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This Cathedral Church, so named because it houses the throne (or ‘cathedra’) of the Bishop of Winchester, has its origins in the seventh century, when a Christian Church was first built on the site. Since then it has played a fundamental part in the life of this ancient city, and a role in our nations history.
Begun in 1079 in the Romanesque style, this Cathedral is at the heart of Alfred's Wessex and a diocese which once stretched from London's Thames to the Channel Islands. Its bishops were men of enormous wealth and power, none more so than William of Wykeham, twice Chancellor of England, Founder of Winchester College and New College Oxford. The chantry chapels and memorials of these great prelates are a feature of the Cathedral. These influential bishops also developed, re-fashioned and adorned this great Cathedral. There pilgrims sought the shrine of local saints, notably a former bishop, Saint Swithun, whose festival (15 July) was said to set the pattern for the weather for the next forty days.
The Cathedral was also the church of the community of Benedictine monks from its earliest days. Elements of the monastic buildings may still be traced through the Cathedral Close. Central to the life of the monks was the opus dei (the Work of God), the regular offering of prayer which they sang in the quire. The discipline of praying regularly for the world is continued today, most notably in the said morning office and the daily singing of Evensong by the Cathedral choir. Evensong still takes place in the choir of the Cathedral, the choir stalls with their magnificent gabled canopies, elaborately carved with flowers and plants, owls and monkeys, dragons, knights and green men.
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Chantries & Monuments
Winchester Cathedral is famous for its chantry chapels, where daily masses were said for the bishops buried within them. The two earliest are in the nave: that of William of Edington (Bishop 1345-66) was designed to stand below the Norman arcade; William of Wykeham's soaring monument was built at the same time as his reconstructed nave. The remaining four chantry chapels stand in the retrochoir. Cardinal Henry Beaufort (1404-47) chose a site next to the final shrine of St Swithun. On a corresponding position on the north side is the chantry chapel of William Waynflete (1447-86), who was provost of Eton (1442-7) and founder of Magdalen College, Oxford. The chapel of Richard Fox (1501-28) was built during his lifetime, on the south side of the feretory platform behind the high altar. The aged, blind bishop is said to have spent much time here in prayer and meditation. His chapel is a marvellous example of the stone-carver's art. The small statues are modern; the original figures of saints were destroyed at the Reformation. The Bishop's 'cadaver' effigy facing the south aisle reminds the passer-by of the transient nature of life.
On the north side of the feretory platform, Bishop Gardiner's Chantry Chapel is an amazing hybrid of English late Gothic and Continental Renaissance style deriving ultimately from Fontainebleau. Stephen Gardiner (1531-55) was the last important Roman Catholic bishop of Winchester, during the reign of Mary Tudor (Queen Mary I). He officiated at her marriage to Philip of Spain, which took place in Winchester Cathedral. Other, smaller memorials tell their own fascinating story. In the recently refurbished 'Fishermen's Chapel' in the south transept is the grave of Izaak Walton. Outside the Lady Chapel the statue of Joan of Arc seems to ignore the nearby effigy of Cardinal Beaufort. Sir George Gilbert Scott's imposing 19th-century monument to Bishop Wilberforce (son of the social reformer) stands in the south transept. Also of interest are the tomb of Jane Austen and the statuette commemorating the 'Winchester Diver'.Source(s): http://www.winchester-cathedral.org.uk/