Tag Archives: Salisbury cemetery

Cemetery of the Week #71: Salisbury Cathedral

Exterior of Salisbury Cathedral and its very tall spire.

Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Salisbury, called Salisbury Cathedral
The Close, Salisbury, Wiltshire SP1 2EJ, United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 01722 555120
Founded: 1220
Number of interments: at least 22 (57 on Findagrave)
Open: Monday through Saturday, the cathedral is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. On Sundays, it’s open from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m., but visitor access is restricted during services. Opening hours can change over holidays and for special events. You can find up-to-date closure information here.
Requested voluntary donation: Adults £6.50, Seniors/Students £5.50, Children (5-17) £3. Family admission is £15.

Of all the medieval cathedrals built in England, Salisbury Cathedral is unique because it was completed in just 38 years (1220 – 1258) in a single architectural style: early English Gothic. Like a beacon to heaven, the tower and spire (Britain’s tallest) were added about 50 years later. The building itself stands as a testimony to the faith of its parishioners and builders.

Inside Salisbury Cathedral, the bishop’s throne with its tall canopy sits at the eastern end of the quire stalls. The Greek name for this seat was kathedra and its presence — not the size of the building — elevates a church to a cathedral.

Among the cathedral’s treasures is a scrap of fabric believed to be a remnant of the Virgin Mary’s cloak.  It also has the world’s oldest working clock, which dates to 1386.

Salisbury Cathedral also owns the best of the four existing copies of the Magna Carta. Elias of Dereham, who later supervised the building of the cathedral, was present at Runnymede in 1215 when King John was forced by his rebellious barons to sign a rudimentary bill of rights. Although king, John couldn’t read the Latin document, which guaranteed the right to a jury of peers, among other things. Elias of Dereham was charged with distributing copies of the “Great Charter.” Salisbury has had this one for almost 800 years. It’s on display in its Chapter House.

The oldest tomb in the cathedral belongs to Osmund, who had been bishop of the previous cathedral, which stood at Old Sarum. (Only its foundation survives.) In 1092, Osmund consecrated that building. He collected a library of scholarly works and recruited local boys to sing in the choir. When the “new” cathedral was completed in 1258, Osmund’s tomb was brought along. His effigy now stands in the nave (the central part) of Salisbury Cathedral. The Norman-era tomb shows a bearded man with eyes closed, his body wrapped in a stone cloak that doesn’t contour to his body.

Osmund was canonized as a saint in 1457. During the late Middle Ages, the cathedral’s Trinity Chapel was the site of a richly decorated shrine to him. Pilgrims came in “great numbers,” according to the cathedral’s tourist guidebook. The shrine was destroyed during the Reformation on the orders of Henry VIII.

Crusader Sir William II Longespée (from the French for long sword — he was tall) may have been among the first buried in the cathedral, although he may have been buried at Acre before coming home to England, if in fact he did come home at all. (Accounts vary and Longespée’s name is sometimes written as Longpre. He was an illegitimate son of King Henry II, which made him a half-brother to Richard the Lionheart and the King John who signed the Magna Carta.)

Be that as it may, Longespée died in 1250 at the Battle of Mansurah in Egypt while commanding the English forces and 280 Knights Templar against the Mameluks. The French king Louis IX, who wasn’t on the field when Longespée perished, headed the crusade. Longespée’s effigy in Salisbury Cathedral shows him with legs crossed at the knee, both hands on his sword, even though his head lies on a pillow. His shield rests against his left shoulder. His mailed feet press against the figure of a lion, which indicates he died in battle. Some photographs of the effigy are online here.

Set into the floor are two brass monuments that cover the graves of two of the cathedral’s bishops. Bishop Wyville (died 1375) had been challenged to a single combat by the Earl of Salisbury, an event recorded by his monument. (An image is available here.  Scroll down.) Bishop Gheast (died 1577) left a vast library to the cathedral.

Two enameled figures lie atop the graves of Sir Richard Mompesson and his wife Katherine. Both of them wear Jacobean ruffs around their necks and their eyes are painted open. She wears a dark dress decorated with herbal figures painted in gold. Lace cuffs emphasize the praying hands she holds above her waist. They’re hands with character, wrinkled and veined. Her husband wears painted wooden armor, also adorned with gold. His hands are less lined than his wife’s even though his hair had gone white. A photo of their whole tomb is here.

In the quire lies Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, who died in 1621. She was an author and translator, who saw her brother’s Arcadia published after his death in 1586. (He is also buried here.)  Mary Herbert is the first English woman recognized as a poet.  Her name is among those floated to be the true author of Shakespeare’s plays.

The cathedral’s cloister

Very lifelike is the marble effigy of John Wordsworth, who served as Salisbury Cathedral’s bishop between 1885 and 1911. He founded the school that continues to exist in the Cathedral Close. John’s statue seems to have been carved from life. You could definitely pick him out in a crowd. His wavy hair recedes from his forehead above a sharp, straight nose and a narrow chin. His fingers intertwine above the stole that wraps his neck to past his waist. Even his full sleeves are so realistic that one marvels that their folds and billows withstand gravity. Altogether, Salisbury holds the remains of 16 former bishops.

Most notable of recent burials is Sir Edward Heath, who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1970 to 1974 and as a Member of Parliament from 1950 to 2001. He lived in the Cathedral Close for the last twenty years of his life. After his death in 2005, he was cremated and his ashes interred in the floor of the cathedral, beneath a slab that remembers him as a “statesman, musician, and sailor.”

Photography was forbidden inside the cathedral when I visited many years ago, so please forgive the amount of linkage I’ve done tonight.  It really is a lovely place, full of history.  May the links inspire you to visit for yourself.

Useful links:
Salisbury Cathedral’s homepage

Information about more burials in the Cathedral

Some lovely photos of the cathedral

More photos of the cathedral’s riches

Tourist information about the Salisbury area

More information about Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke

The medieval plague pit across the green.

My review of Who Lies Where: A Guide to Famous Graves

Weekly Photo Challenge: Wrong

Near the cathedral in Salisbury

After the tour bus dropped us off in Salisbury, we walked up a quiet lane that faced the cathedral green.  The guide pointed out that the green used to be a graveyard — as all medieval churchyards had been — but all the monuments had been removed, leaving behind a flat green lawn where a woman in a bikini read a book.

Our guide stopped at a simple iron fence and directed our attention to the back yard it enclosed.  The wildflower-spangled lawn inside folded over a huge heap of dirt.

“Why don’t they even that out?” one of the other American tourists asked.

“It covers a plague pit,” our guide answered.  “During the 1660s, the Black Plague ravaged England.  In every town, bodies were just thrown into mass graves.  Most were buried so hastily, they didn’t even have a shroud, to say nothing of a coffin.”  She waved at the mound, which rose four feet above ground level, even centuries after the grave was closed.  “You can see how many people must be buried here.”

I wondered if I could live in a house, knowing its yard was stuffed with victims of the Black Death.  Could I mow the grass over their grave?  Could I lie on the lawn and read a book?  If any place deserved to be haunted, I’m sure a plague pit does.

I was the only person who snapped a photo as the tour guide moved on.

Cemetery of the Week #71: Salisbury Cathedral