Memoirs of a Young Traveler: Salisbury Cathedral

If you didn’t know me you would probably be inclined to make the assumption, based on the list of places I visited, that I went to England on some sort of religious pilgrimage. I wouldn’t blame you. About 90 percent of my stops were at churches, cathedrals or abbeys.  But, your assumption would be wrong.

I’m not religious. My religious inclinations fall somewhere between atheist and agnostic. It baffled my family and it baffled my friends as to why I visited so many religious sites.  The reality lies with the fact that churches, cathedrals and abbeys tend to be some of the oldest places and I love history. Churches, cathedrals, and abbeys also tend to be some of the most beautifully constructed buildings and I love photographing art and architecture.  So if I wanted to get the most of my historical and photographic pursuit on my trip to England I had to visit religious spots.

I wondered on more than one occasion though, that if I had grown up in England and went to churches looking like the ones  I saw: would I be as non-religious as I am today. The answer is probably yes. But, I think I would probably be going to church more frequently just to sit in awe of the buildings.

Salisbury Cathedral left me in as much awe as the other religious institutions I visited.

Everyone knows Salisbury by its tall, towering spire. But, the spire, as impressive as it is, could ultimately lead to the destruction of one of the oldest cathedrals sites in England. Due to the weight of the spire, the cathedral is built with internal architecture to help hold it up. The spire may still be standing but the church, from its’ weight has actually sunk. So much concern marks the weight of the spire that they’ve placed dots on the floor signifying how the center has shifted and leaned over the years. It’s been a shift of about one to two feet since the spire was first erected (considering it was over hundreds of years ago I’m not too concerned). But, in addition to being heavy on the body of the cathedral, the spire is also simply top heavy. If winds reach high enough speeds they actually shut the church down and close it. They’re concerned high winds could actually cause the spire to come tumbling into the cathedral. That’s more than a terrifying thought as you’re walking around the inside of the building on a windy day. Is having a well known spire important enough to risk the well being of the entire building? Then again would I have even gone out of my way to see it if the spire hadn’t been there?

Aside from my increased fear of death by church spire, I still appreciated the history and the beauty of the building. Salisbury is one of the few cathedrals that actually has a consistent architectural style, because it was built in such a short period of time. It is also one of the oldest religious buildings in all of England, with its foundation laid in 1220. That makes it very old, which in my book automatically makes it very cool. The building isn’t just old but it prides itself on being old. It prides itself in its history. And, it prides itself in the history of Britain, which probably explains how it came to hold one of the four remaining copies of the Magna Carta.

It is a phenomenal building. This is only accentuated by the incredible statues and beautifully colored ceiling. Salisbury Cathedral’s ceiling is not a detailed painting of some religious scene from the bible like you normally see in famous cathedrals. And, it is not just carefully carved stone of gothic saints and creatures. It is a beautiful pattern of painted reds and greens that look more like someone has used color pencils. Though most portions of the ceiling have been refurbished over the years, the hints of color in the faded areas show that it was just as exquisite in its original state as it is now. What makes it so special is that it is simple. Simplicity isn’t something you think you’re going to see in a cathedral. You expect cathedrals to be ornate and detailed throughout to achieve beauty. And yet, Salisbury achieved the same feat by doing the unexpected in the religious world of Anglican cathedrals: it was simple. The spire may not be simple, but it is not framed but lots of confusing and overblown detail. It stands out because it is framed by simplicity.

By the time I wandered out of Salisbury and headed to my next destination for the day I had reached a conclusion about why I was visiting so many cathedrals and churches and abbeys. It wasn’t the religiousness of them (that much was obvious from the start), and as fascinating as it was (everywhere I went) it wasn’t even the history; I visited religious institution after religious institution because they were all unique. Every church has its’ own story, its’ own details that makes it special. I would be hard pressed to find the same gargoyle at Westminster Abbey as I found at Salisbury. The uniqueness drew me in and I had made it my mission to discover the every buildings secrets and stories.

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