Jane's Illness and Death
On July 18, 1817, Jane Austen died in Winchester, England. She had traveled to Winchester with her siblings Cassandra and Henry to seek treatment for an illness she had been battling for over a year. Speculation as to the cause of her death remains and will likely always endure. Based on her written descriptions, causes have included Addison’s Disease, bovine tuberculosis, Hodgkin’s lymphoma and typhus. All suggestions certainly hold merit - though no one will truly ever know.
Jane's sickness was first documented in early 1816. She dismissed her condition for a period of time while committing to her writing. Her symptoms included fevers, joint pain, fatigue, bleeding and skin discoloration. By April of the following year, Ms. Austen could hardly walk, thus forcing travel to medical care in Winchester not far from the Chawton Cottage Austen residence. Jane Austen died in Winchester in July of 1817, her remains set in the floor of the north aisle at Winchester Cathedral alongside other persons.
Her brother James wrote the epitaph for his late sister and it reads as follows:
"In Memory of Jane Austen, youngest daughter of the late Rev George Austen, formerly Rector of Steventon in this County, she departed this Life on the 18th of July 1817, aged 41, after a long illness supported with the patience and the hopes of a Christian.
The benevolence of her heart, the sweetness of her temper and the extraordinary endowments of her mind obtained the regard of all who knew her, and the warmest love of her intimate connections.
Their grief is in proportion to their affection they know their loss to be irreparable, but in their deepest affliction they are consoled by a firm though humble hope that her charity, devotion, faith and purity have rendered her soul acceptance in the sight of her Redeemer."
Today, the floor marker exists for visitors to see. The area of the church is illuminated by an overhead spotlight while being accompanied by a memorial found on the adjacent wall. This brass memorial was established in 1900 and reads:
Known to many by her writings, endeared to her family by the varied charms of her Character, and ennobled by Christian Faith and Piety, was born at Steventon in the county of Hampshire December 16 1775 and buried in this Cathedral July 24, 1817.
"She openeth her mouth with wisdom and her tongue is the law of kindness." Proverbs 31 verse 26"
For a donation, visitors can enter the Cathedral to see both the floor marker and the wall plaque dedicated to Jane Austen. The Cathedral remains an active house of worship with excellent acoustics, natural lighting and beautiful stained-glass windows. The exterior is part-park-part-cemetery where visitors can be found reading or resting on the greens and benches. A gift shop is located on the premises just outside of the cathedral beyond a bronze statue of William Walker - the man credited with having saved the cathedral from sinking into the ground (the foundation was set upon a diminishing water table).
Walker, a deep-sea diver by trade, spent six years diving to the foundation and digging trenches that could be filled with concrete to add the needed support to the base of the building. Once his task was completed, water was pumped out and the building was further braced from leaning.
Visiting Winchester Today
Winchester is a very walk-able city with a soothing river path, lovely period housing and many eateries. An active bus station in the center of town will embark and disembark day-trippers every so often. If intending to visit Winchester, consider a morning stop when there are smaller crowds. A convenient car park is a short walk down High Street off of Chesil Street at Barfield Close.