the Spire

Salisbury cathedral

Salisbury cathedral

Look familiar? It was the subject of one of John Constable’s paintings, and just about at this angle too. What makes Salisbury cathedral so unusual is that 1) it was completed in 38 years (rather than centuries), and 2) it has a spire. Many cathedrals were built with a tower that was intended to have a spire on top of it, when money was available, but typically it never happened. The spire was added 100 years after construction of the cathedral began, but at least it happened.

The spire is beautiful, the highest in England at 404 feet. It was a feat of medieval engineering (1320) to get that sucker up there, and despite efforts to straighten it over the centuries, it’s still not perfectly vertical. William Golding (of Lord of the Flies fame) even wrote a novel about it called, appropriately enough, The Spire.

I think this is the most beautiful cathedral we’ve seen so far, and the spire definitely is a factor. As a bonus, the Chapter House at the cathedral houses one of only four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, and it is the most legible one. The document, which King John was coerced into signing in 1215, was the first to give citizens of England rights. The US constitution borrows heavily from it.

The city of Salisbury itself is fantastic, another place that Fodor’s didn’t do justice. We happened to be there on market day. The open-air market was better than most we’ve seen. And there are many fun shops and restaurants in addition to the market. Queen Elizabeth Gardens and the watermeadows (the flood plains of five converging rivers) are beautiful green spaces. And all this is less than ten miles from Stonehenge. If I ever get back this way, I want to stay here for a good, long time.

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