A Photo Tour of Salisbury Cathedral

March 19, 2014 — 46 Comments

I don’t think there is an architect on the planet that doesn’t like cathedrals. Seriously … I have a list of all the cathedrals I want to see before I move on to that great cathedral in the sky. Even for those who aren’t religious, there is great beauty in churches and the magnitude and role that churches played in every developed country on this planet can not be denied. Evidence of the fact that all architects love exploring churches is a post I wrote almost 3 years ago titled “Top Ten Cathedrals to See before you Die” which out of almost 600 articles I’ve written to date, it is one of the most read posts on this site.

On that list, I included Winchester Cathedral at Winchester in Hampshire, which is one of the largest cathedrals in England with the longest nave and overall length of any Gothic cathedral in Europe. I didn’t want to go with the seemingly obvious choice of St. Paul’s in London so I went with Winchester Cathedral … and boy did I hear about how wrong I was to leave Salisbury Cathedral off my list. I was happy to remedy this by visiting Salisbury Cathedral on my most recent trip to England.

Salisbury Cathedral exterior

This version of Salisbury Cathedral broke construction on April 28th, 1220 AD and is an example of Early English Gothic which is defined by its pointed arches, vaulted roofs, buttresses, large windows, and spires. On the day we visited, we had terrific weather and minimal crowds – you will see this in my pictures which are (for the most part) gloriously devoid of other people.

I’m not going to turn this into a history lesson on Salisbury Cathedral, I think the images I’ve attached here speak for themselves. Despite the risk of my server crashing, all of the images I’ve included today can be clicked with a new image opening up at a much larger size. I’m not a photographer but I think my pictures are pretty good for a guy snapping holiday pictures.

Salisbury Cathedral ceiling view

Salisbury Cathedral nave ceiling detail

Salisbury Cathedral window detail

Salisbury Cathedral interior of roof

Salisbury Cathedral interior of roof

Salisbury Cathedral roof interior carved stone detail

Salisbury Cathedral interior of roof

In the picture above, we are just above the central nave of the cathedral, above the ceiling and below the roof. This was an amazing space to be in and we were treated at an up close and personal look at how the church was constructed. Even if you don’t know anything about construction (which my daughter does not) this is an area that easily commands your attention … you can see that my daughter Kate is glued to the elbow of our tour guide as she explains that the timber beam in front of them is over 800 years old.

That’s cool stuff.

Salisbury Cathedral bell tower

In these next series of images, we are making our way up through the bell tower. This isn’t scaffolding in these pictures … it’s additional structural bracing to keep the spire from collapsing in on itself. Some of the iron work here is among the oldest in Britain if I understood our guide properly. All of the pieces are fitted together using pins and tendon construction – no bolts or screws … they didn’t exist yet.

Salisbury Cathedral bell tower bracing

Salisbury Cathedral bell tower interior

Salisbury Cathedral bell tower interior

Salisbury Cathedral etched glass

Several years ago (around 1992 I believe) the cathedral went through a fund-raising event where you were allowed to buy a piece of glass and etch something on it .. and it would be placed into the interior side of the window frame up on the bell tower. How cool would that be to have be able to do something like that?

Salisbury Cathedral bell tower interior

Salisbury Cathedral bells

Salisbury Cathedral main bell

Salisbury Cathedral interior of spire

This is looking up into the one area we weren’t allowed to climb … the actual spire itself (which at 404 feet, it is the tallest spire in all of the United Kingdom.)

Salisbury Cathedral view from bell tower 02

I have to confess that during my climb up to the top of the bell tower, I apparently put a smudge on my camera lens … Right. In. The. Middle. of the lens.


The distortion you see is that smudge and not my attempts at being artsy. I can’t convey how much this is driving me crazy, I’m sure most of you can appreciate where I’m coming from on this.

Salisbury Cathedral view from bell tower 01

Salisbury Cathedral interior of roof

Okay, I’ll admit … the photo above does look a little artsy.

Salisbury Cathedral transept

Salisbury Cathedral cloisters

This was the point when I realized I had a smudge and cleaned my lens off. Damage was significant but minimal. Luckily, my wife was also taking pictures so I do have some images from the top of the bell tower that are pretty nice.

Salisbury Cathedral cloisters

Salisbury Cathedral front exterior

I’ve toured a lot of churches in my young life and I have to admit, my experience at Salisbury Cathedral was one of the best. We had access just about everywhere and getting to walk above the nave and get an up close look at the construction techniques of a building this old was really great. I can’t recommend more strongly that if you find yourself in Wiltshire, exploring Salisbury Cathedral is exactly how you should be spending part of your day.

Dominus vobiscum, quia fuistis cathedrali explorare …


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  • Stephen Dunn

    Hi Bob. I am the Head Guide at Salisbury Cathedral and delighted that you had a great tour. Your photos are amazing and rival some professional ones. Magna Carta is at Salisbury right now and not in Houston. The Charter can be found in the Chapter House. Houston is currently hosting a 1217 engrossment from Hereford Cathedral. Salisbury’s is one of four extant from the first set issued in 1215. I hope that you can come back one day and see it. We would love to show it to you.

    • I am conflicted now – happy that the Head Guide at Salisbury Cathedral saw my post and apparently I haven’t embarrassed myself, but sad that I missed the Magna Carta. I had my 9 year old with me and she had reached the limits of her willingness to continue exploring. The good news is that there will be a next time.


  • Zeljko

    “I don’t think there is an architect on the planet that doesn’t like cathedrals.” Very interesting thought. Since you are not answering my last comment I think you are doing this blog not to hear also a critical voice but just to praise your posts. So therefore: “Wow Bob! Nice photos!! I love it!”

    Good by “Life of an Architect”, it was nice. I am out.

    • I choose not to make this a forum for religious or political commentary, but rather an appreciation of the architecture at hand. If you can’t look at a building like this and appreciate the design and the effort and craftsmanship that went into it, I don’t have anything further to say. If you are only able to appreciate buildings that contribute in a positive way (by your definition whatever that may be) to society, there is a lot of good architecture you are missing out on.

      I didn’t respond to your last comment because I simply didn’t realize you had commented again. I had to scroll back through the comments here today just to find out what you were talking about.

  • Stephen McH

    I once got a tour of the loft space at Kings College Chapel in Cambridge (chapel being a complete understatement). High gothic with a fan vaulted ceiling. You could walk across the top of the vaults and at the apex of each one there is a 1 inch hole through which a rope was passed to lower the formwork when the vault had been completed. You could stick you finger the hole and wiggle it around because the stone is only 2 inches thick at that point.
    Incidentally, cool blog. Thanks for all the hard work.

    • That would be a terrific walk through, you are lucky!

      Thanks – glad you like the blog. Cheers

  • Greg Swedberg

    I think it’s pretty funny that you have photos from your wife from the top of the spire that do not have smudges, that are “pretty nice,” but you still posted yours with the smudges. lol That’s just like me with my wife and her photos….’Not that I’m some fantastic photographer, but I shoot things the way Iiiiiiii want to see them — smudge or no smudge.

    • I was wondering is someone was going to draw that same conclusion. My prepared answer was “it’s my blog” and the reason for the except was that I couldn’t get a picture of the spire interior and felt that I simply couldn’t leave that one off.

      Guilty as charged.

  • Benedikte Ranum

    Gorgeous photo tour, Bob. I’m a fellow lover of cathedrals but haven’t made it to Salisbury yet. I will now, after seeing this! A lot of spectacular images, but the carved stone wolf’s head (or is it a fox?) is my favourite 🙂

    • It’s a fox and isn’t original to the church. As the story goes, when the church was having some repair work done, there was a guy who came to document the stone masons work. He wanted to learn how to do what they were doing and the fox head was his final piece before he returned back from whence he came. As a nod to him, the stone masons set it in the wall up in the attic space. (quite sure I’ve butchered that story, I just sort of overheard it from one of the docents)

  • Nicole Hoffman

    I didn’t get to go up in the attic when I was there in 2012. But I was able to capture the beauty of the light inside the cathedral with just my iPhone. This cathedral was one of the highlights of my 10 day London trip and the Magna Carta was a nice surprise ending.

    • Greg Swedberg

      great shot with your phone. BTW, the Magna Carta’s in Houston right now at the Natural Science Museum.

      • I had a read a few comments about the Magna Carta and was wondering “how’d I miss that?”

        Thanks for clearing up that head scratcher

    • wow – that is some nice light!

  • Jwkathol

    Awesome post Bob brings back memories but I only got to enjoy the cloisters when I was there.
    Just curious, what kind of fire suppression system, if any, did you notice up there in the timbered spaces?

    • I saw a few old buckets of water sitting around …

  • Larry Wolff

    Thanks for sharing your trip. I will likely never get to visit Salisbury for various reasons, but your photos – smudge and all – and narrative made me feel just like I was there.

    • Very glad to hear that (although the smudge will drive me crazy until I forget about it altogether)

  • Raymond Bowman

    Love the pictures looking straight up at the ceiling, good stuff all around.

    • Thanks Raymond – looking straight up in old churches is always enlightening

  • AlmostJane

    I know it’s [incredibly] trite but this non-architect will NEVER, EVER be able to get over how these absolutely-gorgeous buildings were ever built in a time when human beings didn’t even wear socks. They’re the Middle Ages equivalent of a moon landing. Wonderful photos – looking forward to seeing more.

  • Arpi Nalbandian

    The narrative and the pictures are equally amazing, Bob! Thank you for sharing!

  • Debbi in Texas

    Thanks for the tour; gorgeous building. I look at these old structures with an appreciation for the artistry and skill of the tradesmen at the time, with only the basic of tools to create with. Amazing

  • To say those photos are amazing is a major understatement. Thanks for taking us along with you.

    • It would have been better if you had “actually” been taken along with us right?

      Thanks Bridget – I appreciate you.

  • Great shots. I can sympathize with the smudge on the lens. I photographed a new install and it was only after I started processing that I noticed all the dust on the lens from the shop.
    I keep a dust cover and check and clean the front of my lens now.

    • I have been burned a few times and despite the mental check that’s in my head, I still miss it on occasion. My wife took some beautiful shots so I have unsmudged images for my records but it still is an irritant.

  • Kristin

    What kind of camera+lens did you use? Your photos are so beautiful. The details and color captured while you “point and shot” are pretty amazing.

    • I use a Nikon D90 for most of my planned picture taking adventures. The lens that I used for all of these shots is the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 10-24mm 1:3.5-4.5G which currently runs about $670 on Amazon

      • I have the D90 and am in the market for my next lens with a baby on the way. I foresee about a ba-zillion portraits being taken. I must temper my desire for an architectural-type lens with one for the new human.

  • Jim Kollaer

    Absolutely outstanding photos and the shots above the nave were from places I had never seen. On my visits, they were repairing and replacing and I could not climb up.I was able to sit in the choir during vespers and was overwhelmed. I have a piece of stone from the cathedral that I bought from the repairs. Amazing that it was built in the 1200s and if I remember correctly, the steeple was too heavy for the foundation. (Very shallow 4 or 6 feet I think.) Thanks for sharing the photos that I could only imagine.

    • 4 feet is correct … supporting a 6500 ton, 404 foot tall tower. Not surprising that they basically gutted the interior to reduce the weight … but it’s been there for over 800 years so #scoreboard

  • Bill Reeves

    WOW, the views from the bell tower are breath taking. There are not a lot of people who get that kind of view. It interesting that the steel reinforcing is so old that it also becomes historic, not just a quick fix. Love it.

    • Thanks Bill. One of the things about the steel reinforcing that I didn’t point out is that the major reinforcing cross-bracing members are wrapped in muslin(I think) to slow the rate of corrosion. Those straps also gr o through the walls and are visible on the outside of the tower. Since I knew I would be shooting mostly interiors, I didn’t pack my telephoto lens so I don’t have any pictures where that exterior strapping is visible.

      • Bill Reeves

        Great history. Stone structure with steel framing as back-up. I’m glad they didn’t use reinforcing ties with stars on the end. I guess I need to plan a trip and take a look. Were you able to deal with language problem?

        • They speak the Queen’s English there, and since I speak English as well (in addition to the “International Language”) there were no language issues.

          • Bill Reeves

            Excellent. When we were in London, we were walking along, holding up a young lady who was working her way to the underground. She got frustrated and told us to “p*ss off”. Talk about your international language.

  • Doug Kuchta

    AMAZING Pictures! Thank you for sharing.. I may have missed it, but did you make a list of must see places in your trip? I am planning a trip across the pond in September and would love some suggestions. Thanks

    • Thanks – as a point and click photographer, I’m pretty happy with what I came home with. My rough agenda was published yesterday – http://bit.ly/1kVLupk

      It was more of a family vacation than an architectural tour – a bit of everything for everyone.

  • Zeljko

    There are two sorts of buildings I would never look at it or even design it as an architect. 1. buildings for religion and 2. buildings for the military. Imo both institutions are summa summarum bad for our world. Nevertheless thank you for your blog. You are doing a great job. The photos from your previous posts were great! Greets from Switzerland, Zeljko

    • Designing and appreciating are two different things although I can see where you’re coming from. Glad you like the blog ~


      • Zeljko

        You are right with “designing and appreciating are two different things”. But I would never design something I don’t appreciate. And therefore I don’t feel like having the need to visit and look at cathedrals. Whenever I see a religious building, I see mostly the bad things behind them which I am not going to list now.

        By the way. Please tell me what do you mean with “although I can see where you’re coming from”?

  • Lee Wilshire


    Great to see pictures of my home town – I used to have school assemblies in the Cathedral once a month!

    You missed the most insane architectural fact about Salisbury cathedral: the foundations.are only 4 feet deep, that and weren’t designed for the spire (which as I’ve just looked up weighs 6500 tonnes)

    I had a French teacher who delighted in telling us kids that should the spire collapse it would end up 6 inches from the back wall of the classroom!

    • I kept the 4′ foundation and other nuggets to myself – although my favorite was that the Bishop shot an arrow from the original Salisbury Cathedral to determine where the new one would get built – and since it’s much further than an arrow could have been shot, the legend is that he hit a deer and it ran until it dropped dead at the current spot of where Salisbury is built. More likely is that the Bishop owned the land.

      • Gary

        I’m reading a book by Edward Rutherfurd called ‘Sarum’, a historical novel set in and around Sailsbury. The construction of the cathedral is a big part of the narrative. It was great to get a close look at some of the inside of the place, and the views from the tower which had been described in the book.
        In the photo at the top of the blog, the top of the building appears wider than the base. Is that an example of the technique used in some medieval buildings to ‘correct’ the perspective as seen by someone looking upwards from the ground?
        Gary Fall