Wednesday, 1 December 2010

The Monk at Winchester Cathedral

The following guest article is by Rupert Matthews, author of the book Haunted Hampshire.

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The Monk at Winchester Cathedral
By Rupert Matthews

Winchester Cathedral is surely the most popular building in the city. It is among both the largest and the oldest of Winchester’s many tourist attractions, it has been celebrated in music and has featured on postcards sent to almost every country on earth.

So popular is it, that visitors come back time and again to wonder at its beauty and majestic setting. Some come back more often than others. One has been coming back at intervals for the past 600 years. He simply cannot get enough of the Cathedral.

The phantom in question, for a ghost he undoubtedly is, is that of a monk. He seems to feel the attractions of the Cathedral more strongly at some times than at others. He was seen frequently in the post-war years and again in the 1970s, but at other times rarely puts in an appearance more than once a year.

If the frequency of his appearances are irregular, his habits - if you will pardon the pun - are not. He slowly materialises out of nothingness in the southern end of the Close, close to house No.11. Having become solid, the phantom moves across the Close towards the arch which forms a roadway to gardens near the South Transept.

But this ghost does not glide in the approved fashion of ghosts. He limps. And he limps quite badly. No footsteps are heard, but those who have seen the ghostly monk notice that he almost drags his right foot as he moves across the Close. Continuing has painful progress, the monk approaches the arch and then fades from sight. Some claim he passes through the arch, others that he shimmers and slips away into a misty form that fades from sight.

I came to the Cathedral on a bright spring day when there was still a hint of winter in the chill breeze. Office workers and shop staff were munching on sandwiches in the Cathedral Close and on the Green in front of the great West Front. There were some tourists too, but they were intent on getting into the Cathedral, or out again and on to the next tourist site.

Most of the sandwich scoffers knew little or nothing of the ghostly monk. Though one young woman ventured “Oh, yeah. Some chap took a photo of the ghost in the Cathedral. I’ve seen it in a book.” This, in fact, was a quite different ghost entirely - of a medieval workman, but that is another story.

Finally, I found someone who knew of the spectral cathedral monk. “My brother saw it  once,” declared a middle aged gent in a well-cut tweed jacket. “Nothing very frightening about it though. Just a monk walking to the cathedral. He didn’t even have his head under his arm.” But then very few ghosts do appear as the popular stories would have us imagine. When was this? “Oh some years ago now. The 1970s? Could be, could be.”

Quite how old the phantom might be is rather unclear. Winchester Cathedral is one of the oldest religious foundations in England. As the centre of the old Kingdom of Wessex, Winchester was the home of the kingdom’s most prestigious religious building since the conversion of Wessex in the 7th century. The foundations of the Saxon cathedral can be seen traced out on the green just north of the present building.
The mighty cathedral we see today was largely the work of the Normans, who tore down the old church and erected their own to mark in majestic stone the start of the new regime. The church was extended in the 13th century and in the 14th was remodelled in the then fashionable Perpendicular Gothic. Throughout all this time, the Cathedral was served by monks. Only after Henry VIII’s Dissolution in the 16th century did the monks leave the cathedral to the clergy. In theory the phantom monk might date back to any century from the 7th to the 16th.

But there is one clue. During one of the periods of alterations that take place around the cathedral from time to time a number of burials were unearthed in what is now a private garden, but was evidently then part of the cathedral precincts. The bodies were all male and date to about the 14th century. They were probably monks.

What does this have to do with our phantom? Well, one of the bodies had a grossly deformed arthritic right knee. It would have given him a very bad limp.

Having explored the Cathedral and its Close thoroughly, I felt it was time for some refreshment. Luckily the Old Market Inn was at hand. The ancient bar played host to a wide variety of local ales, and one of these was swiftly consumed. Meanwhile the menu carried some truly exotic dishes from the Mediterranean. Being something of a traditional chap, I resisted the temptations of linguini, penne or prosciutto and instead plumped for the Old Market Mixed Grill. And jolly good it was too!

Winchester Cathedral is easy to find. If arriving by car, park in one of the town centre car parks. If coming by public transport, alight at the central Winchester stops. Either way, you should then follow the tourist brown and white signs to the Cathedral. The Close lies south of the Cathedral and can be reached on foot from the green which lies in front of the great west front. The Old Market Inn stands just to the north of the same green.


Rupert Matthews is the author of the book “Haunted Hampshire” which is published by the History Press (ISBN 978-0752448626) and available on Amazon and from all good bookshops. You can find Rupert’s website at www.rupertmatthews.com. He also maintains a blog about the unexplained at www.ghosthunteratlarge.blogspot.com.

If you would like to contribute a guest article for the website please contact Richard Thomas at richard@richardthomas.eu.

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