Salisbury Cathedral, formally known as the Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is an Anglican cathedral in Salisbury, England, and one of the leading examples of Early English architecture. The main body of the cathedral was completed in only 38 years, from 1220 to 1258.

Since 1549, the cathedral has had the tallest church spire in the United Kingdom, at 404 feet (123m). Visitors can take the "Tower Tour" where the interior of the hollow spire, with its ancient wood scaffolding, can be viewed. The cathedral also has the largest cloister and the largest cathedral close in Britain at 80 acres (32 ha). It contains a clock which is among the oldest working clocks in the world, and has the best surviving of the four original copies of Magna Carta. In 2008, the cathedral celebrated the 750th anniversary of its consecration.

The cathedral is the mother church of the Diocese of Salisbury and is the seat of the Bishop of Salisbury, currently Nick Holtam.

Sculpture on the west front of the cathedral of Richard Poore who oversaw the early years of its construction, beginning in 1220. He is holding a model of the cathedral
Plan showing the double transepts with aisles and extended east end, but not the cloisters or chapter house

As a response to deteriorating relations between the clergy and the military at Old Sarum Cathedral, the decision was taken to resite the cathedral, and the seat of the bishopric was moved to New Sarum, or Salisbury. The move occurred during the tenure of Richard Poore, a rich man who gave the land on which the new cathedral was built. Construction was paid for by donations, principally from the canons and vicars of southeast England, who were asked to contribute a fixed annual sum until the building was completed. A legend tells that the Bishop of Old Sarum shot an arrow in the direction he would build the cathedral; but the arrow hit a deer that died in the place where Salisbury Cathedral is now. The cathedral crossing, Old Sarum, and Stonehenge are reputed to be aligned on a ley line, although Clive L. N. Ruggles asserts that the site, on marshland, was chosen because a preferred site several miles to the west could not be obtained.

The foundation stone was laid on 28 April 1220. Much of the freestone for the cathedral came from the Teffont Evias Quarry. As a result of the high water table on the new site, the cathedral was built on foundations only four feet deep, and by 1258 the navetransepts, and choir were complete. The only major sections begun later were the cloisters, added in 1240, the chapter house in 1263, the towerand spire, which at 404 feet (123 m) dominated the Wiltshire skyline from 1320. Because most of the cathedral was built in only 38 years, it has a single consistent architectural style, Early English Gothic.

Although the spire is the cathedral's most impressive feature, it has proved to be troublesome. Together with the tower, it added 6,397 tons (6,500 tonnes) to the weight of the building. Without the addition of buttresses, bracing arches and anchor irons over the succeeding centuries, it would have suffered the fate of spires on other great ecclesiastical buildings (such as Malmesbury Abbey 1180 to 1500Lincoln Cathedral 1311 to 1549 and Chichester Cathedral 1402 to 1861) and fallen down; instead, Salisbury became the tallest church spire in the country on the collapse at Lincoln in 1549. The large supporting pillars at the corners of the spire are seen to bend inwards under the stress. The addition of reinforcing tie-beams above the crossing, designed by Christopher Wren in 1668, halted further deformation. The beams were hidden by a false ceiling, installed below the lantern stage of the tower.

Significant changes to the cathedral were made by the architect James Wyatt in 1790, including replacement of the original rood screenand demolition of a bell tower which stood about 320 feet (100 m) northwest of the main building. Salisbury is one of only three English cathedrals to lack a ring of bells, the others being Norwich Cathedral and Ely Cathedral. However, its medieval clock does strike the time with bells every 15 minutes. In total, 70,000 tons of stone, 3,000 tons of timber and 450 tons of lead were used in the construction of the cathedral.

The west front is of the screen-type, clearly deriving from that at Wells. It is composed of a stair turret at each extremity, with two niched buttresses nearer the centre line supporting the large central triple window. The stair turrets are topped with spirelets, and the central section is topped by a gable which contains four lancet windows topped by two round quatrefoil windows surmounted by a mandorla containing Christ in Majesty. At ground level there is a principal door flanked by two smaller doors. The whole is highly decorated with quatrefoil motifs, columns, trefoil motifs and bands of diapering.

The west front was almost certainly constructed at the same time as the cathedral. This is apparent from the way in which the windows coincide with the interior spaces. The entire façade is about 33 metres high and wide. It has been said that the front was built on a scale smaller than was initially planned. It lacks full-scale towers and/or spires as can be seen, for example at Wells, Lincoln, Lichfield, etc. The facade is disparaged by Alec Clifton-Taylor, who comments that it is the least successful of the English screen-facades and is a travesty of its prototype (Wells). He finds the composition to be unco-ordinated, and the Victorian statuary "poor and insipid".

The front accommodates over 130 shallow niches of varying sizes, 73 of these niches contains a statue. The line of niches extend round the turrets to the north, south and east faces. There are five levels of niches (not including the mandorla) which show, from the top, angels and archangels, Old Testamentpatriarchs, apostles and evangelists, martyrs, doctors and philosophers and, on the lower level, royalty, priests and worthy people connected with the cathedral. The majority of the statues were placed during the middle of the 19th century, however seven are from the 14th century and several have been installed within the last decade.


The nave

Salisbury Cathedral is unusual for its tall and narrow nave, and has visual accentuation due to the use of light grey Chilmark stone for the walls and dark polished Purbeck marble for the columns. It has three levels: a tall pointed arcade, an open gallery and a small clerestory.Lined up between the pillars are notable tombs such as that of William Longespée, half brother of King John and the illegitimate son of Henry II, who was the first person to be buried in the cathedral.

Chapter house and Magna Carta

The chapter house is notable for its octagonal shape, slender central pillar and decorative medieval frieze. It was redecorated in 1855-9 by William Burges. The frieze circles the interior above the stalls and depicts scenes and stories from the books of Genesis and Exodus, including Adam and EveNoah, the Tower of Babel, and AbrahamIsaac and Jacob.

The chapter house also displays the best-preserved of the four surviving original copies of Magna Carta. This copy came to Salisbury because Elias of Dereham, who was present at Runnymede in 1215, was given the task of distributing some of the original copies. Elias later became a canon of Salisbury and supervised the construction of the cathedral.


The medieval clock

The Salisbury cathedral clock dating from about AD 1386 is supposedly the oldest working modern clock in the world. The clock has no face because all clocks of that date rang out the hours on a bell. It was originally located in a bell tower that was demolished in 1792. Following this demolition, the clock was moved to the Cathedral Tower where it was in operation until 1884. The clock was then placed in storage and forgotten until it was discovered in 1929, in an attic of the cathedral. It was repaired and restored to working order in 1956. In 2007 remedial work and repairs were carried out to the clock.

Depictions in art, literature and film

Salisbury Cathedral by John Constableca. 1825.

The cathedral is the subject of famous paintings by John Constable. As a gesture of appreciation for John FisherBishop of Salisbury, who commissioned this painting, Constable included the bishop and his wife in the canvas (bottom left). The view depicted in the paintings has changed very little in almost two centuries.

The cathedral is also the subject of William Golding's novel The Spire which deals with the fictional Dean Jocelin who makes the building of the spire his life's work. The construction of the cathedral is an important plot point in Edward Rutherfurd's historical novel Sarum, which explores the historical settlement of the Salisbury area. The cathedral has been mentioned by the author Ken Follett as one of two models for the fictional Kingsbridge Cathedral in his historical novel The Pillars of the Earth. It was also used for some external shots in the 2010 miniseries based on Follett's book and was shown as it is today in the final scene. The cathedral was the setting for the 2005 BBC television drama Mr. Harvey Lights a Candle, written by Rhidian Brook and directed by Susanna White. Kevin McCloud climbed the cathedral in his programme called Don't Look Down! in which he climbed high structures to conquer his fear of heights. The cathedral was the subject of a Channel 4 Time Team programme which was first broadcast on 8 February 2009.

The interior of the spire, showing the original supporting framework.
The North transept
The Choir
The Trinity Chapel (Lady Chapel). The artwork below the stained glass window is the temporary exhibition of Nicholas Pope installation called "The Apostles Speaking in Tongues Lit By Their Own Lamps", shown at Salisbury Cathedral from 8 June until 4 August 2014