A Medieval Wonder That Still Surprises
Work first began on Winchester Cathedral in 1089 to create what would become the longest medieval cathedral in existence (526 feet): famous for its soaring twelve-bay nave, it is one of England’s greatest, as lovely from without as within. It is proof of the former market town’s prominence in the Middle Ages when, as capital of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex, Winchester was a major religious and commercial center. The cathedral was built of Quarr stone from the nearby Isle of Wight on the ruins of a Saxon church. Literary buffs make a pilgrimage here to visit the tomb of Jane Austen (1775—1817), combining the excursion with a visit to Chawton Cottage, her pleasant country home 15 miles west of town, where many of her greatest works were penned.
Much of the mood and spirit of the age immortalized in her six major novels, including Sense and Sensibility and Emma, is still within reach in Hampshire’s hilly interior. This bucolic area was a lode mined for literary inspiration by a later titan, Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), who hailed from neighboring Dorset (known by its historical name Wessex in his work), one of England’s smallest and most culturally rich shires.