Winchester Cathedral

…you’re bringing me down. 

That is my earworm today because of our almost accidental visit to Winchester. 

We got off the QM2 at around 10 AM, we had a scheduled flight to Guernsey at 3:30 so I decided we would get a BIG cab and tour around a little, arriving at the airport at around 1-1:30.  There was a Mercedes Van at the taxi rank that could hold all 5 of us and our bags.  We grabbed it and then started negotiating with Adil Kahn, the driver.

He really wanted to take us to Stonehenge.  It was 10:30 and he said “45 minutes out, an hour or so there and then back to the airport, no problem.”  I know a little about English geography and asked, “are you sure.”  We both started tapping on Google Maps.  He said, “Yes, 45 minutes.”  My Google said an hour 20 minutes.  He said “I drive faster.”  I nixed Stonehenge.  When we got there we would have time for about one drive by.    He really wanted to take us to Stonehenge, probably because he is used to taking people from the QM2 to Heathrow, which is a lot more money.  With us he drew the short straw.

He then suggested Winchester.  He hadn’t been there in years and it was only half an hour.  My google said 38 minutes so I agreed.  In fact it took us an hour and 5 minutes with the traffic.   On my google ap the road was getting progressively redder indicating delays.  At the entrance to town we saw what looked like a traffic sign with an arrow pointing to the right and reading “Constable, the Dark Side.”  I took a picture and posted it on Facebook followed by question marks.

My Facebook friends know their art.  John Constable was a 19th century Suffolk painter best know because his sentimental landscapes appeared on boxes of fancy English Chocolates.  But he apparently had a dark side that showed dark and light, clouds, sun and rain, almost in motion.  Google it or click on–The-Dark-Side/

Adil was able to park a few blocks from the cathedral…

…and as we approached I explained to Liam a little about Gothic construction, the role of flying buttresses and the construction’s ability to let in a lot of light.  Liam was kind enough to show more interest in the topic, which fascinates me, than either Brian or Kevin ever did, and once inside the cathedral, when he saw the towering vaulted ceiling he repeated to me the mechanics of how buttresses and gravity allowed such magnificence.  He was listening and he got it!

We got inside the cathedral just before noonday prayers, a short reflection on the plight of refugees, a prayer for peace followed by The Lord’s Prayer.  One of the Cathedral Pillars was lighted yellow and blue, the colors of the Ukrainian flag.  There was a collection box for Ukraine relief and a stand of candles.  I dropped in two pounds and asked Liam and Fiona to each light a candle and say a prayer, if they saw fit, for refugees and for peace.  I also dropped in a pound and said my own prayers.

Winchester Cathedral, more properly known as The Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity, Saint Peter, Saint Paul and Saint Swithun was started in 1079, 13 years after the Norman invasion, and mostly completed by 1532 although there has been a cathedral in Winchester since 662.  In the 12th century the cathedral building style started to morph into Gothic and new construction began to soar higher and higher.  In the 1630s Inigo Jones added the wooden Choir screen.  During ”Lord Protector” Cromwell’s rule the Puritan Taliban smashed many of the original stained glass windows.  Several notables are buried beneath the cathedral, including Jane Austen and Isac Walton.

There was serious talk of condemning the cathedral at the beginning of the 20th century.  There were cracks in the walls large enough for a small child to crawl through and the whole building was listing to the southeast.  When engineers started digging, they found that much the cathedral was built on a 15 inch thick “raft” of beechwood logs laid diagonally to each other.  On top of the raft was 10 feet of clay, below it 8 feet of peat before reaching gravel.  Some of the beech logs were rotting.  They discovered that the cathedral was “Floating” 16 to 20 feet above the solid earth.

They stabilized the Cathedral with an extra row of flying buttresses on the listing side and using steam pumps and concrete blocks they worked under the cathedral, using a diving helmet, in water that, at times was septic because of the decomposing bodies buried under the church.  Was Jane Austen toxic?  The King arrived for a thanksgiving service on St Swithun’s Day, 1912 to mark saving the sinking cathedral. 

Between 2012 and 2019 the cathedral underwent a major restoration.  It is the longest Gothic cathedral in Western Europe.  Its vaults soar 78 feet above the cathedral floor.

I enjoyed the contrasts in styles and periods in the art, Norman, medieval, Victorian and modern, with some wonderful modern alter cloths and banners that added color and contrast, a series of 20th century orthodox icons and the use of colored lighting to accent parts of the cathedral.  Unfortunately, we did not hear the organ or the famous change bell ringing (which may have been the inspiration for the New Vaudeville Band song.)

The narrative continues after this cathedral photo gallery.

The drive back to Southampton was a lot shorter than the drive to the Cathedral.  The traffic was much lighter going south.  We arrived at the airport to find that our 3:30 plane was delayed until 5:30 and after that the delays just kept on coming.  Liam pointed out that we could have gone to Stonehenge, which interested him more than the cathedral but continued saying that if we had gone to Stonehenge the plane would have been on time.  To quote Liam, “Murphy is a jerk.”

We got on the plane to Guernsey, an ATR 72 turbo prop that in this configuration crams in 78 passengers with little legroom. It was designed for munchkins and known to large people as the flying torture chamber.  The props started turning and then stopped.  The captain came on and said that the airport was closing for 45 minutes while the controllers took their tea break.  He said he pleaded, cajoled and even cried a little for them to give him three minutes to take off but to no avail.  He told us that if we unloaded and reloaded, we would be even more delayed so we should stay on the plane.  I am big and the seats are horrible, knees crammed against the seat in front.  Brian has it worse and he pled for mercy.  The flight attendants told him he could stand, but in that plane he can’t (he also cannot sit in a window seat without calling the flight attendant.  She allowed him to sit on the airstairs and stretch his frame.  The pilot invited all the kids on the plane to come to the flight deck. Finally, the pilot told us that the airport was re-opening and he started the engines.  He was a kind sounding man, but his voice turned acid when he said, “I hope they enjoyed their tea.” 

We arrived in Guernsey late, my legs cramping and a crick in my neck.  I wanted to curse the controllers, but I really should have been mad at the airline that crammed 78 people into a plane that, when I have ridden at other times, had 72 seats, which helps with the knees but not with Brian’s height.  I’ve been reading about their tea breaks.  There are not enough controllers to do the job.  On the Isle of Man, for instance, they are supposed to have 22 controllers.  They have 9 with 5 in training.  So they take frequent tea breaks.  It is part industrial action, part safety, designed to make a point.  It made the point with me, but I can’t do anything to help them. 

Oh-bo-de-oh-do, oh-bo-de-oh-do, Oh-bo-de-oh-do, do-do-duh

One thought on “Winchester Cathedral

  1. Rich I have followed your posts for years. To my amazement i reading this post i saw the picture of your grandson in Winchester cathedral. We were there that dau too and i remember seeing him there at the same moment. Just love those coincidences.

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