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The Building

English history is writ large on this city, a place where the past seems as cogent as the present. At its heart lies the Cathedral, an immense cupboard of memories, into which the outside light filters softly and with respect. Begun in 1079 and designed in the Romanesque style, the building was the nerve centre of a huge diocese that embraced the Channel Islands and the banks of the River Thames in London. Just as its architecture remains a celebration of human ingenuity and spiritual feeling so the blows of enraged iconoclasts who attacked its holiest sites in 1538 continue to remind us of the troubling range of human passion. For all its ethereal beauty, however, the Cathedral is a place where materiality, in all its beauty, is evident: from the stone brought from the Isle of Wight and the oak timbers wrenched from the Hampshire forests, to the window glass, silver, brass and bronze, the sense of authentic purpose to the building, of its almost conscious feeling of wholeness, is tangible. But as with all things material, its age is showing. Great acts of heroism have been spent in saving this mighty ark - the daredevil exploits of William Walker and the other divers who, early last century, worked to fix the water-logged foundations are but the most well-known. Because of these, the voice of the Cathedral is still heard in its many forms - the mighty bells, which have rung here since Saxon times, the great organ that stunned Queen Victoria, the choristers' song and the plural open mouths of its congregation. As the building fills with sound, the dust of ages falls in glittering slow-motion from arch to arch to floor. This, then, is architecture of human affection.

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