2020 is the 800th Anniversary of the founding of Salisbury Cathedral. Before ‘New Salisbury’ came into existence, the town stood on the windy cone of Old Sarum, a huge iron-age hillfort with massive earthen ramparts. There was a particularly forbidding Norman castle on the height, with a windswept bridge over a deep moat–here, Henry II kept his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine imprisoned for some sixteen years, served by a single loyal lady-in-waiting. The old town also had a cathedral, begun somewhere after 1075. It was rather an ill-fated building, however, being severely damaged in a storm just five days after consecration. Sometime in the late 12th century, it was decided to move the cathedral from the height due to the lack of water. The cathedral was dismantled and much of the stonework taken down to the new site near the river, where the town of Salisbury as we know it would grow around it. The first stones of the English-style Gothic building were laid in 1220, in the reign of Henry III, with foundation stones being laid by, among other notables, the King’s half-uncle, William Longespee and his wife Ela, Countess of Salisbury, a remarkable woman who later became Sheriff of Wiltshire.
To commemorate the founding of Salisbury cathedral, a light show recently took place within the great building with projections of charters, drawings, stained glass, saints and rulers who played a part in Salisbury’s history. On the bleak ruins of Old Sarum, beams of light were shot high into the night sky so that they were visible from Salisbury town centre.
There are many interesting monuments inside the cathedral, including that of founder William Longespee (who was thought to have been poisoned–and a RAT found in his skull when his tomb was opened was full of arsenic!), Sir John Cheney, the 6ft 6 giant who was unhorsed by Richard III at Bosworth, and possibly Lionel Woodville, who was Bishop there until Buckingham’s rebellion, when he fled to Brittany hearing of Buckingham’s failure. Salisbury also has one of the copies of Magna Carta and the tallest spire in England. The building of the cathedral was fictionalised in the best-selling novel ‘PILLARS OF THE EARTH’ by Ken Follett, which recently was made into a TV series.