The Spectacular Salisbury Cathedral and the Magna Carta

salisbury cathedral
by Anisa // 32 Comments

Salisbury Cathedral is not just another one of England’s beautiful churches.  It has the tallest spire in England at 404 feet. It also has historical significance because you can see one of the four remaining original copies of the Magna Carta.  

We decided we should visit sooner rather than later because of the origami art installation inside Salisbury Cathedral called Les Colombes (which ended July 22, 2018). Even without the impressive origami hanging in the nave, there is plenty to see when you visit Salisbury Cathedral.

Let me tell you more about the history and what to see at Salisbury Cathedral.

Note: This post contains affiliate links.  Please see disclosure for more information.

The Salisbury Cathedral is a stunning building. It's tall spire can be seen from miles away. - Two Traveling Texans
The Salisbury Cathedral is a stunning building. It’s tall spire can be seen from miles away.

Les Colombes

Les Colombes was an origami art installation in Salisbury Cathedral back in 2018 by the German artist, Michael Pendry.  Over two thousand origami doves are floating in the Nave of the Cathedral. The doves are a symbol of the spirit and peace.  It’s part of a larger initiative called #SalisburyCityOfDoves. On the short walk to the Cathedral, we saw several shops with origami doves in the windows.

You were encouraged to make your own origami dove.  They had a table on the side of the Cathedral with origami paper and instructions.  As you may know, my husband, Russell, has an origami blog, Origami Expressions, so check out his blog about the origami dove for more information about Les Colombes and a video about how to make an origami dove.

Les Colombes, an origami art installation, you can see inside the Salisbury Cathedral - Two Traveling Texans
Les Colombes, an origami art installation, that was on display inside the Salisbury Cathedral back in 2018.

Salisbury Cathedral History and Interesting Facts

The first Salisbury Cathedral was built in the 11th century in Old Sarum a few miles away from the current site.  The Old Sarum Cathedral was exposed and lacked a large water supply so King Richard granted permission to move it.  The Old Sarum Cathedral was dismantled and the stone was used to build the Salisbury Cathedral.

They started building the Cathedral in 1220 and it only took 38 years to complete. Back it that time, it unusual to complete a grand building in such a short time period.  As a result, the Cathedral’s architectural style is almost completely Early English Gothic. You will see pointed arches and columns made up of clusters of shafts. You can also see some examples of the Gothic style at the Winchester Cathedral.

Salisbury Cathedral is an impressive structure! They used 60,000 tons of stone, 2,800 tons of oak, and 420 tons of lead to build it.  Salisbury Cathedral has had the tallest spire in the United Kingdom, at 404 feet. Just the spire weighs 6,500 tons! It also has the largest cloister and the largest cathedral close in Britain at 80 acres.

Anisa in the Cloisters of Salisbury Cathedral - Two Traveling Texans
Anisa in the Cloisters of Salisbury Cathedral

What to See When You Visit Salisbury Cathedral

While you can no longer see the origami at Salisbury Cathedral, you should still go inside.  Not only is it a beautiful cathedral but there are some interesting artifacts to see.  Here are a few things that you need to see when you visit Salisbury Cathedral.

Magna Carta in the Chapter House

The Salisbury Cathedral Chapter House is known for its octagonal shape, slender central pillar, and decorative medieval frieze. It is also where you will find an original copy of the Magna Carta, which translates to Great Charter.  The Magna Carta was agreed to by King John of England in 1215 to make peace between the unpopular King and a group of rebel barons.

The underlying principle of the Magna Carta was that no one was above the law, not even the King.  The document promised to protect church rights and barons from illegal imprisonment. It also called for access to swift justice and tax limitations, to be implemented through a council of 25 barons.  You can trace many important democratic principles from many countries back to the Magna Carta.

The Magna Carta was written by scribes in Latin, with a quill pen, using ink made from the lump formed when a wasp lays its eggs on an oak leaf.  The document is written on parchment which was made from treated animal skin. You can also see the spot when the King’s seal used to be.  

There are only 4 remaining original copies of the Magna Carta left and this one is the best preserved.  It is kept inside a dark booth under glass in the Chapter House and no photography is allowed.  Luckily, it is well-protected, a man tried to steal the Magna Carta in 2018 and was arrested.

Salisbury Cathedral Cloisters
You walk through the Cloisters to get to the Chapter House where the Magna Carta is kept.

You may wonder why a rare and important historical document is kept at Salisbury Cathedral? The Magna Carta copy came to Salisbury thanks to Elias of Dereham, who was a canon of Salisbury and supervised the construction of the cathedral.  He was in Runnymede in 1215 when the Magna Carta was signed and was responsible for distributing some of the original copies.

You can find a statue of Elias of Dereham in the Nave of the Cathedral. Additionally, King John’s half-brother, William Longespee, who helped negotiate the Magna Carta is buried inside the Cathedral.

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Note: You have to exit the Cathedral to get to the Chapter House, which is located in the Cloisters.  It’s probably best to leave the Magna Carta for last. If you are excited like us, and still have more to see in the Cathedral, you can re-enter through the main entrance.

Prisoners of Conscience Window

Behind the Altar, you will find a recent addition to the Cathedral, the Prisoners of Conscience Window done in 1980.  A Prisoner of Conscience is anyone emotionally imprisoned because of their race, sexual orientation, religion, or political views.  The window shows Jesus on the cross, his mother Mary, anonymous faces, and other symbols including an anchor of hope and a green star of vision.  The Amnesty International Candle burns nearby. It is a good reminder to everyone to think about their response to injustice. We cannot forget about all those still suffering from oppression around the world.

Dean Sydney Evans came up with the inspiration for the Prisoners of Conscience Window, and then it was designed and constructed by the father and son team, Gabriel and Jacques Loire, in Chartres, France.

Salisbury Cathedral Quire

You cannot walk into the Salisbury Cathedral Quire but you must at least peer in and take a look.  The woodwork inside is just gorgeous. The 106 stalls date from 1236, making it one of the oldest complete sets in England.  We were lucky enough to catch a performance of the choir during our visit.

Carved wooden Angel in the Salisbury Cathedral Quire - Two Traveling Texans
The woodwork in the Quire is stunning.

Salisbury Cathedral Clock

The Salisbury Cathedral clock is estimated to be from about 1386 and is supposedly the oldest working mechanical clock in the world.  It has ticked more than 4.4 billion times since it was built!

The clock does not have hands or a face because clocks from that time rang out the hours on a bell.  They have turned the bell off on this clock, but every Tuesday and Thursday at 11 am, an expert guide gives a short talk and releases the striking mechanism so you can hear the clock ring just like it did in medieval times.

The oldest working mechanical clock in the world! - Two Traveling Texans
The oldest working mechanical clock in the world!

It was originally located in a bell tower that was demolished in 1792, then moved to the Cathedral Tower until 1884. They placed the clock in storage and forgot about it until 1929 when it was discovered in an attic of the Cathedral. They repaired it and restored to working order in 1956. Now, you can find the clock in the nave on the North side.

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Salisbury Cathedral Video

Check out our video to see what our visit to Salisbury Cathedral was like.

Salisbury Cathedral Tours

We explored the Cathedral on our own but there are several tour options.  They offer a free guided tour of the Cathedral periodically throughout the day.  These tours are led by volunteers.
Salisbury Cathedral offers a Tower Tour similar to the one at York Minster.  If you want to climb the 332 steps to the bottom of the spire, you need to book the tower tour in advance.  They only allow 12 people per tour.

You get aerial views of the inside of the Cathedral, Salisbury, and the surrounding countryside.  Just be aware that the staircase dates back to the 13th century and at times there is no handrail.  Make sure you wear the proper footwear for the climb, they will not allow you to do it in flip-flops or high heels.  The Salisbury Cathedral Tower Tour costs £13.50 for adults and £8.50 for children.

A view through the Quire into the Nave of Salisbury Cathedral. - Two Traveling Texans
A view through the Quire into the Nave of Salisbury Cathedral.

You can also take a tour of the 15th-century library which has over 10,000 books dating all the way back to the 9th-century.  The tour lasts 45 minutes followed by cream tea (scone and a pot of tea) in the Refectory restaurant. Unfortunately, the library is located down 37 uneven stairs, so the tour is not accessible for people with mobility issues.  Library Tours are £22.00 including the cream tea.

There is a tour of the Cathedral’s medieval graffiti which looks interesting. In addition to seeing the graffiti, you will climb a spiral staircase to the balcony level where you can photograph the Cathedral looking down the full length of the Nave.  The Graffiti Tours are £12.50 for adults and £8.00 for children.

They also offer a tour of the Stonemasonry Works Yard.  You’ll get to visit the Drawing Office where conservation planning is done and you will see the hand-carving skills that have been used at the Cathedral since the 13th century.  The Stonemasonry Works Tour is £17.50 per person, including tea and coffee.

If you would like to combine your visit to Salisbury Cathedral with a visit to Stonehenge, you can buy a combined ticket through the Stonehenge Tour.

Logistics for Visiting Salisbury Cathedral

Where is Salisbury Cathedral located?

You cannot miss the Cathedral in Salisbury.  The spire is visible from miles away! The Salisbury Cathedral is located through the gates at the end of the High Street.

How much is Salisbury Cathedral admission?

I couldn’t find information about the price to visit Salisbury Cathedral on their website, but I figured it wasn’t going to be free admission.  The Cathedral asks for a suggested donation of £7.50 for admission including optional guided tours. Other tours are additional and should be booked online in advance.

What is Salisbury Cathedral’s Opening Times?

Salisbury Cathedral is still a living church and does hold regular services.  The Cathedral is open to visitors from 9 am to 5 pm Monday – Saturday and from 12 pm – 4 pm on Sundays.  The Refectory restaurant and gift shop open at 9:30 am every day and close at 5:30 pm. In the winter the restaurant closes at 5 pm.  The Chapter House is open Monday – Saturday from 9:30 am to 5 pm and 11 am to 4 pm in the summer with a little shorter hours during the winter.

How do you get to Salisbury from London?

You can take the train from London Waterloo Station to Salisbury, which takes about an hour and a half.   I would recommend buying train tickets in advance to get the lowest fares. (Click here to check prices and schedules)

Where can you find parking near Salisbury Cathedral?

Salisbury is a medieval city so parking is limited.  There is no designated Salisbury Cathedral parking for the public. We parked inside the garage for the Old George Mall.  It was about a 5-minute walk to the Cathedral. Take your parking ticket with you, then pay at the machine by the elevators on the first floor when you are ready to leave.

Is Visiting Salisbury Cathedral Worth it?

Yes.  While the Les Colombes exhibit is what brought us to Salisbury Cathedral, there was a lot more to see than just the origami art installation.  The architecture of the Cathedral is stunning and to think it was built hundreds of years ago!

It was inspiring to see the Magna Carta and learn more about the groundbreaking document.  There are not many documents still around today with such historical significance.

Have you been to Salisbury Cathedral or would you like to visit? I would love to hear your thoughts.


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Expert Tips for Visiting Salisbury Cathedral

  • If you would like to take one of the special tours, be sure to book in advance.
  • The origami art installation, Les Colombes, is on exhibit through July 22, 2018.
  • Unfortunately, no photography of the Magna Carta is allowed.

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Last Updated on February 12, 2021

About the Author

Anisa is an experienced international traveler with extra pages in her passport and stamps from 41 different countries across 5 continents (and counting). She was born and raised in Texas. After a 13 year stint in NYC, she moved to England to live with her husband.