Salisbury Cathedral 800th anniversary

SALISBURY Cathedral this year celebrates the 800th anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone in its position on the flood plain. But the coronavirus lockdown has forced the Dean and Chapter to make very different plans from those originally envisaged.

As a result of the Covid-19 guidelines regarding public worship, services marking the 800th anniversary have had to be postponed. However the liturgy and music team led by Canon Anna Macham, Canon Precentor of Salisbury Cathedral, held an online Service of Thanksgiving on the actual 800th anniversary of the laying of the foundation stones of the Cathedral Church of New Sarum on Tuesday 28th April.

Canon Macham explained that the foundation stone was laid following the decision of Bishop Richard Poore and the Chapter in 1218 to relocate the Cathedral from its former site at Old Sarum and build a new one in its current location (New Sarum), thus bringing about a new era in the Cathedral’s history and giving birth to the city of Salisbury. The anniversary will be celebrated more fully later in the year when the Cathedral is open again for public worship.

The service included an address by the Dean of Salisbury, the Very Rev Nicholas Papadopulos, and a dramatised account of the move from Old Sarum and the foundation of the new Cathedral (taken from material held in the Cathedral archive), recorded by the Cathedral choristers with the Bishop of Salisbury, the Right Rev Nicholas Holtam, playing Osmund, the first Bishop of Sarum.

The founding of the cathedral in this location, which has been immortalised by so many artists and photographers over the centuries, is wrapped in myth – an archer is said to have chosen the site for the new cathedral by shooting an arrow from the old site at Old Sarum (about two miles north of the present site); to explain this remarkable feat, it is said that the archer shot a deer which fell where the cathedral now stands.

But the physical building is actually something of a miracle, when you consider that the foundations of what is unquestionably one of the greatest of all the Gothic cathedrals, are only four feet deep. The cathedral’s height, to the top of its famous spire, is 404 feet. The recommended depth of foundations for a single building today is one foot.

As well as the services, there is also a virtual and interactive tour of the 800th anniversary exhibition, which has been curated by Jacquiline Creswell, Salisbury Cathedral’s visual arts adviser. This major exhibition was to have opened on 25th March. The Cathedral team has worked behind the scenes with Jacquiline Creswell, Patrick Price from Heads Above The Cloud and Stuart Hillcock of Footprint Innovations to make the exhibition and the catalogue available online. The art tour and catalogue can be viewed via the website:

Pictured are four of the artworks in the exhibition: Death of a Working Hero, by Grayson Perry; Large Reclining Figure by Henry Moore; Stairway by Danny Lane; When Soak Becomes Spill by Subhod Gupta; all photographs by Ash Mills.