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Great West Front of Salisbury Cathedral
Great West Front of Salisbury Cathedral

Salisbury (pronounced 'Solsbree' or 'Sauls-bree') is a small cathedral city in Wiltshire, England. It is the main town in the Salisbury district.


The city's origins go back to the Iron Age, and the Romans called it "Sorviodunum". There was a battle between the West Saxons and the Britons here, after which the place was called "Searoburh". The Normans built a castle and called it "Searesbyrig or Seresberi". By 1086, in the Domesday Book, it was called Salesberie. The site of the castle is now known as "Old Sarum" and is uninhabited.

The name "Sarum", which is often mistakenly taken to be the Roman or Norman name for the old city and castle, came into use when documents were written in contracted latin and it was easier to write Sar with a stroke over the "r", than write the complete word "Saresberie". That mark of contraction was also the common symbol for the latin termination "um". Hence "Sar" with a stroke over the r was copied as "SarUM". One of the first known uses of "Sarum" is on the seal of Saint Nicholas Hospital, Salisbury,which was in use in 1239. Bishop Wyville (1330 - 1375)was the first Bishop to describe himself "episcopus Sarum". (A full description of this is given in "The Victoria History of Wiltshire", Vol VI pages 93 to 94).

With a modern day population of approximately 115,000 the location is ideal for settlement. It is at the confluence of five rivers: the Avon, Nadder, Ebble, Wylye (pronounced 'Why-lee') and Bourne. The resultant river is the Avon (old English for 'river'), which flows to the south coast and out into the sea at Christchurch, Dorset. This Avon is sometimes referred to as the Hampshire Avon, in order to distinguish it from the River Avon which enters the sea at Avonmouth.

The first cathedral was built at Old Sarum by St Bishop Osmund between 1075 and 1092. A larger building was subsequently built on the same site in c.1120. However, deteriorating relations between the clergy and the military at Old Sarum led to the decision to resite the cathedral elsewhere. Thus the city of New Sarum, known as Salisbury, was founded in 1220, and the building of the new cathedral begun by Bishop Richard Poore in 1220. The main body was completed in only 38 years and is a masterpiece of Early English architecture, the stones which make up the cathedrel came down from Old Sarum The spire, which is 404 feet (123 metres) tall was built later, and is the tallest spire in the UK. The cathedral is built on a gravel bed with unusually shallow foundations of 18 inches upon wooden faggots: the site is supposed to have been selected by firing an arrow from Old Sarum, although this is clearly legend due to the distance involved (although it is sometimes claimed the arrow hit a white deer, which continued to run and died on the spot where the Cathedral now exists).

The cathedral's library contains the best surviving of the four remaining copies of the Magna Carta.

Please read 'Sarum' by Edward Rutherford, a novel which describes Salisbury through the centuries.


Salisbury holds a market on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and an annual funfair (the Sloe Fair) in October. There is an ancient law stating that the fair can move to Cathedral close.

Salisbury is also a key centre of the art community, with many galleries situated in the city centre. Famous artists such as Bill Toop are locals in the area, and renowned impressionists such as John Constable and Monet have travelled from afar to paint the divine cathedral and the grounds. Salisbury's annual International Arts Festival, held in late May to early June, provides a varied programme of theatre, live music, dance, public sculpture, street performance and art exhibitions. A key venue is the charming Salisbury Arts Centre located in St Edumund's Church, which re-opened in May 2005 following a makeover and expansion. It has two flexible performance areas, multimedia facilities, a resident potter, beautiful gothic stained glass windows and a modern bar.

External links

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