Salisbury Cathedral – Salisbury, Wiltshire, England

A Masterpiece of Medieval Technology

The paintings of Turner and Constable long ago familiarized the world with Salisbury Cathedral and its remarkable 404-foot spire. The cathedral was begun in 1220 and was completed in a record thirty-eight years (the spire, the tallest structure then known in the world—and still the highest in England—was added toward the end of the 13th century). With many great cathedrals requiring centuries of construction, this was a remarkable engineering accomplishment not unlike that of 20th-century Manhattan’s most daring skyscraper projects.

As a result of its quick com­pletion, Salisbury is the most stylistically unified of all the great European cathedrals and the very pinnacle of what is known as the Early English or pointed Gothic style. Sir Christopher Wren meas­ured an alarming 29.5-inch tilt of the spire in 1668, but no further shift has since been detected.

Those who trust architecture from 700 years ago can climb the spire’s steps for a view across the small town of Salisbury and the Salisbury Plain in the direction of Stonehenge, Wiltshire’s other significant and far more ancient site. The attractive and still lively market town of Salisbury was created by the cathedral, not the other way around, which often was the case.

Welcoming pilgrims and wayfarers since its earliest days, the 13th-century Rose and Crown Inn, with its hand-hewn beams and wel­coming air still firmly intact, is an inviting place to spend the night. It’s a lovely old inn whose lawn stretches down to the Avon River, where relaxed guests can dangle their feet and count the swans that glide by. The view is a Turner canvas come to life, the cathedral’s soaring spire in full sight.

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