April 09, 2008

AWC Winchester Castle, Cathedral, College

Our guide for the day was Hilary of London Original Walks. She pointed out several other flint buildings before we arrived at Winchester Castle. This Norman castle was built in 1067 and we viewed the "murder holes" above the gate before entering the Great Hall, built by King Henry III. Many cases were heard and it is here that Sir Walter Raleigh was tried and condemned in 1603. Columns of Purbeck Marble (polished crushed and densely packed seashells) are rarely used now because of the expense. Queen Eleanor's (of Provence) medieval garden was delightful.

The site of Winchester Cathedral was part of a monastic settlement in the 7th century. William the Conqueror built the even larger Winchester Cathedral in 1079. Hilary showed us old sections of the church to see how 3 vaults (romanesque) had been cleverly converted into the more impressive double vaulted (gothic) ceiling. The cathedral was decorated for Easter when we visited. The giant stained glass window was used as target practice during the Civil War, thus could only be restored in "mosaic" form. Saint Swithun's memorial and Jane Austen's tomb are here. Queen Mary and Philip II of Spain were married here. William Walker "The Diver" reinforced the waterlogged foundations working 6 hours per day in total darkness from 1906 - 1912 to save the church. We were all humming "Winchester Cathedral" by the (UK) New Vaudeville Band which was a number one hit in the US in 1966.

Winchester College was founded in 1382 by the Bishop of Winchester, William of Wykeham to be a feeder to Oxford (later Eton was established as a feeder to Cambridge). Our charming guide explained about the 70 (poor but academically talented) "scholars", the "Quiristers" (choristers), and the paying students who make up the 700 (all male) Winchester College student body. We were entertained as we learned about attacks on the college by the starving townspeople, dining traditions when no guests (witnesses) are present, and the failure of Winchester College's attempt to be a site for Harry Potter filming.

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