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Ancient See of Winchester

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This diocese came into existence in 635 when the great missionary Diocese of Dorchester, founded by St. Birinus in 634 for the Kingdom of Wessex, was subdivided into the Sees of Sherborne and Winchester. The two dioceses were ruled by one bishop until 676, when a real separation was effected. The Diocese of Winchester then consisted of Hampshire, Surrey, and Sussex; but Sussex was afterwards formed into the See of Chichester, and the Isle of Wight was added to Winchester. The church at Winchester, which became the cathedral of the new diocese, had been founded and endowed in 634 by King Cynegils, whose son Coenwealh added more lands to its possessions. When Wessex gradually assumed the supremacy the importance of the see greatly increased. After the metropolitan Sees of Canterbury and York, it ranked first among all English bishoprics till the reformation; this position the Anglican see still enjoys. It gained increased honour by the episcopate and subsequent canonization of St. Swithin, its seventeenth bishop. When his relics were enshrined there the cathedral, which had been under the patronage of St. Amphibalus, was dedicated to St. Swithin. It occupied the site of an earlier edifice dating from the Roman occupation, which had been converted into a pagan temple by the Saxons.

A new cathedral was built by Cynegils, and three hundred years later was enlarged by Bishop Aethelwald, who replaced the secular canons by Benedictine monks and built a large monastery. After the conquest the first Norman bishop, Walkelin, built a cathedral in the Norman style on a site near by; much of his work remains in the present edifice. To this new building (consecrated in 1093) the relics of St. Swithin were solemnly transferred, 15 July. Within its walls took place the burial of William Rufus (1100), the coronation of Richard I (1194), the marriage of Henry IV (1401), and the marriage of Queen Mary (1554). During the Middle Ages the building was gradually transformed from Norman to Gothic; the nave especially affords an interesting example of the way in which such changes were effected. This work, began by Edington, was continued by the great bishop, William of Wykeham, and his successors. In 1378 Wykeham obtained the pope's license of the foundation of his great school at Winchester, and in 1387 he began the buildings which were opened in 1393. The original foundation provided for a warden, ten fellows, three chaplains, seventy scholars, and sixteen choristers.

The following is the list of bishops of Winchester with the dates of accession (after 909 the chronology is certain):

The diocese contained 362 parishes under two archdeaconries, Winchester and Surrey. The arms of the see were gules two keys endorsed in bend, the uppermost argent, the other or, a sword interposed between them in bend sinister, of the second, pommels and hilts of the third.


BRITTON, History and Antiquities of Winchester Cathedral (London, 1817); CLARENDON and GALE, History and Antiquities of the Cathedral Church of Winchester (London, 1715); WARTON, Description of City, College, and Cathedral of Winchester (Winchester, 1750); Annales Monast. de Wintonia (519-1277) in LUARD, Annales Monastici, R.S. (London, 1865); IDEM in Mon. Germ. Hist.: Script., XVI, XXVII (Berlin, 1859-85), tr. in Church Historians of England, IV (London, 1856), i; CASSAN, Lives of the Bishops of Winchester (2 vols., London, 1827); MILNER, History and survey of the Antiquities of Winchester (Winchester, 1798-1801); WINKLES, English Cathedrals (London, 1860); Winchester Cathedral Records (Winchester, 1886); SERGEANT, Winchester: the Cathedral and See (London, 1898); SEARLE, Anglo-Saxon Bishops, Kings and Nobles (Cambridge, 1899); KIRBY, Annals of Winchester College from 1382 (London, 1892); LEACH, History of Winchester College (London, 1899).

About this page

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

MLA citation. Burton, Edwin. "Ancient See of Winchester." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Michael T. Barrett. Dedicated to Judy Van Horn.

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

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