Lessons for Achievement from a 796 year old Cathedral.

In a newsletter yesterday, I saw a reference to the 28th April being the 796th anniversary of the laying of the foundation stones of Salisbury Cathedral in Salisbury, England.

Salisbury Cathedral

Salisbury Cathedral

It caught my attention for two reasons:

I lived in Rhodesia for much of my early life; our capital city was named Salisbury, most of my school life was spent in schools in suburbs of that city.

In 1998 on a trip to England, I visited relatives who lived in the English city of Salisbury in the county of Wiltshire only 10km from Stonehenge.

Sue and I spent a few hours in Salisbury Cathedral. It is impressive for many reasons, including its importance to Christianity, its architecture and its sheer scale.

Most impressive to me was the enormity of the undertaking. A huge building project mostly completed in 38 years, without any mechanical, electrical or hydraulic power and using medieval tools. All done almost 800 years ago – and still standing intact.

How many modern buildings will last 800 years?

The construction and the continuing presence of the cathedral provide valuable lessons for us 800 years later.

North Transept

North Transept

The entry for the cathedral in Wikipedia  reveals some fascinating statistics.

70 000 tons of stone, 3000 tons of timber and 450 tons of lead were used in its construction. Moving those quantities of material in loads of 30 or 40 tons with trucks and trailers would be a logistical nightmare today. Doing it with horse-drawn wagons and ox-carts is beyond comprehension.

The cathedral spire at 404 ft or 123m is the tallest cathedral spire in Great Britain and the 2nd tallest in Europe. Although that final height was only reached in 1320, it was still centuries before modern scaffolding, cranes or safety equipment were invented.

For more facts and historical details, visit Christianity.com .

Salisbury Cathedral houses two relics of major significance.

The oldest modern working clock in the world. Constructed in 1386, the clock has no face. Time was signalled by bells ringing on the hour. There is no reference to whether clocks of that era were adjusted for daylight saving.

Medieval Clock

Medieval Clock

The best preserved of only four surviving original copies of the Magna Carta is also housed in the Cathedral.

Salisbury Cathedral - John Constable circa 1820

Salisbury Cathedral – John Constable circa 182


In 1825, the Bishop of Salisbury commissioned John Constable, the famous English landscape artist to paint the cathedral. The painting hangs in the Victoria and Albert museum.

What are the lessons?

What can we learn from this, and other, massive projects completed hundreds or thousands of years ago? What lessons for us in the 21st century with all our technology, tools and gadgets?


  • We don’t need the latest in technology or equipment to do big things.
  • Big, important projects take time, decades or lifetimes, not days or weeks.
  • Determination, commitment and perseverance get things done, not new tools.

Sometimes, we are so dazzled by new technology that we forget about the achievements of earlier societies or civilizations. The Salisbury Cathedral and the Egyptian Pyramids being only two of many examples.

There are lessons too in the organisational skills developed by the ancient Chinese. The Mongol empire with its armies campaigning across Asia and Europe to reach the Danube. The Roman colonisation of much of the old world. The great European trading empires of the 17th to 19th centuries.

All without internal combustion engine power, electricity, computers, telephones, wifi or Facebook.

New tools, technology and ideas are important, but the lessons from the past show us that without the character traits and values of determination, commitment, perseverance, resilience and faith, nothing gets accomplished.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

all photos courtesy of Wikipedia Creative Commons.

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  1 comment for “Lessons for Achievement from a 796 year old Cathedral.

  1. Olev Wain
    April 29, 2016 at 4:15 pm

    Hello Peter,

    I visited Salisbury Cathedral in the summer of 1976 … the year of the drought in England. The experience was every bit as awe inspiring as you have described.

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