Salisbury Cathedral

Learn about Salisbury Cathedral, its Close and The Friends.

Salisbury Cathedral

Salisbury Cathedral, formally known as the Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is an Anglican cathedral in Salisbury, England. The cathedral is regarded as one of the leading examples of Early English architecture: its main body was completed in 38 years, from 1220 to 1258.

Since 1549, the cathedral has had the tallest church spire in the United Kingdom, at 404 feet (123m). Visitors can take the ‘Tower Tour’, in which the interior of the hollow spire, with its ancient wooden scaffolding, can be viewed. The cathedral has the largest cloister and the largest cathedral close in Britain at 80 acres (32ha). It contains a clock, which is among the oldest working examples in the world, and one of the four surviving original copies of the 13th-century Magna Carta. In 2020, the cathedral will celebrate the 800th anniversary of its consecration.

The cathedral is the mother church of the Diocese of Salisbury and is the seat of the Bishop of Salisbury, currently Nicholas Holtam.

Salisbury Cathedral Close

In contrast to its earlier cramped site upon the hill at Old Sarum, on the north edge of modern Salisbury, the plan for today’s eighty-acre Cathedral Close, probably the largest in the world, was drawn in the early 13th Century and planned on an ambitious scale. Apart from being the site for the Cathedral, its purpose was to accommodate the Bishop, The Cathedral’s Canons and their lay staff.

(click to see larger image)

The original layout of the buildings still exists today. On the north and east the Close is enclosed by high, stone walls, while on the west the River Avon is its boundary. The wall continues for some way along the south side, thus forming a precinct roughly square in shape, but the ‘liberty of the Close’ at its fullest extent reached south beyond this wall as far as the loop of the Avon. The cathedral stands apart in the centre of the precinct with the Bishop's Palace to the south-east, well beyond the cloister and the chapter house. A road from the Palace, known as Bishop's Walk, joins the North Walk stretching from St. Ann's Gate to the Choristers' Green in the north-west corner. From here, the West Walk divides the lawns of the churchyard from houses along the river side of the precinct.

The 18th and 19th centuries brought improvements in the open spaces of the Close. Perhaps the most significant was the draining and levelling of the churchyard, which had been described by a visitor in 1782 as 'like a cow common'. Watercourses, which had been constructed to flow across the precincts and adjacent meadows, were covered in for public health reasons.

There are, however, some wonderful private gardens in Salisbury Cathedral Close. Usually hidden from public view, they include those of the South Canonry, Myles Place, De Vaux House, De Vaux Lodge, the charming gardens at Nos 23, 24 and 48, and the garden that many people vote to be the best of all, the lovely cottage gardens of the College of Matrons almshouses. These gardens and more are opened to visitors once a year, in late Spring, in a voluntary event run by The Friends of Salisbury Cathedral. It is called, appropriately enough, the ‘Secret Gardens of the Close’ and visitors love being allowed to see so many special places, all in top form.

Today Salisbury possesses a Close of outstanding beauty. The former Bishop’s Palace is now home to the Cathedral School. The Close also accommodates: Bishop Wordsworth’s Grammar school; two museums; the works department; Sarum College (an ecumenical theological college); Mompesson House (owned by the National Trust), Arundells (the home of former prime minister Sir Edward Heath), the College of Matrons almshouses, and homes for the Bishop, the Dean and Chapter Canons, Lay Choristers and staff. Nowadays The Close is home to some 300 private individuals—and visited by over 400,000 tourists a year, of many faiths and none.

The visitor, whose attention is understandably focussed on the grandeur of the Early English Cathedral building, with its iconic spire, set like a jewel in its green lawns, and encircled by the houses and tree-lined Walks of the Close, would be forgiven for failing to note the complete lack of public gardens.

The Friends of Salisbury Cathedral

The Friends of Salisbury Cathedral is an independent charity with over 3,000 members, all sharing a common interest: to contribute to the enhancement and maintenance of this beautiful medieval Cathedral church, its fellowship and community.

The formal Objects of the Friends are ‘to support the Chapter of Salisbury Cathedral in maintaining, preserving, improving and enhancing the fabric, fittings, ornaments, furniture, music and monuments of the Cathedral, and to support its life, worship and ministry’.

Through members’ subscriptions and donations, investment income and Gift Aid, and with Legacies making a significant addition, the Friends give grants that can make a vital difference. Income is also generated by the sale of merchandise and by organising ticketed events - including the ‘Secret Gardens of the Close’ event. The scale of the projects they support depends on a continuous response by the Friends - they always welcome new members to support this work.

Since forming in 1930, their grants have been given for projects great and small, in today’s values worth millions of pounds - the top five amounts total:

  • £7.8m for Cathedral repairs and renovations including the Major Repair Programme

  • £3m towards new External and Internal Lighting

  • £1.25m for organ restoration

  • £1.1m towards monument conservation

  • Most recently £892,000 was granted towards ‘Little Paradise’ the first new building since medieval times, housing new public restrooms, and storage.


The Salisbury Florilegium Society is delighted to support the Cathedral by raising funds for the Friends.