The cathedral owes its name to Victor of Xanten, a member of the Theban Legion who was supposedly executed in the 4th century in the amphitheater of Castra Vetera for refusing to sacrifice to the Roman gods. This Roman camp is near today's town of Birten. According to legend, Helena of Constantinople recovered the bones of Victor and his legion and erected a chapel in their honour. During a modern excavation the existence of a 4th-century cella memoriae was discovered; however, it was determined that it had not been erected for Victor but for two other male corpses that were placed in the crypt at a later date.
The cornerstone of the cathedral was laid in 1263 by Friedrich and Konrad von Hochstaden. Construction lasted 281 years and was finally finished with the dedication of the Holy Spirit Chapel (German: Heiliger-Geist-Kapelle) in the year 1544. The cathedral contains a five-aisle nave built in the Gothic style. In contrast to many other cathedrals of the period, St. Victor's lacks an ambulatory. Instead a twin pair of chapels is connected to the choir similar to that seen at the Church of Our Lady (German: Liebfrauenkirche) in Trier. Along with the monasterial library of the Cathedral houses one of the most important religious libraries of the Lower Rhine. Today the cathedral is the seat of the auxiliary bishopHeinrich Janssen who presides over the Lower Rhine part of the Diocese of Münster.