Norman West front
Interior of Lincoln Cathedral
Lincoln Cathedral (in full The Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary
of Lincoln, or sometimes St. Mary's Cathedral,) is an historic cathedral
in Lincoln in England, and seat of the Diocese of Lincoln in the Church
of England. It is highly regarded by architectural scholars; the eminent
Victorian writer John Ruskin declared, "I have always held... that the
cathedral of Lincoln is out and out the most precious piece of
architecture in the British Isles and roughly speaking worth any two
other cathedrals we have."
William the Conqueror ordered the first cathedral to be built in Lincoln,
in 1072. Before that, St. Mary's Church in Lincoln was a mother church
but not a cathedral and the seat of the diocese was at Dorchester Abbey
in Dorchester-on-Thames, Oxfordshire. Lincoln was more central to a
diocese that stretched from the Thames to the Humber. Bishop Remigius
built the first Lincoln Cathedral on the present site, finishing it in
1092 and then dying two days before it was to be consecrated on May 9 of
that year. About fifty years later, most of that building was destroyed
in a fire. Bishop Alexander rebuilt and expanded the cathedral, but it
was destroyed by an earthquake about forty years later, in 1185, while
there was no bishop.
The central tower rises to 83 m (271 feet). It was once topped with a
lead-encased wooden spire that some say rose to 160m (525 feet) — a
height that, if accurate, would have put the cathedral ahead of the
Great Pyramid of Giza as the world's tallest structure. This distinction
would have endured for over two centuries, until stormy weather caused
the collapse of the spire in 1549.
King Henry II of England approved the election of Hugh of Avalon, a
Carthusian monk and later canonized a saint, as Bishop of Lincoln in
1186, and St. Hugh died in 1200, before his plan for the rebuilding was
completed. The western end of the cathedral was always where it is now,
but the eastern end (east of the original, now "great" transept) was
moved eastward each time the cathedral was enlarged: The eastern wall of
the Norman building (1073) was in the middle of what is now St. Hugh's
Choir. The eastern end of the Early English building (1186) was in what
is now the Angel Choir behind the High Altar. The existing structure was
finished by about 1280, but repairs and remodeling have continued, and
there have been repeated problems with the spires (removed in 1807) and
towers, which were sometimes thought to be in danger of collapsing, this
was despite attempts to shore up the towers by digging underneath them
to increase support, an early attempt of what is a common engineering
project today on such buildings as the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Among the persons interred in Lincoln Cathedral are:
St. Hugh of Avalon, in the Angel Choir
Richard Fleming, (died 1431), Bishop of Lincoln, in the first cadaver tomb
ever, in a chantry on the north wall. His moldering corpse is
realistically depicted below his effigy.
Katherine Swynford and her daughter Joan Beaufort, in a chantry on the
south side of the sanctuary
Lincoln Cathedral and its bishops have also had a leading role in the
history of England. Of most importance is the Magna Carta which was
signed by the Bishop of Lincoln, amongst others, and what is one of only
two copies resides in the cathedral library, although it is lent out to
American museums to raise funds, a problem the diocese has suffered from
ever since the reformation. With Lincolnshire containing more
monasteries than everywhere else in England put together, and the vast
number in other diocese-controlled lands, the reformation drastically
cut the main source of income to the Cathedral leaving the massive
structure under the care of an organisation that can barely support it.
For hundreds of years, Lincoln Cathedral held one of the four remaining
copies of the original Magna Carta. It now resides in the nearby Lincoln
Castle, where it is on permanent display.
Dating from the Middle Ages, Magna Carta is the most important document
conferring democracy and civil rights. It is embedded in English Common
Law and has been quoted and drawn on throughout the ages, from the US
Constitution (especially the Bill of Rights) through to the UN Charter.
The other surviving copies are in Salisbury Cathedral and two are in the
The Lincoln Imp
One of the stone gargoyles within the Cathedral is the Lincoln Imp. There
are several variations of the legend surrounding the figure.
According to 14th-century legend, two mischievous creatures called imps
were sent by Satan to do evil work on Earth. After causing mayhem
elsewhere in Northern England the two imps headed to Lincoln Cathedral
where they smashed tables and chairs and tripped up the Bishop. An angel
appeared in the Angel Choir and ordered them to stop. One of the imps
sat atop a stone pillar started throwing rocks at the angel whilst the
other imp cowered under the broken tables and chairs. The angel turned
the first imp to stone allowing the second imp escape. The imp turned to
stone, the Lincoln Imp, can still be found, frozen in stone, sitting
atop his stone column in the Angel Choir.
The Norman West Front of Lincoln Cathedral
Lincoln Cathedral viewed from the Brayford Pool area of the city.
An 1899 reproduction of the Lincoln Imp used to overlook the Front Quad of
Lincoln College, Oxford. In 2000 it was transferred to the bar (Deep
Hall) and another Imp was erected in the traditional position above the
entrance to Hall. This has given rise to an Oxford expression: 'to look
on someone like the Imp looks over Lincoln'. The Lincoln Imp has also
given rise to the title of the college's undergraduate newspaper: The
Lincoln City Football Club are known as The Imps. The Lincoln Imp is also
the symbol of the City of Lincoln.
In 1995, the Cathedral accepted its first female choristers in a move of
modernisation. Initially, this secondary choir was only made up of six
girls - Victoria Beeby, Bryony Jones, Martine Lyons, Hannah Rogers and
sisters Judith and Charlotte Turner - but was soon expanded under the
tutelage of Nick Perry and later Linda Hepburn-Booth. Unlike the boys'
choir, the girls' choir was never funded by the Cathedral, but by the
Cathedral School (now Lincoln Minster School) and does not possess a
Cathedral songschool as the other choirs do. Despite initial protest,
the girls' choir has slowly grown to be equal in status to the boys'
choir and now serves an equal number of services. Lincoln was only the
second Cathedral in the country to adopt a separate girls' choir, after
Over £1 million a year is spent on keeping the cathedral in shape; the
most recent project completed has been the restoration of the West Front
in 2000. About 10 years ago it was discovered that the Flying Buttresses
on the east end were no longer connected to the adjoining stonework, and
hasty repairs had to be made.
The problems arise because the building techniques used were
groundbreaking at the time, and the builders were inventing them as they
proceeded. It was not unknown for newly built parts to collapse shortly
afterwards, as they learned the techniques and methods needed to build
in this style. Up to this point, there were only Norman churches, which
were short and dark, with thick walls and small windows. The
introduction of Gothic style made churches bright and spacious, but
required a new set of techniques to be developed.
The most recent problem was the discovery that the stonework of the Dean's
Eye window in the transept was crumbling. It has now been replaced, but
there was a period of great angst when it emerged that the stonework
only needed to shift 5mm for the entire cathedral to collapse!
Lincoln Cathedral remains much loved and is visited by over 250,000
tourists a year. The peak of its season is the Lincoln Christmas Market,
accompanied by a massive annual production of Handel's Messiah.