Lincoln Cathedral of St Mary

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Lincoln Cathedral is a beautiful medieval cathedral which dominates the town of Lincoln. The inside is as good as the outside.

This review turned out a lot longer than expected, so I have split it into two. The first part covers the history of the cathedral, outside and visiting. This part describes the inside. There are also reviews on the floor and roof tours.

The view from the back of the nave of Lincoln Cathedral is stunning. Empty unless there is a major service or concert, the very tall nave with pillars soaring to the ceiling. The only furnishings are the 19thC wooden pulpit from which 12 o’clock prayers are said daily and the black Tournai marble font at the back of the nave. Standing on four legs round a central column, the bowl is carved with winged beasts representing the battle between good and evil. Across the chancel is a superbly carved stone screen. Many people only get as far as this, not wanting to pay the entry fee to explore further. They miss out on a lot.

There is a massive transept crossing. There are remains of medieval decoration on the sides of the ceiling ribs in the south transept. The Dean’s Eye, the rose window in the north transept, still contains much of its medieval stained glass.

The 13thC limestone choir screen is a marvellous example of decorated Gothic architecture with crocketed (nobbly) pinnacles and arches with tiny carved animal heads. On the pillars are small carvings of ‘saints’. The Puritans knocked the heads off the statues but they were recarved by the Victorians. Unfortunately they added bishops heads. Looking at the posture of the statues and their dress, they are more likely to be female saints… The walls of the screen are covered with carvings of leaves and flowers. Traces of red and blue paint can still be seen on them. In the centre is a wrought iron metal grille which is used by the choir before a service.

Originally there would have been a crucifix above the screen. Now there is a massive wood organ dating from 1898 with more carved crocketed pinnacles.

On the south arch leading into the ambulatory outside the choir there are carving of a dragon stealing grapes (one of the seven deadly sins). St Michael with his sword is about to kill the dragon. On the opposite side is the body of the dead dragon representing the victory of good over evil.

Metal gates from 1295 lead into the choir. Above is a massive wooden lintel. The choir is surrounded on three sides by beautifully carved wooden stalls with high backs and topped with crocketed pinnacles and carvings. The bishops throne stands higher than the canon’s stalls along the walls. Each has a gold rimmed plaque with the name of the canon. These have misericords and curved backs where the canons could put their arms to support their body during the long periods of standing during services.

In front are the choir stalls. There is a large bronze eagle lectern. On the floor is a dumb bell shaped ‘Singing Stone’ with Cantate Hic inscribed on it. The singer of the responses stands here to get the best acoustics. The massive wood pulpit has a carving of Jesus preaching.

The sanctuary has a simple stone altar with a stone reredos with open Gothic arches, Round the walls of the sanctuary is stone arcading. On the north wall is an Easter Sepulchre with three arches. On a lower panel is a carving of three sleeping soldiers. On the south wall set under a highly carved stone canopy, is the tomb of Katherine Swynford, third wife of John of Gaunt. Beyond is the lower tomb of her daughter Joan, Countess of Westmoreland. The brasses were removed by the Puritans. Henry Beaufort, their son was Bishop of Lincoln and may have married them.

Bishop Hugh died in 1220 and was canonised in 1220. Lincoln became a major centre of pilgrimage. The shuttered and barred windows at the back of the nave date from this time. Known as Dole windows, pilgrims could get food and drink here. The east end of the cathedral was knocked down and rebuilt to house his tomb. Known as the Angle Choir, the ceiling vaulting is different. Look up at the base of the ceiling ribs on the north wall to find the small carving of the Lincoln Imp.

On the right is the tomb of Eleanor of Castile, wife of Edward I who died near Lincoln. The brass effigy is a copy of that destroyed by the Puritans. On the left is the Shrine of St Hugh. Round the sides are painted badges and carved, now headless figures. The Head shrine of St hugh was decorated with jewels and precious stones and was seized by Henry VIII. The body shrine was destroyed .

The splendid tomb and canopy of Bishop Christopher Wordsworth, a nephew of William, is an elaborate Victorian memorial to him, as he is buried at nearby Riseholm .

On the north wall of the ambulatory is a splendid cadaver tomb. Above is the body of a bishop with his feet on a dragon (conquering evil) and angles at his head. below is a skeleton.

The floor of the ambulatory is lines with old tomb slabs, now minus their brasses. Cromwell apparently said that the living had more use of the brass than the dead…

Next to the north east transept is the Treasury containing examples of chalices and pattens from the 13thC . There are 17thC flagons, an early 18thC Peruvian Triptych and a 19thC private communion set.

On the west wall of the north east transept is a large wall painting of four bishops. Da Mini had been asked in 1728 to restore a medieval wall painting but he repainted the picture. Traces of the original paint have been found beneath his painting.

On the south wall of the ambulatory is the remains of the tomb of Little St Hugh , a boy who was said to have been murdered by the Jews in 1255. Beyond in the south east transept is the tomb of Bishop Grossesteste 1235-53 with a painted shield and mitre set between two praying figures.

There are chantry chapels in the transepts and off the side of the chancel. Those on the north transept are the service chapels. The first is the Soldier’s Chapel dedicated to St George. On the walls are memorials to the dead of different wars and the Memorial Book of the lincolnshire Regiment. At the top is St George killing the dragon. Old standards hang from the walls. The arcading behind the altar has paintings of saints george, Martin, Alban and David.

The middle chapel is the Seaman’s Chapel and dedicated to St Andrew. Behind the altar is a wrought iron screen with painted shields and two gilded crowns representing sailing ships. There is a model of a sailing ship hanging from the ceiling and the bell from HMS Tasman 1945.

The far chapel is the Airman’s Chapel dedicated to St Michael. The wrought iron screen has badges of Group Quarters RAF. Above is The badge and motto Per Ardua ad Astra.

The Russell chantry on the south side of the chancel is dedicated to a Bishop of Lincoln from 1480-94. It is worth opening the wooden door and looking inside as the wall paintings are by Duncan Grant, a member of the Bloomsbury Group. Above the altar is a painting of Christ as the good shepherd. On the west wall is a scene of a ship unloading cargo. Under the tomb of the bishop is a lovely painting of flowers, birds and butterflies.

The Mary Magdalene or Morning chapel at the west end of the nave is used for quiet prayer and entry is free. It is a simple chapel with open quadrifoils to the nave, blind arcading and a central pillar supporting the vaulted ceiling.

The cloisters are reached down the north east transept. Three sides are 13thC. They have a wooden ceiling with carved bosses and gothic arches. The north wall is much plainer as it was rebuilt at the end of the 17thC by Sir Christopher Wren to house a new library. This is only open in the summer months.

The chapter house is off the east side. This has massive wooden doors with elaborate iron hinges. An arcaded passageway leads to the chapter house. A central pillar supports the vaulted ceiling. There is a bench round the walls for the canons to sit during meetings. In pride of place is the massive wooden seat with lions carved on the arms and used by the Dean. The lower part is reputed to be the throne of Edward I. Three parliaments were held in this building. Above are stained glass windows telling the story of the building of the Cathedral, including Cromwell smashing the statues and ending with Wesley preaching here.

Beyond the Chapter House is the Cathedral Refectory which specialises in Lincolnshire produce. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to visit today.

Lincoln is a magnificent cathedral. It looks stunning from the free viewpoint at the west end of the nave, but it is worth paying the admission fee and spending time exploring the building. The floor tour gives an over view of the cathedral and its history. The roof tour gets you into parts of the cathedral not normally seen. You do need to allow several hours to enjoy the building and do the two tours.

Visit the cathedral website

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