A day is needed even to begin to appreciate the glories of this wonderful building.
At over 311ft (94.88 metres) it is the longest parish church in England and a great deal longer than several cathedrals. The building was commenced in 1094 when a Saxon church was demolished to make way for it. It was planned by Ranulf Flambard, a colourful character, who was dean of St Paul's Cathedral, London, and an important functionary at the court of King William II (Rufus 1087-1100), the third son of the Conqueror. Unfortunately, when Rufus was killed in a riding accident, Flambard fell from the favour of King Henry I and was banished. In due course, he returned and was responsible for starting to build Durham Cathedral. If he had stayed, perhaps the whole building would have been completed in the Norman style, whereas his contribution was limited to just the nave (below the clerestory, which was added later) and the crossing. By 1150 the initial church was complete with an apse at the east end and cruciform in shape. Henry of Blois, the Bishop of Winchester and brother of King Stephen (1135-1154) persuaded the Pope to set up a community of Augustine monks and create the whole building infrastructure for a major monastery. With the High Altar dedicated to Christ the Saviour, it is not surprising that the town became known as 'Christchurch'.
In 1290, a clerestory was built above the triforium and the roof dramatically raised, which greatly improved the nave illumination. During this work, a legend arose that an exceptionally skilled carpenter worked on the massive wooden beams used in the roof, but was never present at meals, nor seen receiving his pay. Eventually, amid much distress, there was a crisis because one of the beams had been mistakenly cut one foot too short. The next morning, miraculously, not only was the beam the correct length, but it had been placed in exactly the right position. The carpenter was never seen again and it was universally accepted that he must have been the Christ. The beam can still be seen high up on the southern side at the rear of the Lady Chapel.
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