Although Bemerton in George Herbert's time was quite separate from the city of Salisbury, he frequently made the short journey across the water meadows to pray and enjoy the music at the Cathedral. This magnificent building is just one of the many historic sights in the local area.
The Cathedral building was begun by Bishop Richard Poore in 1220. The main body was completed in only 38 years, using the stones brought down from Old Sarum. The spire, which was added 100 years after its consecration, rises to 404 feet (123 m.) and is the tallest spire in the UK.
Salisbury is one of the few Cathedrals built in the shape of a double cross with the arms of the transepts branching off on either side. The cloisters are larger and older than any other English cathedral. The Cathedral houses the best of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta (1215), and the oldest working clock in Europe (1386). The very chalice used by George Herbert is on display in the Chapter House. In 2008, Salisbury Cathedral celebrated the 750th anniversary of its consecration in 1258.
Music has always played an important part in the Cathedral's worship, a tradition of worship that contiues to this day with boy and girl choristers singing daily services. One of George Herbert's greatest pleasures was listening to the Cathedral musicians of his time, and making music with them.
George Herbert is commemorated in stone by one of the many statues on the Cathedral's West front. It was crafted by the Cathedral's Head Carver, Jason Battle, and a service of dedication was held in September 2003. There is also a George Herbert memorial window at the East end of the North Quire Aisle, illustrating his poem 'Love-Joy'.
Old Sarum, two miles north of Salisbury, was known to be an Iron Age earthwork and later became a Roman hill fort; they called it Sorviodunum. In Saxon times it was known as Searoburh and was an important political centre. Under the Normans it became Salesberie, and was a Bishopric with a Cathedral and a Castle.
The first Cathedral was built at Old Sarum by St. Bishop Osmund between 1075 and 1092, but was mostly destroyed within days of its consecration by a huge storm. A larger building was subsequently built on the same site in about 1120. However, deteriorating relations between the clergy and the military at Old Sarum led to the decision in 1220 to resite the Cathedral to where it now stands, at the confluence of four rivers. The old Cathedral fell into ruin and many of its stones were used to build the new Cathedral in Salisbury.
George Herbert would cetrainly have been familiar with Old Sarum, which was clearly visible from Northern boundary of his parish across the Avon valley. Today, the remains of the prehistoric fortress and of the Norman Castle and Cathedral evoke memories of thousands of years of history. The site is open to the public and is managed by English Heritage; there is a small charge for admission.
Although the Stonehenge monument is some 8 miles North of the city, on the Southern edge of Salisbury Plain, it is perhaps the most important of the sights of Salisbury.The circle of massive upright stones, some of which were transported 240 miles from mountains in Wales, was erected between 3,000 BC and 1,600 BC. Its orientation on the rising and setting sun is one of its many remarkable features, but why it was built in this way remains a mystery to this day. Stonehenge is surrounded by the remains of over 400 other scheduled monuments, some of which are older than the stone circle itself.
Stonehenge and the nearby stone circles of Avebury were designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1986. Other ancient monuments, earthworks, burial mounds, and cemeteries, including the Stonehenge Cursus, King Barrows, and Woodhenge, surround the area. The site itself is managed by English Heritage; there is a small charge for admission to the viewing area - for conservation reasons, the public is no longer admitted to the actual monument except on special occasions.