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Home > Catholic Encyclopedia > S > Ancient Diocese of Salisbury

Ancient Diocese of Salisbury

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The diocese was originally founded by Birinus, who in 634 established his see at Dorchester in Oxfordshire, whence he evangelized the Kingdom of Wessex. From this beginning sprang the later Dioceses of Winchester, Sherborne, Ramsbury, and Salisbury. In the time of Bishop St. Headda (676-705) the see was moved to Winchester, and on Headda's death (705) a formal division took place, when the greater part of Wiltshire with portions of Dorset and Somerset were formed into the Diocese of Sherborne of which St. Aldhelm became the first bishop. Ten bishops in turn succeeded St. Aldhelm before the next subdivision of the see in 909, when Wiltshire and Berkshire became the separate see of Ramsbury, restricting the Diocese of Sherborne to Dorsetshire only. The arrangement continued until the two dioceses were again united in 1058 under Herman, who had been made Bishop of Ramsbury in 1045. He lived to transfer his episcopal chair to Old Sarum in 1075. His successor, St. Osmund, built a cathedral there and drew up for it the ordinal of offices, which became the basis of the Sarum Rite It was the seventh Bishop of Sarum, Richard Poore, who determined to remove the cathedral from the precincts of the royal castle of Old Sarum to a more convenient spot. On 28 April, 1220, he laid the foundation stones of the present cathedral, beginning with the Lady chapel which was consecrated on 28 Sept., 1225. Among those present was St. Edmund, afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury, and at this time treasurer of Salisbury. The cathedral was completed in 1266, having taken nearly half a century to accomplish. It stands alone among English cathedrals in having been built all of a piece, and thus possesses an architectural unity which is exceptional; it is also remarkable as being the first important building in the early English style. The cloisters and chapter house were shortly added; the spire regarded as the most beautiful in Europe is one of the loftiest in the world, and was a later addition, the exact date of which is unknown; probably built by 1300. The diocese was divided into four archdeaconries: Salisbury, Berkshire, Wiltshire, and Dorsetshire. In the "Valor Ecclesiasticus" of 1535, over 800 parish churches are recorded.

From the translation of the see to Salisbury the bishops were:

Old Sarum:

New Sarum:

In 1534 Cardinal Campegio was deprived of the temporalities and Nicholas Shaxton was schismatically intruded into the see. On Campegio's death, Peter Peto (afterwards cardinal) was nominated but never consecrated. Under Mary, the schismatical bishop, John Capon (or Salcot) was reconciled and held the see till his death in 1557. Peto was again nominated, but did not take possession, and Francis Mallet was named, but ejected by Elizabeth before consecration.

The cathedral was dedicated to Our Lady.


BRITTON, Hist. and Antiquities of Salisbury (London, 1814); DODSWORTH, Historical Account of the See and Cathedral Church of Sarum (LONDON, 1814); CASS, Lives of the Bishops of Sherborne and Salisbury (Salisbury, 1824); PHILLIPPS, Institutiones clericorum in comitatu Wiltoniae (n. P., 1825); ROCK, Church of Our Fathers (London, 1849-53); SCOTT, Salisbury Cathedral: position of high altar (London, 1876), JONES, Fasti Ecclesiae Sarisburiensis (Salisbury, 1879-81); IDEM, Salisbury in Diocesan Histories (London, 1880); IDEM, Charters and documents illustrating the hiatory of the Cathedral, etc., of Salisbury in R. S. (London, 1891); WHITE, Saliabury: the Cathedral and See (London, 1896); WORDSWORTH, Ceremonies and processions of Cathedral Church of Salisbury (London, 1901).

About this page

APA citation. Burton, E. (1912). Ancient Diocese of Salisbury. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Burton, Edwin. "Ancient Diocese of Salisbury." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 13. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Joseph E. O'Connor.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. February 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, D.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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