Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Day Seven: Salisbury

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Salisbury Cathedral

We intend to depart Chichester at 8:15 a.m. and drive to Salisbury, where we hope to arrive by 9:30 a.m.

Salisbury, for us, will be all about Salisbury Cathedral and nothing but Salisbury Cathedral.

Salisbury Cathedral, in itself, is worth crossing oceans to visit.

Salisbury Cathedral is one of the most magnificent buildings anywhere. As a work of art, it puts to shame the two great medieval cathedrals we will already have visited, Canterbury Cathedral and Chichester Cathedral.

Salisbury Cathedral’s magnificence is a result, primarily, of three factors: it has a very large Cathedral Close, the largest in England (80 acres), which allowed the Cathedral to be set apart from all surrounding buildings and placed in the very center of the Close, affording the viewer magnificent views of the Cathedral from all sides, angles and distances; it has England’s tallest spire, 404 feet high, which serves as a glorious and fitting capstone of the Cathedral’s structure (it is the tallest surviving pre-1400 spire anywhere in the world); and, most important, it was built in a single architectural style, owing to the fact that the Cathedral was planned, designed, erected and completed in the remarkably short span of 60 years.

The foundation for the Cathedral was laid in 1220. By 1258, the interior of the Cathedral had largely been completed. The exterior of the main structure was finished in 1265, including the magnificent West Front. The Cloisters and Chapter House were completed by 1280.

The architectural style is Early English Gothic, and there is a purity and a uniformity in the architecture of Salisbury Cathedral lacking in most other great English cathedrals. The exterior is breathtaking from a distance, it is breathtaking up close, and it is breathtaking from all angles, making it one the most pleasurable buildings anywhere to visit. We will probably spend at least an hour, if not more, walking around the exterior of the structure, admiring it from all vantage points, of which there are many due to the size of the Close.

The interior of the Cathedral is fascinating, too. The ceiling, the vaulting, the glass, the carvings, the side chapels: all are remarkable. There are innumerable ancient monuments and memorials in the Cathedral, many of them of the greatest interest.

The world’s oldest working clock is in Salisbury Cathedral, dating from 1386. The clock is a giant mechanism, an enormous contraption with wheels, weights and pulleys. I would estimate the clock mechanism to measure eight-to-ten feet high, deep and wide. It has no clock face, because it was constructed solely to regulate time for the bells of the Cathedral. Salisbury Cathedral has no bells today, because the bells were contained in a separate bell tower that was demolished in 1792. Salisbury Cathedral is today one of only three cathedrals in Britain without bells.

Salisbury Cathedral has a stunning octagonal Chapter House. Its vaulting and wall paintings and stone carvings and stone reliefs are original, all from the 13th Century. Visitors are permitted to rest on the stone ledges of The Chapter House and admire the vaulting and paintings and stonework at their leisure.

It is in The Chapter House that one of four surviving original copies of the Magna Carta is on display. The Salisbury Cathedral Magna Carta, of all copies that survive, is in the best condition.

The Cloisters at Salisbury Cathedral are the largest in Britain. They are a wonderful place for strolling, resting and contemplating.

I have always been in love with Salisbury Cathedral from my initial glimpse of the Cathedral as I first entered the Close, and I have maintained a deep emotional attachment to Salisbury Cathedral ever since. My brother loves Salisbury Cathedral, too. It is almost impossible for him to visit the English countryside without working in a visit to Salisbury Cathedral.

My parents have not visited Salisbury Cathedral for many years, and they welcome the prospect of returning. This will be Josh’s and Josh’s sister’s first visit to the Cathedral. I suspect they will find Salisbury Cathedral to be one of the highlights of our entire trip.

We will spend the entire day in the Cathedral and Close. Between walking around the Close and examining the Cathedral exterior as well as the exteriors of the buildings that line the edge of the Close, and examining the interior of the Cathedral, and visiting The Cloisters and The Chapter House, we will easily be able to occupy the time between 9:30 a.m. and 3: 15 p.m. Sometime in the early afternoon, we will have lunch in the excellent Cathedral restaurant.

At 3:15 p.m., we have something very special planned: we will take a two-hour guided tour of Salisbury Cathedral’s roof and tower. The guided tour is quite extensive, and extremely detailed. In fact, it is more than simply a guided tour of the roof and tower—it is a guided tour of the Cathedral’s many inner passageways that eventually lead upward, lending access to the roof and tower. A total of 322 steps is required to reach the roof, but the guided tour stops frequently along the way in order for the guide to point out interesting features of the great building’s interior and history. Because of all the stops, visitors are not winded in the least once they finally reach the roof, where they may look out over the Cathedral ramparts upon the town of Salisbury and the surrounding countryside.

Visitors do not actually go up into the great tower. Visitors are only permitted to look up into the interior of the tower from directly beneath the center of the tower’s base. The tower is too dangerous for visitors to attempt to climb. Its interior support is composed entirely of wood, and the tower leans—its peak is more than two feet off center.

After the guided tour is over, we will make one final stroll around the Cathedral Close and then proceed to our hotel. We will check in for our single night in Salisbury—we tried to arrange as many two-nights stays as possible throughout our journey, but there will, nonetheless, be three single-night stays during the trip, and Salisbury will be one of them—and afterward we will walk around the market streets of Salisbury for an hour or two before locating a suitable establishment for dinner.

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