Portsmouth Cathedral has a unique and dramatic
history reflecting its close association with the sea.
Around the year 1180 Jean de Gisors, a
wealthy Norman merchant and Lord of the Manor of Titchfield,
gave land in his new town of Portsmouth to the Augustinian canons
of Southwick Priory so that
they could build a chapel "to the glorious honour of the martyr Thomas of
Canterbury, one time Archbishop, on (my) land which is called Sudewede, the island
of Portsea". From humble beginnings, this chapel was to become in turn a
parish church in the 14th century and a cathedral in the 20th century.
The medieval building, cruciform in shape with a square tower
over the crossing, was built of assorted stone including Caen and
Binstead. It was consecrated in two stages: chancel and nave by
Bishop Toclyve of Winchester in 1188, and the two transept altars
and churchyard on the 12th March 1196 by Godfrey de Lucy, Toclyve's
successor. The style of the architecture is known as "transitional",
between Norman and Early English. The chapel served the spiritual
needs of the sea-faring community based on the Camber and also
for Gisor's family chantry masses. Of this building, the chancel
and transepts remain
King Richard I realised the importance, both financially and strategically,
of having control of this new town of Portsmouth and its harbour.
The harbour was a rallying point for his armies and fleet setting
off in battle towards France. Richard had land in both England
and Normandy, with Royal Treasuries at Winchester and Caen - and
Portsmouth was a valuable link. He had built a royal residence,
the "King's House" or "King's Hall", to the
south-east of, and close to, St. Thomas's. In 1194 Richard seized
Portsmouth from de Gisors as punishment for the latter having sided
with Prince John while Richard was held in captivity after the
Third Crusade, and the King claimed Portsmouth for the Crown.
Think about the things
that are true and honourable and right and
pure and beautiful and respected…And the God who gives
peace will be with you.