The Hospital of St Cross and Almshouse of Noble Poverty, to give the place its full name, nestles in the water meadows beside the River Itchen. Although the area is now part of the outskirts of Winchester, the streets surrounding St Cross still retain the feel of the village that grew up around the hospital.
As you pass through the outer gate and into the small outer quadrangle, you enter a world that has changed little since the 15th century.
For opening times, admission prices, etc. please see the official site.
In the outer quadrangle is a 14th century brewhouse (now a tea room) and a 15th century guest wing. It is, however, dominated by the imposing three-storey Beaufort Tower built around 1450.
In the archway which leads to the large inner quadrangle is the Porter's Lodge. As well as selling tickets and housing a small gift shop, apparently if you ask they hand out a Wayfarer's Dole. This consists of a small horn cup of ale and a piece of bread, and continues an ancient tradition started by a Cluniac monk.
Entering the larger main quadrangle, to left is a Tudor Ambulatory, behind which is the Master's Garden (a beautiful, tranquil spot).
The church is straight ahead, and to the right is the large porch leading into the 15th century Brethren's Hall and the Kitchen. The Hall has a splendid arch-braced timber roof, a timber screen with a gallery above and a wooden staircase leading to the Master's rooms. It was here that the Master dined with the Brethren in days gone by.
Beyond the Brethren's Hall and taking up the whole of the west side of the inner quadrangle are the main lodgings. These provide individual, private apartments for a community of about twenty-five elderly men known as Brothers who wear either black or red gowns for daily church services and other formal occasions.
The Black Brothers belong to the The Order of the Hospital of St Cross which was founded around 1132 by Henry de Blois, Bishop of Winchester (the younger brother of King Stephen)
making it oldest charitable institution in the United Kingdom.
The Red Brothers belong to The Order of Noble Poverty which was founded by Cardinal Henry Beaufort in 1445.
The Church of St Cross
Dominating the inner quadrangle is the impressive Church of St Cross, the only building that dates back to the foundation of the hospital.
Building began in 1135 at the east end and was completed in 1295 when the north porch was added. It reflects the changes in fashion that occurred over the period leading up to the introduction of the Gothic, and is thus referred to as being in the Transitional Norman style.
Many changes were made to the building during the fourteenth century, including a new west window, raising the tower and the nave roof, and re-roofing the chancel.
Among the many features of interest, two particularly caught my eye: the 'birds-beak' window in the north transept, with its array of carved eagles stretching their necks and beaks over the moulding surrounding the window; and the well-worn wall painting in the south transept, tucked down the side of the organ, depicting the assassination of St Thomas a Becket.
St Faith's Graveyard
Just to confuse matters, these days St Cross Church also serves as the parish church of the surrounding Parish of St Faith's.
There was once a church dedicated to St Faith further north along St Cross Road on the corner of Kingsgate Road.
However, by 1507 it was in a poor state of repair, and the population was declining due to the plague.
As they could not afford to repair it, the parishioners requested and were granted permission to worship at St Cross instead.
The font from St Faith's was moved to St Cross (which prior to that had no need of one), along with the bell and the stone screens that are now either side of the sanctuary.
The graveyard however could not be moved. It remained in use, and can still be found on the original site. It is a bit of an oddity, therefore, a graveyard with no church.