Monday, 1 August 2011

Phantoms at Salisbury Cathedral

The city of Salisbury is one of the most attractive in England, and the only city in Wiltshire. The centre preserves its medieval street plan and has many ancient buildings within it. In recent years the building of modern housing estates outside the centre has boosted the vibrancy of the city without spoiling its old time charm.

Although the origins of Salisbury go back to pre-Roman times, the current site has been occupied only since around 1220. It was in that year that Bishop Robert Poore pulled down the old cathedral located within the ramparts of the Roman town Sorviodunum high on the hills to the north and began building the current cathedral down in the valley, where the water supply was better and the wind less violent. The people of Salisbury soon followed the bishop’s lead and the new town eagerly clustered around the cathedral. The ghosts of Salisbury cluster there still.

Indeed, the more enigmatic phantoms are to be found at the Cathedral itself. The most dramatic of these are the giant white birds, larger than swans, that fly around the spire to announce the death of the bishop or other senior cleric associated with the building. The most notorious sighting occurred in 1885. A certain Miss Moberly was walking across the Cathedral Close when she saw the huge birds wheeling above her. Not knowing of the legend she pointed the strange birds out to a workman who told her of the old story. The event was given its disturbing quality by the fact that Miss Moberly was the daughter of the then bishop, who was grievously ill. The poor girl hurried home, but her father died later that day.

One of the oddest tombs in the county is that of Lord Stourton, who in 1556 was involved in an extraodrinary chain of events that ended with him committing a double murder. No one could doubt his lordship’s guilt and death by hanging was the sentence of the court. When Lord Stourton was led into the market place for his execution, he found that the usual rope of hemp had been replaced by one of finest silk. Despite his crimes he was allowed to be buried in the cathedral and the strange silken cord was suspended over his tomb. In 1780 the then dean thought the rope in bad taste and took it down. Despite this, the fatal silken cord, or at least its glowing phantom, has been seen on several occasions. The double murder led to its own hauntings, as described under Kilmington.

Yet more mystery surrounds the area dedicated to St Margaret of Scotland. Several visitors have experienced a strange feeling here. One described it as a sudden coldness, another as the feeling of being watched.

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