Salisbury Cathedral, formally known as the Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is an Anglican cathedral in Salisbury, England, and is considered one of the leading examples of Early English architecture. The main body was completed in only 38 years, from 1220 to 1258.
The cathedral has the tallest church spire in the United Kingdom (123m/404 ft). 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 (80 acres (320,000 m2)). The cathedral contains the world’s oldest working clock (from AD 1386) and has the best surviving of the four original copies of the Magna Carta (all four original copies are in England). Although commonly known as Salisbury Cathedral, the official name is the Cathedral of Saint Mary. In 2008, the cathedral celebrated the 750th anniversary of its consecration in 1258
As a response to deteriorating relations between the clergy and the military at Old Sarum, the decision was taken to resite the cathedral and the bishopric was moved to its present place in Salisbury. The move occurred during the tenure of Bishop Richard Poore, who was a wealthy man and donated the new land for construction. The new cathedral was also paid for by donations, principally by all the canons and vicars of South East England, who were asked to contribute a fixed annual sum until its completion. Legend has it that the Bishop of Old Sarum shot an arrow in the direction he would build the cathedral; the arrow hit a deer and the deer finally died in the place where Salisbury Cathedral is now.
The foundation stone was laid on 28 April 1220. Much of the freestone for the cathedral came from Teffont Evias quarries. Due to the high water table in the new location, the cathedral was built on only four feet of foundations, and by 1258 the nave, transepts and choir were complete. The west front was ready by 1265. The cloisters and chapter house were completed around 1280. Because the cathedral was built in only 38 years, it has a single consistent architectural style, Early English Gothic.
The only major sections of the cathedral built later were the cloisters, chapter house, tower and spire, which at 404 feet (123 m) dominated the skyline from 1320. Although the spire is the cathedral’s most impressive feature, it has also 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 later great ecclesiastical buildings (such as Malmesbury Abbey) and fallen down; instead, Salisbury remains the tallest church spire in the UK. To this day 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, arrested further deformation. The beams were hidden by a false ceiling, installed below the lantern stage of the tower.