The foundations of the ancient capital of England were probably laid when the waves of Celtic conquest that had submerged the Neolithic men stilled to tranquillity. The earliest records left to us are many generations later and they are obscure and doubtful, but according to Vigilantius, an early historian whose lost writings have been quoted by those who followed him, a great Christian church was re-erected here in A.D. 164 by Lucius, King of the Belgae, on the site of a building destroyed during a temporary revival of paganism. The Roman masters of Lucius called his capital, rebuilt under their tuition, "Venta Belgarum." The British name - Caer Gwent - belonged to the original settlement. The size and boundaries of both are uncertain. Remains of the Celtic age are practically non-existent beneath Winchester, though the surrounding hills are plentifully strewn with them, and if Roman antiquities occasionally turn up when the foundations of new buildings are being prepared, any plan of the Roman town is pure conjecture. The true historic interest of Winchester, and historically it is without doubt the most interesting city in England, dates from the time of those West Saxon chiefs who gave it the important standing which was eventually to make it the metropolis of the English.

The early history of Winteceaster is the history of Wessex, and when Cerdic decided to make it the capital of his new kingdom, about 520, it was probably the only commercial centre in the state, with Southampton as its natural port and allied town. As the peaceful development of Wessex went on, so the population and trade of the capital grew until in a little over a hundred years, when Birinus came from over seas bearing the cross of the faith that was soon to spread with great rapidity over the whole of southern England, he found here a flourishing though pagan town. After the conversion of King Cynegils the first Wessex bishopric was founded at Dorchester near the banks of the Thames, but by 674 this was removed to the capital where there had been built a small church dedicated to SS. Peter and Paul, probably on the site now occupied by the cathedral and originally by the church of Lucius and its predecessor.

The great structure we see to-day is remarkable in many ways. It is the longest Gothic building in the world, and is only exceeded by St. Peter's in Rome. In spite of the disappointment the stranger invariably experiences at his first sight of the squat tower and straight line of wall, its majestic interior, and the indefinable feeling that this is still a temple and not a mere museum, will soon give rise to a sense of reverent appreciation that makes one linger long after the usual round of "sights" has been accomplished. The war memorial, dignified and austere, that was placed outside the west front in the autumn of 1921, is a most effective foil to the singularly unimposing pile of stone and glass behind it. But, however it may lack the elegance of the usual west "screen," this end of Winchester Cathedral has the great merit of being architecturally true.

Of the first Saxon building nothing remains. In this Egbert was crowned King of the English in 827. It was strongly fortified by St. Swithun, who was bishop for ten years from 852. At his urgent request he was buried in the churchyard instead of within the cathedral walls. Another generation wishing to honour the saint commenced the removal of the relics. On the day set aside for this - St. Swithun's day - a violent storm of rain came on and continued for forty days, thus giving rise to the old and well known superstition of the forty days of rain following St. Swithun's should that day be wet.

Under Bishop Swithun's direction the clergy and servants of the cathedral successfully resisted an attack by the Danes when the remainder of the city was destroyed. Soon after this, in the midst of the Danish terror, Alfred became king and here he founded two additional religious houses, St. Mary's Abbey, the Benedictine "Nunnaminster;" and Newminster on the north side of the cathedral. Of this latter St. Grimald was abbot. Nearly a hundred years later, in Edgar's reign, the cathedral itself became a monastery, with Bishop Athelwold as first abbot. He rebuilt the cathedral, dedicating it to St. Swithun; it had been originally dedicated to SS. Peter and Paul. Within this fabric Canute and his wife were buried; that earlier Conqueror of the English having made Winchester his imperial capital. A few years later, on Easter Day, the coronation of St. Edward took place with great pomp. Soon after the advent of William I, who made Winchester a joint metropolis with London and was crowned in both, the building of the great Norman church by Bishop Walkelyn was begun; the consecration taking place on St. Swithun's day 1093. Of this structure the crypt and transepts remain practically untouched. The nave, though Norman at its heart, has been altered in a most interesting way to Perpendicular without scrapping the earlier work. Walkelyn's tower fell in and ruined the choir in 1107, legend says as a protest against the body of Rufus being placed beneath it. The present low tower immediately took its place. Bishop de Lucy was responsible for rebuilding the Early English choir about 1200. The famous Bishop Wykeham completed the work of his predecessor, Edyngton, in rebuilding the west front, and he it was who beautified the nave. The great east window dates from about 1510; the lady chapel being rather earlier in date.