Lincoln Cathedral was commissioned by William the Conqueror in 1072 and is one of England’s finest Gothic cathedrals. For many years it housed a copy of the Magna Carta and was the world’s tallest building.
Lincoln Cathedral, The Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lincoln, is one of England’s finest Gothic cathedrals. Located in the historic city of Lincoln, it was commissioned by William the Conqueror in 1072 and was constructed on the site of an Anglo-Saxon church. The building was completed in 1092 under the supervision of Bishop Regimus. In 1142 it was destroyed by fire but was rebuilt and expanded by Bishop Alexander (known as ‘the Magnificent').
In 1185 the cathedral was severely damaged by an earthquake, with reconstruction beginning in 1192 by Bishop Hugh who was later to become St Hugh. The work was paid for by the local people including the Swineherd of Stowe who gave his life savings to the project. His statue sits on top of the northwest turret opposite that of St Hugh which is on the southwest turret.
Hugh used the Gothic style of architecture which used pointed arches, ribbed vaults and flying buttresses. This allowed larger windows and wider roof spans, although the Norman style of architecture with its round arches for the doors and windows can still be seen. As construction work was to last for a period of 100 years, Hugh was not to see the completion of the Transept or Nave, as he died in 1200 and - like many of the Cathedral’s Bishops - was buried in the Cathedral in what is now St Hugh Chapel.
A number of problems occurred during the construction work; the central towers collapsed at the end of the 1230s and had to be rebuilt; while the nave, having been completed in the middle of the 13th century, was joined to the remains of the Norman west end, although its alignment was out of line, resulting in a kink which can be seen today by looking up to the ceiling just inside the entrance.
In 1255 Henry III (1216 – 72) allowed the removal of part of the town wall to enable the cathedral to be enlarged, this included the replacement of the rounded chapel constructed by St Hugh with the current square one at the east end. It was at this time that work began on the Angel Choir. The two large stained-glass windows were added in 1330. These are the Dean’s Eye and the Bishop’s Eye.
During that time, it was common for cathedral windows to contain images from the bible. However, at Lincoln, there are very few images; although some can be seen of the Saints Paul, Andrew, and James.
The central tower was extended to its present height between 1307 and 1311 with the western towers being raised at the end of the 14th century. Lead-covered spires were later added to all three towers with the central tower making the Cathedral the tallest building in the world (160m) overtaking that of the Great Pyramid of Giza. Despite the central spire collapsing during a hurricane in 1549, its original height was not surpassed until the construction of the Eiffel Tower in Paris in 1889. The other two towers also had spires, these were 30.7m high, but these were removed in 1807 after their weight, and the poor foundations threatened to cause the towers to collapse. It had been planned to remove the spires in 1726 but the cathedral was besieged by the people of Lincoln in protest, so the plan was abandoned. The towers contain a total of 20 bells, with the quarter-hour striking clock, Great Tom being installed early in the 19th century.
The reformation in 1540 resulted in King Henry VIII (1509 – 1547) seizing many of the cathedral's precious objects including vestments, plates, and statues encrusted with jewels, whilst the English Civil War (1642 - 1651) saw the destruction of many of the shrines. With the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, new building work commenced, including the construction of the ‘Wren Library’ named after its architect, Sir Christopher Wren. This contains a collection of over 277 rare manuscripts, including the text of the Venerable Bede.
Visitors enter the cathedral at the West Front. The main door, however, is only fully opened to receive the Sovereign, the Lord Lieutenant, or the Judges when they come in State.
On entry into the Nave, there is a spectacular view of its pillars and ribbed vaulting.
In the Nave, near the entrance is the baptismal font.
Made of Tournai marble, with carvings of mythical beasts around its sides, it was brought to Lincoln from Belgium in the 12th century. It is located there to signify that baptism is the start of the Christian’s journey through life.
At the far end of the Nave stand the altar.
Behind the altar is the transept with a number of chapels, including those dedicated to the armed forces.
Immediately behind the altar is St Hugh’s choir with its wonderfully carved woodwork.
The intricate carved stone Choir Screen constructed in the 1330s to separate the choir from the rest of the Cathedral still bear traces of blue, red, silver and gold which originally coloured it.
Behind St Hugh’s Choir is the Angel Choir and the three chantry chapels which were added in the 15th and 16th centuries. Beyond the Angel Choir stands a shrine to St Hugh and a duplicate of the tomb of Eleanor of Castile found in Westminster Abbey.
Although the original stone chest survives, its effigy is a 19th-century copy to replace the original which was destroyed in the 17th century.
On the outside of the cathedral are two statues which are reputed to be of Eleanor and Edward I (1239 - 1307) although these were restored in the 19th century and may not in fact be the couple.
One of the most famous things in Lincoln Cathedral is the Lincoln Imp.
This is a small stone carving situated at the top of a stone pillar in the Angel Choir. Legend has it that two mischievous imps entered the cathedral and started to cause havoc by smashing things and throwing rocks. An angel entered the cathedral and ordered the imps to stop, and when they did not, the angel turned one into stone, whereupon the other quickly left.
Lincoln Cathedral also has a Cloister; something that is common in a monastic cathedral but not in a secular one like Lincoln.
Built originally in the 13th century the Cloister was rebuilt in 1674 by Sir Christopher Wren during his work on the Cathedral. Just off the Cloister, there is now a café, the entrance to the library, and The Chapter House.
The Chapter House is a circular building that contains one column with twenty ribs extending from it.
It was named the Chapter House because the governing body of the cathedral met there, and each meeting was opened by a reading of a portion of a chapter from the Bible. Later, the term chapter was used for the governing body itself. When King John (1199 – 1216) placed his seal on Magna Carta at Runnymede in 1215, the Bishop of Lincoln was one of the signatories, and one of the four remaining original copies of the document was held in Lincoln Cathedral before being transferred to Lincoln Castle.
The cathedral has been used for a number of films; the most famous of which is The Da Vinci Code starring Tom Hanks which was made in 2005. Although the story was actually set in Westminster Abbey, Lincoln Cathedral was selected when permission to film in the Abbey was refused. The chapter house was adorned with painted murals and polystyrene replicas of the Abbey. The cathedral also doubled as Westminster Abbey in 2007 for the film Young Victoria.
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