A new stone cross was lowered into its permanent position in one of Britain's finest medieval cathedrals yesterday.

The cross, which was carved from a single block of stone and took 220 hours to complete, was placed in Salisbury Cathedral at the apex of the north east gable.

It was only the third cross to be carved during the cathedral's major repair programme. The others were fixed on to the cathedral in the 1990s.

The historic topping out ceremony took place on scaffolding on its north east transept - ready for the start of Holy Week on Palm Sunday.

As the stone was lowered, Canon Mark Bonney said a short prayer to bless the cross.

"Fixing a new cross, the symbol of our faith, in such a visible position high up on the cathedral where it can be seen by all who visit The Close, is an historic event," he said.

"It also provides us with a perfect opportunity to publicly thank our highly skilled and dedicated masons and conservators for their continuing work on the cathedral's major repair programme.

"Our cultural heritage at the cathedral is precious and with the proper funding our works department will do their part to conserve this iconic building."

The work on the north east transept is part of the cathedral's continuing repair programme.

Current work is centred on this area of the building and the Chapter House - home to the best-preserved of the four remaining original 1215 Magna Carta.

Head mason Chris Sampson said: "As part of the current restoration work on the north east transept gable end we found 531 stones needing replacement, the majority of which are functional architectural pieces essential for the integrity of the building.

"We also discovered that an ornamental piece was completely missing from the apex of the gable.

"Following extensive research by the masons and cathedral architect, it was decided a new cross should crown the apex of the gable to complement the symmetry of the building and specifically the cross at the apex of the south east transept.

"This carving was itself a replacement of a missing stone and has been used as the reference for the new cross which has been worked by the cathedral's fourth year apprentice mason Andrew Kirby.

"It was carved from a single block of 'Chicksgrove' stone and has taken him some 220 hours to complete."

To date, around three-quarters of the major repair programme has been finished but a further GBP11 million is still needed to complete it.

The cathedral is dependent upon successful fundraising by its development department to ensure its final completion.

More than 250,000 people visit the cathedral each year to marvel at the peace and beauty of the 750-year-old building and admire Britain's tallest spire.