The earliest known Saxon wall painting
Photo : E. A. Sollars
ART in Anglo- Saxon England had two great periods. The first was centred in the north of the country in the seventh century, but the second, in the tenth cen tury, was centred in the south. Since this latter style is known as the Winchester school, we should expect to find its greatest monu ments at Winchester, which at that time could almost be con sidered the capital of the country. The Winchester style is principally one of sculpture and manuscript illuminations. Of its architecture nothing of the first rank remains, which has led many art historians to conclude that England at the time was a poor benighted country lagging far behind the Continent, and that therefore the Norman Conquest was a 'Good Thing'. However, the current series of excavations at Winchester give us the chance to see something of Anglo-Saxon architecture at its centre and to judge anew the qualities of the Anglo-Saxons.
The cathedral that is at present standing at Winchester is Norman, and is perhaps the best example of early Norman architecture in England. Indeed, from its size and early date it is evident that it was built for prestige purposes by William the Conqueror, determined to overawe the conquered English by placing this huge and gloomy barn in the heart of the old capital. Fortunately for us, however, the new cathedral was built by the side of the two Saxon minsters, in which services continued to be held until at least part of the new cathedral was consecrated.
The Old Minster was originally constructed in the seventh century, but some 70 years after the New Minster had been built adjacent to it in 903, it was completely re
constructed. It is this reconstructed Old Minster of 971-994, in fact the latest in date of all the Saxon buildings on the site, that the excavations have so far revealed.
The previous season's excavations had uncovered the eastern half of the Old Minster (see plan on page 41). This consisted of a simple nave and chancel, without any aisle, but with a series of cells opening off it. To either side there were two semi-circular apses and at the east end was an apse with beyond it a crypt (an aussenkrypta). However, the great surprise came at the west end, which was excavated in 1966, where wings projected out from the nave to form a great transept with a facade 102 feet wide. In front of this facade was a plaster forecourt or atrium, flanked on one side by the New Minster, and containing several stone tombs, and a great stone monument in the centre. In