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Winchester Cathedral Ghosts, with Margo Williams

Winchester Cathedral stands on or near the site of a Roman shrine to Diana, a goddess associated with forests and wild animals. Paranormalists say she is responsible for the ghost of the mysterious marble tomb.
Winchester Cathedral Ghosts, with Margo Williams
Photo by Lukasz Szmigiel / Unsplash

Tales from the Old Forest. The Ghost of the Old Marble Tomb

Winchester paranormalists claim the dark shadowy ghost often seen at the mysterious marble tomb in the cathedral choir is its occupant King William the Ginger, son and heir of William the Conqueror.

Identifying the occupant happened in the 1800s during restoration work. No inscription meant years of speculation that inside lay the remains of William Rufus accidentally fatally wounded by friendly fire while hunting.

When the lid was lifted, inside lay the remains of a big male skeleton. Beside were pieces of gold braid and a small carved ivory griffin head formerly attached to a royal sceptre. A ring and remains of the bolt that felled the king of England, confirmed ID.

Also entombed with the king was a collection of twigs and broken nutshells. Such mementoes of the forest probably meant nothing to the long forgotten king, but probably explained everything to the ghost of the mysterious marble tomb.

Temple of the Forest Goddess Diana

Winchester legend told of how Diana’s temple stood in the old forest until as late as AD 660 when Saxon King Coinwalch agreed to build a Christian bishopric in the city. He appointed Wini, a priest who ordered the temple be dismantled and probably used its stone in the building of his new church.

In the summer of year 666 Wini was dismissed by King Coinwalch and fled into the forests.

Photo image of altar of Diana, recovered from near St. Paul's Cathedral, London.
Altar of Diana, recovered from near St. Paul's Cathedral, London.

Bishop Walkelyn's Big Idea. A New Giant Cathedral

1070, four years after the Norman conquest of Britain William Walkelyn was appointed Bishop of Winchester by his cousin William the Conqueror. The new king of England liked Winchester’s vast ancient forest that protected the city; and gave orders for it to be cleared of all inhabitants of a human kind.

Forest dwellings were torched and people chased away so he could enjoy hunting, uninterrupted. He also ordered a feasting hall built in the city and his bishop, William Walkelyn, reminded him of his spiritual responsibility and suggested a new cathedral to replace the Saxon’s church.

Walkelyn showed the king the site he had in mind. But the king asked his bishop if it was wise to build on marsh ground where in places the land was lost altogether beneath watery pools. The bishop replied that he intended to make it not wet.

‘How?’ asked the Conqueror.

‘Trees,’ said Bishop Walkelyn pointing to the forest.

‘How many trees?’ asked the king.

‘Many,’ replied the bishop.

‘How many?’

‘Hundreds, if not thousands, Your Grace,’ said the bishop. ‘Oak and beech would be best.’

Image of William the Conqueror.
William the Conqueror in generous frame of mind.

That I will not permit!’ the king answered, so local legend told.

But while the bishop counted fingers and muttered calculation the king softened to the Godly man’s plans, for the pope himself had blessed his invasion of England, and the Conqueror thought best to show some appreciation.

‘You can have as many trees as you can fell in three days,’ the king is remembered as saying. ‘But after that, bishop, no more.’

William Walkelyn Vs a Forest

That night, after the Conqueror left town to inspect his new-won kingdom, Bishop Walkelyn summoned every cart and able-bodied city-dweller and at dawn next day led his army of labourers into the forest.

Three days later every tree but one was felled; their trunks transported onto the cathedral site and made ready for pile-driving into the muddy water, to provide a platform for the cathedral.

On his return to Winchester the Conqueror saw the forest was gone; emptied of everything but branches, twigs, nutshells and huge woodchip mounds; and a puzzled multitude of alarmed furry creatures bewildered by such rapid removal of their habitat.

King William stared at the broken landscape and demanded an answer for what happened. Walkelyn lay on the ground, prostrate, ready to weather his cousin’s fury.

‘Greedy snatcher!’ roared the king. ‘Someone fetch me the sackcloth!’

As time passed King William forgave Bishop Walkelyn; their cathedral rose from the marsh; the huge weight of masonry climbed higher, supported by the forest driven into the mud.

Photo image of Winchester Cathedral.
Winchester Cathedral UK

Bad King Rufus' Demands

The cathedral stood completed to Walkelyn’s own design and there was much rejoicing in Winchester city that God made the bishop so clever. The cathedral measured almost as big as Saint Peter’s in Rome.

King William didn’t see it finished; he died in 1087, some six years before the cathedral’s consecration. One thing leads to another; one monarch to the next and storm clouds gathered on Walkelyn’s happy horizon with the new incoming administration of King William Rufus, son of the conqueror.

Rufus insisted Walkelyn owed him £200; a sum more than the bishop could lay hands on.

Bishop Walkelyn fretted so much over Rufus’ demands, and his sniggered asides to anyone within earshot of ‘Who’s got the sackcloth?’ that for days he prayed at the altar in his new cathedral to be 'delivered from the miseries of life.'

Photo image of Old marble tomb, choir Winchester Cathedral.
Old marble tomb, choir Winchester Cathedral.

The Ghost of the Old Marble Tomb

Someone heard and listened for Walkelyn was granted his wish. He died soon after and was buried in the nave. Two years later Rufus followed him after an accident during a hunting party.

A member of the hunting party, Sir Walter Tyrrel’s crossbow bolt deflected off a tree stump and buried itself deep in the middle of King Rufus. A bad end for the Conqueror’s son and heir, but so too his other son Richard tragically gored to death by a stag while hunting.

Both were buried in the cathedral and when the roof collapsed on top of them all, locals wondered if the old forest’s guardian took revenge.

Thank you for your company on this short tour of mysteries and haunting. If you would like to know more about Margo Williams' investigations in Winchester Cathedral and other matters of destiny and desire, read this book. Now available from Amazon.

Book cover link to purchase Ghost Encounters Destiny and Desire from amazon.co.uk
Now available from Amazon
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