Lincoln Cathedral of St Mary

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Lincoln Cathedral is a splendid medieval cathedral dominating the town at its feet. As the third largest medieval cathedral in England, it is a prominent local landmark with two west towers and a central square tower, it can be seen on top of its hill for miles.

If you have seen the film of the Da Vinci Code, Lincoln Cathedral was used for the scenes in Westminster Abbey.

Built of local pale Jurassic limestone it glows in the sunlight, with black Purbeck marble acting as a contrast.

At the top of the town, it is reached by a climb up the aptly named Steep Hill, which gets steeper the higher you climb.

Opposite the castle, it is surrounded by an elegant Georgian Close. Many of the clergy still live here. A wall was built round the community in 1295 and the Exchequer Gate with its 3 gateways still stands. It is no longer locked at night although the curfew bell still rings.

The building has a very chequered history. A bishopric was established in Lincoln in 313/4AD by Constantine the Great. During troubled times with the Vikings, the Bishop moved south to Dorchester on Thames. After the Norman Conquest Bishop Remigius, a loyal supported of William the Conqueror, was recalled from Dorchester in 1072 and began work on a new stone cathedral. This was damaged by fire in 1141. A major earthquake in 1185 destroyed all of the building apart from the west front. In 1192, Bishop Hugh began work on a bigger and more splendid cathedral in the Early English/Gothic style. Work began at the east end.

Bishop Hugh’s church is larger than the Norman Church and the outline of the Norman Church can be seen as a black line on the floor. The foundations of the Norman church exist below the floor. By one of the nave pillars is a wooden trapdoor in the floor. When lifted, the remains of the foundation of a Norman can be seen.

In 1237 the central tower collapsed and had to be rebuilt.

In 1307 spires were added to the towers. The central spire was as tall as the square tower, making it the tallest building in the world. It blew down during a storm in 1549, damaging part of the north transept but fortunately missing most of the cathedral. The spires on the two west towers were removed in 1806 as there were concerns about their stability.

Originally the cathedral would have been whitewashed on the outside and all the internal surfaces covered with wall paintings. These were removed by the puritans who took the building back to the bare stonework. Traces of paint can be seen on the stone rood screen and there are traces of paintings on the ceiling of the south transept.

To the north of the cathedral are the cloisters. The Chapter house with its flying buttresses is off the east wall of the cloister. Round the outside of the cathedral are many empty niches which would have contained statues. These were destroyed by the Puritans.

The western front with its mixture of Norman and early English/Gothic architecture is regarded as one of the best in England. The round Norman arches with there carving stand out in contrast to the later work. Above the central doorway is a carved frieze of Kings with a statue of a bishop on either side. Above is a splendid Gothic window with a circular window above, both set in cross hatch carving. There are blind arcades on either side.

Along the front is a carved frieze, part of the 1192 rebuild of the cathedral. This was originally brightly painted and must have been stunning. Biblical scenes illustrate the damned on the left and the blessed on the right. There is a carving of a rich man refusing to share his food with a poor beggar. In a later scene, the beggar has died and angels are taking his soul to Heaven, The Rich man and his friends are going to Hell. Parts of the frieze were getting badly eroded and have now been replaced by new carvings which gleam a brilliant white against he weathered stone. At the top of the SW tower is a statue of St Hugh, who was responsible for rebuilding the Norman cathedral after it collapsed. At the top of the NW tower is the ‘swineherd of Stow’, a poor man who gave all his savings to bishop Hugh to be used in the rebuilding.

Entry is through the Norman south west door into a porch and then into the back of the nave. One of the few surviving brass tombstones is set into the floor. There is a superb view down the length of the nave with its tall pillars with cylinders of Purbeck marble leading up pointed arches. Above is a walkway with more pointed arches and columns of Purbeck marble and above small plain glass windows. In sunlight, the 19thC stained glass windows along the side walls throw patches of colour across the floor of the nave.The elegant vaulted ceiling has carved bosses. There are traces of a tracery pattern along some of the ceiling ribs, On one of the pillars is a simple wooden pulpit which is used for the 12o’clock daily prayer.

Except for services on major dates in the church calendar or concerts, the nave is bare of seats. This would have been originally, with just a narrow shelf around the walls for the old and infirm to sit (hence the expression the weak shall go to the wall). Across the chancel is a gleaming white choir screen. Standing facing the west end, the rebuild of Bishop Hugh doesn’t quite line up with the Norman west end and is about 2’6” out. The walls on either side of the arch are different widths.

Entry this far is free (and also to the shop and St Mary Magdalene chapel used for private prayer). There is a charge (£6 adults, £4.75 concessions £1 children) to enter the church. If you gift aid, this then gives you free entry for the next year. The entry price also includes tours. Two are offered, the floor tour and the roof tour. I did both and they were very well worth doing.

The volunteer who ran the floor tour was enthusiastic and extremely knowledgeable, a wealth of information. The tour which was scheduled for 60minutes took 90 minutes and I was talking to him for a long time afterwards. I learnt many facts that I wouldn’t have been aware of otherwise.

The roof tour takes you up into the roof space above the nave and also out onto the west front and south side of the cathedral.

This review is longer than expected so I have broken it into two parts. The “second part”: is a description of the inside of the cathedral.

Visit the cathedral website

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There are a lot more pictures “here.”:

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