The view from the roof of the tower at Winchester Cathedral is expansive, greenery everywhere and it gives you a good view of the many historic features of the city.
From the statue of Alfred the Great in the East, to the Westgate to the city in the West, climbing that tower (as terrifying and as narrow as it is!!) and admiring the view from the top is a really good way to get a feel for the city.
It was a church in the South that got my attention. It looked larger than the average parish church, and it stood out on the edge of the city. It looked grand, even from the distance.
I was later to find out it was the Church of St. Cross at the Hospital of St. Cross and I
made sure that on my next visit to Winchester, I would make it a priority.
The Hospital of St. Cross is the largest and oldest medieval Almshouse in England and was founded between 1132 and 1136 by Henry of Blois.
Henry was the brother of King Stephen, a grandson of William the Conqueror and became Bishop of Winchester in 1129. If you are keen to read more about it’s history, I wrote about it here.
Arriving at St. Cross, I paused before entering through the gate. It was February, and the light was slightly dim, milky and rain had been threatening all day.
It added to the atmosphere as I approached the Porter’s shop and tower. The tower was built in the 15th century and is named the Beaufort tower, after the Cardinal who extended the hospital.
The Beaufort Tower
After paying my entry fee of £4, I headed out into the courtyard. I was taken aback to find I was the only visitor at that moment and felt privileged to have the hospital all to myself. I truly felt like I had closed my eyes, and opened them to find I had stumbled back in time.
I made a beeline for the church. It stands in the southern corner of the complex, and was built in the 12th century. It retains much of its original Norman design.
There is something about entering an empty ancient church. The silence somehow extends beyond quiet and into a deep peace. It’s almost as if people’s prayers over the centuries have embedded themselves in the walls.
The nave has a Norman arch colonnade and I made my way towards the crossing.
I was just in time for the bells to toll the hour and as they were just meters above me, the sound of the mechanism clicking into place gave me a heart attack!
I had no idea what the sound was until the bell rung and I jumped out of my skin. Ruined the peace for a moment!
The highlights of the church for me were the beautiful Norman windows with Chevron carvings and the 19th century glass which set them off well.
There are also some medieval tiles, and it is clear that the church is lovingly taken care of, the flowers were stunning.
After enjoying the church, I headed back across the courtyard to the Brethren’s Hall.
The Brethren’s Hall is a decent sized hall with a high ceiling and a wooden beamed roof. It looks how I imagined it has for centuries.
I was still alone at this point and felt the years quite keenly here. However, it wasn’t until I wandered into the kitchen and cellar that I started to feel like I wasn’t alone.
I was… but I sometimes think there must be something left behind upon the walls of an ancient building, a calling from all those who lived and worked there over the centuries.
The heavens opened as I left the kitchens and I paused in the hallway, taking in the quietness, and the thrill of hearing the rain beating down in the courtyard outside.
The cloisters, built in the 16th century lead through to some lovely gardens and I can only imagine how beautiful they are in summer when the flowers bloom and the weather is less inclement!
As I left St Cross, I knew I had been privileged to experience it the way I did, all alone, with the freedom to move from place to place as I wished.
I hope with all my heart I get to return some day
Further reading: I came across this excellent write up in British History Online about the hospital, so much so I need to update my previous blog 🙂