Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Thursday, 10 December 2020

Salisbury Cathedral 800

On Monday the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall attended a special service at Salisbury Cathedral to mark the eight hundredth anniversary of the beginning of building work on April 28 1220. The MailOnline has a report, with extracts from the typically elegant and insightful address by the Prince on the occasion at Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall visit  Salisbury Cathedral

Salisbury Cathedral

Salisbury Cathedral 

Image: Britain Express

The main structure of the cathedral was finished and consecrated on September 29 in 1258, just as the country slipped into the major crisis of the Barons Wars. The plan appears to me to be a simplified version of that of Lincoln, started in the late 1180s and 1190s. The architectural influence of the building has been suggested in St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, whose Archbishop attended the consecration of Salisbury. 

Other features were added to the original plan. Cloisters were added from 1240 and are a particular delight of the whole composition. The Chapter House dates from 1263, and in 1265 the detached bell tower was built. I wrote about this very regrettably lost feature, demolished in 1790, in Vandalism at Salisbury Cathedral. Salisbury’s crowning glory, the central tower and spire, had been completed by 1320.

 Salisbury Cathedral from the east by Wenceslas Hollar in the later seventeenth century

The fifteenth century chantry chapels flanking the eastern Trinity Chapel and the detached bell tower were destroyed in the late eighteenth century

Image: Wikimedia

The effects and legacy of reforming zeal and ill considered restoration in the late eighteenth century have robbed the cathedral of much that once ornamented it. The result internally is often bland by comparison with say Lincoln and Wells of similar date or others with more decoration or rich glazing. Nonetheless Salisbury speaks of the clarity of thirteenth century thought and theology- it was built in the lifetimes of Aquinas and Bonaventure. I have also seen the point, and can believe it, though never properly experienced it, that the building really comes into its own, come ‘alive’ when it serves as the setting for the liturgy. Quite appropriate for the home of the Sarum liturgy.

File:Salisbury Cathedral Spire - Wiltshire.jpg

The early fourteenth century tower and spire

Image: Wikimedia

I posted in 2016 about the cathedral and its liturgy as it was in the later fifteenth century in Visitors for Passiontide and Easter at Salisbury in 1466

I do recall watching thirty or so years ago the concert with leading opera singers that the Prince of Wales brought about for the cathedral appeal. Staged outside the floodlit west front and with the tower and spire illuminated it was the cathedral which was the ultimate star of the evening, serene and beautiful, an enduring witness on the banks of the Avon.


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