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.
[Illustration: Font, Winchester cathedral.]
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