A Cathedral moves from Old Sarum to Salisbury

It is hard to believe a time when Salisbury Cathedral didn’t tower protectively over the city, but the building we know and love today was not the original cathedral.  

It all began at Old Sarum

The original Salisbury Cathedral was in fact completed at Old Sarum in 1092 under Osmund, the first Bishop of Salisbury. 

The history of Old Sarum, to the north of Salisbury, can be dated back to around 400BC when an Iron Age hillfort is thought to have first been established there. 

(The Old Sarum remains)

Sarum prospered during the Roman era and when the Norman conquest of England took place in 1066 King William I used Old Sarum as a base of operations. 

There was a newly constructed strong fortress on the hill and massive walls surrounding it.  

Then, in 1075 the two church dioceses of Sherborne and Ramsbury were combined under the oversight of Bishop Herman. The new diocese, which covered the counties of Dorset, Wiltshire and Berkshire, would be run from Old Sarum. Work on a new cathedral begun shortly but it was not completed until after Herman’s death. By this time the role of Bishop – the first Bishop of Salisbury - had been given to Osmund, King William’s cousin. 

Over the next few hundred years changes were made to the cathedral. The first was quite small, so, in the 1100s Bishop Roger implemented plans for a large extension. At his death in 1139 proposals to rebuild the nave were abandoned and it was left to Bishop Jocelyn (1142–84) to furnish and fit out the enlarged cathedral, as well as add a new west front. 

Time to relocate

Although Old Sarum's importance as an administrative base grew, by the Middle Ages tensions there began to rise between the church and army so the decision was made to relocate the city and a new cathedral. 

Legend has it the new site was chosen by an archer who was told to shoot his arrow from Old Sarum and wherever it fell would be the new location, but the arrow hit a deer and the animal ran off before lying down to die where the cathedral is now built. This has never been proven, and the real reason for the current location is still unknown. 

A new beginning

A foundation ceremony at the new cathedral location was held in 1220 and on 14 June 1226 the tombs of Osmund, Roger and Jocelyn were moved to the new site. 

It was the removal of the tombs that marked the ritual abandonment of Old Sarum Cathedral, after which the demolition of the old building began. 

The remains of the old cathedral at Old Sarum are still well worth a visit today. 

Take in the beautiful views of the city from the top of the hill whilst discovering the thousands of years of history the fort has seen. 

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