According to certain authorities, more amusing than trustworthy, there was reigning over Britain in the second century, and some twelve and a half centuries after Brute, the descendant of the far-famed Æneas of Troy, ruled in the island, one Lucius, who became a convert to Christianity, and erected a church at Winchester, on the site previously occupied by the chief Pagan temple of the country. Whether the story be true or false, it gives us a striking idea of the antiquity of the Cathedral, whose origin is thus carried back to the period where fact and fable mingle inextricably together. The first record of a strictly historical nature, respecting Winchester, seems to be in connection with the seventh century, when the Saxon kings and people of Wessex generally relinquished idolatry; Kinegils, a descendant of that very Cerdic who is said to have destroyed Lucius’s structure, setting the example is 635, and began the erection of a new Cathedral, of great size and magnificence, which was completed by his successor Kenewalch. The first bishop was St. Birinus, who had been sent over to England by Pope Honorius, and to whom the merit of Kinegils’s conversion is attributed.

In this brief statement we may perceive ground to satisfy us that Winchester must have been a place of no ordinary importance, and the direct history of the city tells us that backwards from the reign of Richard the First, through English, Norman, Saxon, and it is supposed even British times, Winchester was really the capital of the island. Of its origin, it were almost idle to speak. “It may possibly have existed,” says a writer in the ‘Penny Magazine,’ “as a village in the woods for a thousand years before the Christian era.” The Danes, who, as we have seen, figure so conspicuously and so destructively in the annals of a great proportion of the oldest churches and monasteries of the country, reduced the building once more to a ruin, in 871, to be re-edified, as is supposed, by him whose very name became more terrible to the Danes, than their own had been to the afflicted people of England—Alfred. But the earliest portions of the present pile are those which were erected towards the close of the tenth century, by Bishop Ethelwold, who, finding the Cathedral greatly dilapidated, rebuilt it from the foundation. Some of the most substantial walls and pillars of the existing pile are the presumed remains of St. Ethelwold’s labours. With the following century came the Conquest, and a Norman ecclesiastic, Walkelyn, to rule over the see, and introduce his own country’s superior knowledge of, and taste for, architecture. His advent was delayed, however, in an unexpected and extraordinary manner. When the Conqueror died, there was but one Saxon bishop to be found in broad England,—Wulstan, bishop of Winchester; a man whose only learning was the best of all learning, that which taught him to live a life of spotless purity, humility, and unremitting usefulness. He was required to resign his episcopal staff, by a synod, sitting in Westminster Abbey, on the ground that he was ignorant of the French language. Wulstan rose, on the demand being made, grasped his crozier firmly in his hand, and thus spoke: “I am aware, my lord Archbishop, that I am neither worthy of this dignity, nor equal to its duties: this I knew when the clergy elected, when the prelates compelled, when my master called me to fill it. By the authority of the Holy See he laid this burden upon me, and with this staff he commanded me to receive the rank of a bishop. You now demand of me the pastoral staff, which you did not present, and the office which you did not bestow. Aware of my insufficiency, and obedient to this holy synod, I now resign them; not, however, to you, but to him by whose authority I received them.” Advancing then to the tomb of Edward the Confessor, he thus apostrophised the deceased sovereign, “Master, thou knowest how reluctantly I assumed this charge at thy instigation. It was thy command that, more than the wish of the people, the voice of the prelates, and the desire of the nobles, compelled me. Now we have a new king, a new primate, and new enactments. Thee they accuse of error, in having so commanded, and me of presumption, because I obeyed. Formerly, indeed, thou mightest err, because thou wert mortal; but now thou art with God, and canst err no longer. Not to them, therefore, who recall what they did not give, and who may deceive and be deceived, but to thee who gave them, and art now raised above all error, I resign my staff, and surrender my flock.” And so saying, he laid the crozier upon the tomb, and took his place among the monks, as one of their own rank. But lo, a miracle! or what was alleged to be one—the staff became so firmly embedded in the stone, that it could not be removed; an evident token that it was the pleasure of Heaven, that Wulstan should not be deprived of his bishopric: the synod left him therefore in its possession in peace. At his death, Walkelyn, a Norman, was appointed by the King, and it was in his case, as in many others, of prelates appointed by the Conqueror, if they could not satisfy the people of their right, they certainly did convince them of their fitness. Walkelyn built the present tower, part of the present nave and transepts, and altogether made the Cathedral so essentially a new work, that it was re-dedicated by him, to the Apostles Peter and Paul, and the Saint Swithin. Succeeding prelates continued to add and to decorate till Wykeham came, and crowned the whole with the magnificent west front, truly his front, as the statue in the pediment seems fittingly to assert, for he was the architect, as well as in a general sense the builder. The character of this distinguished man illustrates so strongly what we conceive must have been the character, in a lesser degree, of many of the prelates to whom we owe our Cathedrals, that we should have been glad to have dwelt on it, did our space permit, at more length. As it is, we can only observe, by way of showing the marvellous versatility, as well as lofty excellence in particular pursuits, which men, in those early ages, often exhibited, unconscious of the practical refutation they were giving to the absurd “philosophy” of later ones, that William of Wykeham, as a man of the world, raised himself, by address and ability, from a very humble position in life, that left him dependent on strangers for his education, to a position which gave him an opportunity of commanding the most lofty; that William of Wykeham, as a priest, was so distinguished in his holy calling, that he was raised by successive steps from the mere clerk to the all-potential bishop; that William of Wykeham, as a statesman, after a similar series of ascending stages, became Lord High Chancellor, and that, too, at a time, the latter part of the reign of Edward the Third, and the reign of Richard the Second, when the national affairs were in the most perturbed state; that William of Wykeham, a wholesale restorer and reformer of existing religious foundations, was scarcely less famous as an establisher of new ones in honour, and for the promotion of learning, witness to the last feature those two noble colleges of Winchester and Oxford that were founded by him; that, lastly, William of Wykeham, as an artist, was without rival in his own time, and hardly surpassed in any other; to the man who began his career in this department of his multifarious history, as a clerk of the works to the King, we owe not merely the grand western front of Winchester Cathedral, but such works as England’s one palace, among the several so called, Windsor, which assumed, under Wykeham, for the first time the extent and general arrangement that still prevail through the Castle.

Since the bishopric of this noble specimen of all-sided humanity, to borrow Goethe’s characteristic mode of expression, the chief builder at Winchester has been Bishop Fox, whose statue, under a canopy, terminates his improvements on the east. But the good work has been continued with admirable spirit and taste in our own days. Not less than forty thousand pounds have been recently expended in restoration, and what in one instance was still more needed, alteration; we allude to the beautiful choir screen, that now stands where stood Inigo Jones’s elegant, but ridiculously inharmonious, piece of composite handiwork.

Figures of arithmetic sometimes describe better than figures of speech, and we are not sure but that will be the case, as respects the general external aspect of Winchester Cathedral. Whilst the entire length of the structure reaches to five hundred and forty-five feet, the main tower rises only to the height of one hundred and thirty-eight feet; the outspread but stunted expression of the pile may therefore be seen at once. The tower, indeed, rises but twenty-six feet above the roof; the explanation, therefore, is evident—the work remains unfinished. Apart from the west front, however, Winchester is, in many respects, a truly magnificent structure. The view that opens upon the spectator, as he enters by the western door, is one of almost unequalled splendour; he looks through one continuous vista of pillars, arches, and roof, extending to the eastern extremity, where the eye finally rests upon the superb eastern window, that casts its “dim religious light” into the choir. The pillars and arches of the nave are among the most interesting parts of the Cathedral; within the clustered columns that give so light an aspect to those enormous masses of masonry, are hidden the very Saxon pillars of Ethelwold’s structure; within those pointed arches above them, yet remain Ethelwold’s semicircular ones; the skilful architect having thus adapted both pillars and arches to the style required, rather than pull them down unnecessarily. The Cathedral is rich in monuments: William Rufus lies here, in the choir, in a tomb of plain grey stone. In six mortuary chests, carved in wood, painted, and gilt, are buried the remains of Saxon Kings, Kinegils probably among them, and of other distinguished persons, transferred by Bishop Fox from the decayed coffins in which they had been buried. But in an artistical sense, the monumental glory of the Cathedral consists in the chantries or oratories of the Bishops Edyngton, Wykeham, Beaufort, Waynflete, and Fox: the last four are among the most superb specimens we possess of these generally beautiful works. One of West’s best pictures, the liaising of Lazarus, forms the Cathedral altar-piece.