Winchester Cathedral Architecture

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Continued from Exterior

Click on photos to enlarge

Winchester Cathedral is an excellent representation of the different architectural styles through the Middle Ages. The different parts of the cathedral are presented here in their chronological order. Scroll down to see all, or click on period. (Notes in italics from Hampshire and the Isle of Wight by Nikolaus Pevsner and David Lloyd (1967) Yale University Press, New Haven and London.)

Norman, c.1100 - Transepts and Tower

Early English, c.1200 - Retrochoir and Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre

Decorated Period, early 1300s - Chancel arcades in Late Perpendicular Chancel

Perpendicular, late 1300s - Nave

Late Perpendicular, around 1500 - Chancel and Lady Chapel

Norman Stage
Transepts and Tower

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Part of the Norman Crypt, with statue by Anthony Gormley.

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South transept. The first picture shows the view into the transept from the nave south aisle, i.e. a view of arches of c.1100 through an arch of c.1400. The next picture shows the opposite side.

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North transept. Last picture shows the west aisle of north transept.

The Norman transepts are Walkelin's, 1070-98.  The capitals ... all round both transepts at all levels are either block capitals or of one, two or three scallops, all very substantial. The bays are separated by mast-like shafts reaching the roofs. The clerestory sill goes round them. ... The gallery openings are high, almost as high as the arcade ... The clerestory is also very high ... and has a wall-passage. An arch on the west side of the south transept (picture top row, right) is blocked by masonry with blank decoration ... which, in its zigzag at r. angles to the wall and its curious compound shafts, must be the work of, or inspired by, the masons working on the triforium at St Cross, i.e. in the 1170s or 1180s. ... The ceilings of the transepts were put in by Garbett in 1819.

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The crossing tower is a rebuilding after Walkelin's tower had fallen in 1107. Fear of a recurrence of such a calamity is ... responsible for the fact that the crossing piers are of a size (in section) unparalleled among English crossing piers. The W and S arches were kept as wide open as probably before, but the N and S arches were narrowed so much that the arches need a great deal of stilting. Wooden fan-vault of 1635.

In all this work, it will be noticed, there is inside no enrichment whatever, no billet, not even a roll. Outside these motifs do occur, but also nothing beyond them. All is power at Winchester, nothing grace. The transepts (and the chapter-house front) are the most complete statement in England of the Early Norman style. 

Early English Stage

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The Retrochoir is Early English, c.1200. The interior of the retrochoir is extremely beautiful, but it needs a trained imagination to recognise that through the crowd of chapels and furnishings. Three bays, the nave wider but only slightly higher than the aisles. The piers are of Purbeck marble and have four main and four subsidiary shafts with shaft-rings and capitals ranging from crockets and the most elementary stiff-leaf to more developed stiff-leaf. .. The aisles have vaults with the ribs of a profile of three fine rolls, the nave has plain single-chamfered ribs on short shafts above the Purbeck capitals.

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All along the aisles is blank arcading with trefoil arches and a blank elongated rounded quatrefoil in the spandrel. Above the arcading, pairs of lancets with detached shafts between.  ... At the entrance to the three E chapels the respond shafting is gloriously generous.
Beautiful 13th century sculpture in last picture -  enlargement

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The early 14th century arches at west end the of the retrochoir nave represent the back of the chancel, and below them a  screen consisting of nine bays of arches with nodding ogees and much crocketing. It is the only example of really florid Dec in the cathedral

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The Lady Chapel is at the east end of the Retrochoir. The first bay probably dates from dates from 1220-30s. There are three times twin arches with detached shafts forming a kind of wall passage. They are normally pointed, but the super arch repeats their outer curvature and sets a big more-than-semicircle on top so as to make the whole a trefoil top. Moreover, in the tympanum above are two trefoils and one large quatrefoil in blank plate tracery. The vault and the next bay further in underwent a Late Perpendicular remodelling (late 1400s) - see 

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Under the crossing arch in the north transept is the Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre, put in about 1200. It is a solid structure compared with later chantry chapels, of two bays with rib vaults and massive buttresses to the N. ... The ribs are simply single-chamfered. Those of the E bay stand on stiff-leaf corbels. ... The vault and the walls of the chapel are decorated with wall paintings, the best of about 1230 in England. ... The style is still inspired by Byzantium. 

Decorated Stage
Early 1300s


The arcades of the chancel are from this period but the rest is Late Perpendicular so see below

Perpendicular Stage
Late 1300s

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The Nave. The remodelling of the Norman nave was begun at the W end by Bishop Edington and continued by William of Wykeham from c.1394 onwards. ... The Nave interior is the most homogeneous part of the cathedral. There it is, twelve bays long, without any change of plan or details, at least in the nave.

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It is, moreover, amply lit from the nine-light W window and the large aisle and clerestory windows. ... The system of the elevation of the nave is determined ... by the retention and mere cutting back of the Norman masonry. Hence the un-Perp stoutness of the piers, counteracted successfully by many fine mouldings which multiply the verticals. The principal shaft to the nave, running uninterrupted to the vault, is clearly the Norman mast. 

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Instead of the Norman gallery or a triforium, there is only a shallow balcony per bay.. The clerestory has blank arcading l., r., and below. The arcade is framed by a broad wave moulding reaching right up to below the balcony and is here enriched by heads, fleurons, etc. Second picture, Norman capitals at east end of nave. Last Picture: Wykeham Chantry Chapel, 1404. The chapel reaches right up to the balcony. It is of three bays and wider than the piers are thick. It has therefore a canted extension to merge with the piers. In this extension, i.e. at an angle, are the two W doorways. ...

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The screen between nave and chancel is by Sir George Gilbert Scott, 1875.

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North aisle, nave, south aisle. The aisles have lierne-vaults with the chief diagonal ribs preserved and a middle octagon of liernes, not at once recognized, perhaps because of the warping due to the curvature of the vaults. The Nave vaults have no chief diagonal ribs and altogether a much more complicated pattern.

Late Perpendicular
Late 1400s and early 1500s
Chancel and Lady Chapel

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The Chancel. The arcades are of the first half of the C14 (i.e. prior to the Perpendicular period). Four bays, Purbeck marble piers of four main and four minor shafts connected by deep continuous hollows. Moulded capitals. ... Very fine arch mouldings. Head stops and animal stops. The upper parts belong to Bishop Fox, i.e. the early C16. Balconies with pierced quatrefoils. Then the large upper windows. Third picture: The E bay cants in noticeably, indicating where the Norman ambulatory curved round . The E end of the chancel is of two bays, the piers not of Purbeck. Four shafts and four sunk diagonals. Arches with fillets on rolls and sunk quadrants. ... Last picture: The vault is very similar to the nave vault, but it is of wood, and hence all the ribs are thinner. Many bosses. ...

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Chancel Screens. Stone screens N and S with four-light Gothic windows, but an early Renaissance frieze and early Renaissance inscription tablets towards the aisles (e.g. Hardecanute). They are dated 1525. On them the wooden tomb-chests of Anglo-Saxon kings (including Canute), painted with Renaissance motifs.
Behind the altar, reredos. Of stone; early C16. Up to above the sills of the clerestory windows. Three tiers of statues, all of 1885-99. ... Great emphasis on the filigree of the canopies of the niches.
Chancel Stalls. The date 1308 usually given the Winchester stalls suits them ... The back panels are of two blank lights with mostly at the top a pointed cinquefoil in a circle. There is, however, one rounded one still, and there is also just once a typical early C14 caprice: a six-cornered star made up of two triangles. In front of these back panels rise on detached exceedingly thin shafts a system of the same panels but crowned by steep crocketed gables with an openwork elongated pointed cinquefoil in. The back panels proper have in their spandrels very close and intricate foliage ...

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In the aisles there is panelling l., r., and below the windows, as in the nave, and the vaults are also identical with those in the nave aisles. Last picture: View east through chancel aisle and retrochoir aisle with their different vaults.

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Lady Chapel, at east end of the cathedral. The Lady Chapel under Bishop Courtenay (1486-92) was given a new E bay with the seven-light windows to N, S, and E.  The vault of the W bay was also re-done, and these two bays now have extremely intricate lierne star-vaults with small bosses. ...

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WALL PAINTINGS. Early C16, all in brown and grey. They are English in all probability, but inspired by the most Flemish parts of the Eton College frescoes of the 1480s. The Winchester scenes represent miracles of the Virgin.

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The SE Chapel, remodelled by Langton (1493-1500), seems to have a very close fan-vault, but that is not so. It is a pseudo fan-vault; for diagonal ribs are kept and prevent the conical roundness of fans - just look at the springers - and the fans are cut into harshly by ridge-ribs longitudinal and transverse.

To Exterior

Jane Austen - grave and memorials in the cathedral (north aisle of nave)

King Canute and Queen Emma - mortuary chest and information

Ecclesia - medieval statue in the cathedral

Winchester Cathedral Library

Winchester Cathedral's Website

Robert Willis, The Architectural History of Winchester Cathedral  1846  - Very comprehensive

Other Winchester Buildings


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