Wednesday, 15 February 2012

The Limping Ghost of Winchester

I came to Winchester 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 limps, I think. 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 early English cathedral can be seen traced out on the green beside 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.

from HAUNTED HAMPSHIRE by Rupert Matthews

1 comment:

  1. Hello been doing security for 2 months over night for the ice rink in the close and i have not seen this ghost, i'm not saying it's false maybe next year i'll investigate more.