Monday, February 2, 2009

The Former Cathedral

The former cathedral at Old Sarum was condemned to be abandoned, and a new site chosen for its successor; Bishop Richard Poore, through whose efforts the change of locality was effected, is said to have hesitated long before he could find one suitable. Wilton, then a place of some importance, attracted him first. There is a more or less accurate MS. extant which professes to give an account of his tentative attempts to induce the Abbess of Wilton to permit him to build his church in a meadow of her domain. An old sewing-woman (quaedam [2]vetula filatrix) is said to have attributed his frequent visits to quite another motive; she inferred that the Bishop had a papal dispensation to marry, and was a suitor for the hand of the Abbess. The negotiations failed: "Hath not the Bishop land of his own that he must needs spoil the Abbess? Verily he hath many more sites on which he may build his church than this at Wilton," was the reply of the Abbess to his demand. During his period of indecision the Virgin appeared to him in a vision, and commanded him to build his new church in a place called Myr-field, or, as some accounts have it, Maer-field. He searched vainly for a piece of ground by that name, that he might obey the supernatural edict, until by chance he overheard a labourer (or a soldier, the legends vary,) talking of the Maer-field, and then having, as he thought, identified the place, which appears to have been within his own demesne, he commenced to plan the present building. Another tradition ignores the dream, and says the site of the cathedral was determined by an arrow shot from the ramparts of Old Sarum.

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