage of the tower.

Significant changes to the cathedral were made by the architect James Wyatt in 1790, including replacement of the original rood screen and demolition of a bell tower which stood about 320 feet (100 m) northwest of the main building. Salisbury is one of only three English cathedrals to lack a ring of bells, the others being Norwich Cathedral and Ely Cathedral. However it does strike the time every 15 minutes with bells. In total, 70,000 tons of stone, 3,000 tons of timber and 450 tons of lead were used in the construction of the cathedral.

Building and architecture

West front

The west front is of the screen-type, clearly deriving from that at Wells. It is composed of two stair turrets at each extremity, with two niched buttresses nearer the centre line supporting the large central triple window. The stair turrets are topped with spirelets and the central section is topped by a gable which contains four lancet windows topped by two round quatrefoil windows surmounted by a mandorla containing Christ in Majesty. At ground level there is a principal door flanked by two smaller doors. The whole is highly decorated with quatrefoil motifs, columns, trefoil motifs and bands of diapering. The west front was almost certainly constructed at the same time as the cathedral. This is apparent from the way in which the windows coincide with the interior spaces. The entire façade is about 33 metres high and wide. It has been said that the front was built on a scale smaller than was initially planned. It lacks full-scale towers and/or spires as can be seen, for example at Wells, Lincoln, Lichfield, etc. The facade is disparaged by Alec Clifton-Taylor, who comments that it is the least successful of the English screen-facades and is a travesty of its prototype (Wells). He finds the composition to be unco-ordinated, and the Victorian statuary "poor and insipid".

The front accommodates over 130 shallow niches of varying sizes, 73 of these niches contains a statue. The line of niches extend round the turrets to the north, south and east faces. There are five levels of niches (not including the mandorla) which show, from the top, angels and archangels, Old Testament patriarchs, apostles and evangelists, martyrs, doctors and philosophers and, on the lower level, royalty, priests and worthy people connected with the cathedral. The majority of the statues were placed during the middle of the 19th century, however seven are from the 14th century and several have been installed within the last decade.


Salisbury Cathedral Nave, Wiltshire, UK - Diliff
The nave

Salisbury Cathedral is unusual for its tall and narrow nave, and has visual accentuation due to the use of light grey Chilmark stone for the walls and dark polished Purbeck marble for the columns. It has three levels: a tall pointed arcade, an open gallery and a small clerestory. Lined up between the pillars are notable tombs such as that of William Longespée, half brother of King John and the illegitimate son of Henry II, who was the first person to be buried in the cathedral.

Chapter house and Magna Carta

The chapter house is notable for its octagonal shape, slender central pillar and decorative medieval frieze. It was redecorated in 1855-9 by William Burges. The frieze circles the interior above the stalls and depicts scenes and stories from the books of Genesis and Exodus, including Adam and Eve, Noah, the Tower of Babel, and Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The chapter house also displays the best-preserved of the four surviving original copies of Magna Carta. This copy came to Salisbury because Elias of Dereham, who was present at Runnymede in 1215, was given the task of distributing some of the original copies. Elias later became a canon of Salisbury and supervised the construction of the cathedral.

Depictions in art, literature and film

Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop Grounds c.1825
Salisbury Cathedral by John Constable, ca. 1825.

Paintings and other artistical objects

The cathedral is the subject of famous paintings by John Constable. As a gesture of appreciation for John Fisher, the Bishop of Salisbury, who commissioned this painting, Constable included the bishop and his wife in the canvas (bottom left). The view depicted in the paintings has changed very little in almost two centuries.

The cathedral is also the subject of William Golding's novel The Spire which deals with the fictional Dean Jocelin who makes the building of the spire his life's work. The construction of the cathedral is an important plot point in Edward Rutherfurd's historical novel Sarum, which explores the historical settlement of the Salisbury area. The cathedral has been mentioned by the author Ken Follett as one of two models for the fictional Kingsbridge Cathedral in his historical novel The Pillars of the Earth. It was also used for some external shots in the 2010 miniseries based on Follett's book and was shown as it is today in the final scene. The cathedral was the setting for the 2005 BBC television drama Mr. Harvey Lights a Candle, written by Rhidian Brook and directed by Susanna White. Kevin McCloud climbed the cathedral in his programme called Don't Look Down! in which he climbed high structures to conquer his fear of heights. The cathedral was the subject of a Channel 4 Time Team programme which was first broadcast on 8 February 2009.

Salisbury Cathedral, medieval clock
The medieval clock


The Salisbury cathedral clock dating from about AD 1386 is supposedly the oldest working modern clock in the world. The clock has no face because all clocks of that date rang out the hours on a bell. It was originally located in a bell tower that was demolished in 1792. Following this demolition, the clock was moved to the Cathedral Tower where it was in operation until 1884. The clock was then placed in storage and forgotten until it was discovered in 1929, in an attic of the cathedral. It was repaired and restored to working order in 1956. In 2007 remedial work and repairs were carried out to the clock.

Dean and chapter

  • Dean – The Very Revd June Osborne (since 1 May 2004 installation)
  • Precentor – The Revd Canon Tom Clammer (since 29 April 2012 installation)
  • Chancellor – The Revd Canon Ed Probert (since 4 April 2004 installation)
  • Treasurer – The Revd Canon Robert Titley (since November 2015 installation)


Catedral de Salisbury, Salisbury, Inglaterra, 2014-08-12, DD 35-37 HDR
The north transept, Salisbury Cathedral, Salisbury

Among the people buried in the cathedral, the most famous is probably Sir Edward Heath KG MBE (1916–2005), who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1970 to 1974 and as a member of parliament from 1950 to 2001, and who lived in the Cathedral Close for the last twenty years of his life.

Other burials
  • William Longespée, 3rd Earl of Salisbury, (c1165 to 1226)
  • Lady Catherine Grey, Countess of Hertford (1540 to 1568)
  • Saint Osmund, Bishop of Salisbury (1078 to 1099)
  • Roger of Salisbury, Bishop of Salisbury (1102 to 1139)
  • Josceline de Bohon, Bishop of Salisbury (1142 to 1184)
  • Robert de Bingham, Bishop of Salisbury (1229 to 1246)
  • Giles of Bridport, Bishop of Salisbury (1256 to 1262)
  • Walter de la Wyle, Bishop of Salisbury (1263 to 1271)
  • Nicholas Longespee, Bishop of Salisbury (1291 to 1297)
  • Simon of Ghent, Bishop of Salisbury (1297 to 1315)
  • Roger Martival, Bishop of Salisbury (1315 to 1330)
  • Walter Hungerford, 1st Baron Hungerford (1378–1449)
  • Richard Mitford, Bishop of Salisbury (1395 to 1407)
  • Robert Hungerford, Lord Moleyns and 3rd Baron Hungerford (1431–1464)
  • Richard Beauchamp, Bishop of Salisbury (1450 to 1482)
  • Edmund Audley, Bishop of Salisbury (1501 to 1524)
  • John Jewel, Bishop of Salisbury (1559 to 1571)
  • Edmund Gheast, Bishop of Salisbury (1571 to 1577)
  • Alexander Hyde, Bishop of Salisbury (1665 to 1667)
  • John Thomas, Bishop of Salisbury (1761 to 1766)


Salisbury Cathedral Choir, Wiltshire, UK - Diliff
Salisbury Cathedral Choir, Wiltshire, UK
Salisbury Cathedral Lady Chapel 2, Wiltshire, UK - Diliff
The Trinity Chapel (Lady Chapel). The artwork below the stained glass window is the temporary exhibition of Nicholas Pope installation called "The Apostles Speaking in Tongues Lit By Their Own Lamps", shown at Salisbury Cathedral from 8 June until 4 August 2014


The cathedral's current organ was built in 1877 by Henry Willis & Sons. Sir Walter Alcock, who was organist of the cathedral from 1916, oversaw a strictly faithful restoration of the famous Father Willis organ, completed in 1934, even going to such lengths as to refuse to allow parts of the instrument to leave the cathedral in case any unauthorised tonal alteration were made without his knowledge, while allowing some discreet additions in the original style of the organ (as well as modernisation of the organ's actions) by Henry Willis III, the grandson of Father Willis.

An earlier organ by Samuel Green was presented by King George III in 1792 and was installed on top of the stone screen formerly dividing the choir from the nave. It was later taken out and moved to St Thomas's Church.


See also: List of musicians at English cathedrals

It is recorded that in 1463 John Kegewyn was organist of Salisbury Cathedral. Among the notable organists of more recent times have been a number of composers and well-known performers including Bertram Luard-Selby, Charles Frederick South, Sir Walter Alcock, David Valentine Willcocks, Douglas Albert Guest, Christopher Dearnley, Richard Godfrey Seal and the BBC presenter Simon Lole.


Salisbury Cathedral Choir auditions boys and girls aged 7–9 years old annually for scholarships to Salisbury Cathedral School, housed in the old Bishop's Palace. The boys choir and the girls choir (each 16 strong) sing alternate daily Evensong and Sunday Matins and Eucharist services throughout the school year. There are also many additional services during the Christian year particularly during Advent, Christmas, Holy Week, and Easter. The Advent 'From Darkness to Light services are the best known. Choristers come from across the country, some boarding. Six lay vicars (adult men) comprise the rest of the choir (singing tenor, alto and bass parts).

Cathedral constables

The cathedral previously employed five cathedral constables (known as "Close Constables"). Their duties mainly concerned the maintenance of law and order in the cathedral close. They were made redundant in 2010 as part of cost-cutting measures and replaced with "traffic managers". The constables were first appointed when the cathedral became a liberty in 1611 and survived until the introduction of municipal police forces in 1835 with the Municipal Corporations Act. In 1800 they were given the power, along with the city constables, to execute any justices' or court order requiring the conveyance of prisoners to or from the county gaol (at Fisherton Anger, then outside the city of Salisbury) as if it were the city gaol (and, in so doing, they were made immune from any legal action for acting outside their respective jurisdictions). The right of the cathedral, as a liberty, to maintain a separate police force was conclusively terminated by the Local Government Act 1888.

In February 2016 the statue The Kiss by Sophie Ryder, which was planned to be in place until July, had to be moved because people kept walking into it while texting.


Salisbury Cathedral Spire Interior
The interior of the spire, showing the original supporting framework.

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