Northern Wales II: Caernarfon

Oh, there is history here!  The Romans built the first fort nearby, from which Caernarfon derives its name; in Welsh, the place was called “y gaer yn Arfon”, meaning “the stronghold in the land over against Môn”.  Following the Norman conquest of England, William the Conqueror turned his attention to Wales.  When the person nominally in charge of (northern) Wales was killed by the Welsh (1088), Norman control was re-established by building 3 castles, one of them here at Caernarfon.  It would have been a motte and bailey castle – the easy-to-build but militarily formidable fort of the time, with a protective ditch and a timber palisade enclosing a courtyard (bailey) and wooden keep on a raised earthwork (motte), similar to that shown at Lincoln Castle (post “The Lincoln Castle, Bishop’s Palace, and the Magna Carta“).  The Welsh recaptured the area in 1115, and this original Caernarfon castle became the property of the Welsh princes – until war broke out between Wales and England in 1282.  England’s King Edward I invaded and marched through northern Wales, capturing Welsh castles and starting his own at Conwy.  Several months later in 1283 the last Welsh castle fell, and Edward began building a new castle at Caernarfon, replacing the pre-existing motte and bailey structure.  The castle was intended to be the definitive chapter in King Edward’s conquest of Wales, constructed not only as a military stronghold but also as a seat of government and royal palace.  The defenses were built on a grand scale with a deliberate link to Caernarfon’s Roman past, the striped and angular walls designed to echo those of Constantinople, the imperial power of Rome.  The pictures below are from the internet.

Part of the castle’s fame comes from its association with the English title, “Prince of Wales”.  According to legend, Edward got the angry Welsh to submit to the Crown by promising them he would name “a prince, born in Wales, who spoke not a word of English”.  To the surprise of the Welsh, his son Edward II was born at Caernarfon in 1284 (speaking not a word of English – or any other language), and was created Prince of Wales in 1301 with control over Wales and its incomes.  Since then the title has traditionally been held by the eldest son of the monarch.  Prince Charles was “invested” with the title in Caernarfon Castle in 1969.

A schematic of today's Caernarfon CastleA schematic of Caernarfon Castle is shown here.  As you can see, it’s all walls and towers; construction was stopped in 1330 before it was completed.  Although there were once interior buildings, none have survived.

The main entrance to the castle, shown in the left picture below, is the town-facing King’s Gate; the right picture is a drawing of the unfinished

rear of the King’s Gate.  Had this twin-towered gatehouse been finished, it would have been protected by two drawbridge, 5 sets of doors, 6 portcullises, many murder holes above, and arrow loops to the side.  You can see from that drawing above that there was a chapel above the gatehouse passage.  It had double sinks for holy water, and slots in the floor to allow raising of the portcullises.  The whole second floor was intended to be a large hall; the windows and remains of finely sculpted heads finishing off the roof supports show that it was designed for stylish living.

Closer views of the castle walls are shown below.

High-tech arrow loop with slanted slitsArrow loops are everywhere in the walls, creating a veritable medieval machine gun.  These arrow loops were high-tech for their time: not only were they angled to allow each archer to cover a wide area, they also had an angled central pillar in the center of each loop to provide extra protection.

The impressive walls of the town and castle survive largely intact, but all that remains of the buildings within the castle are the foundations.  In part that’s because the buildings within the castle were never completed; money for construction was diverted to repair town walls damaged in the Welsh revolt of 1294; more money was diverted for Edward’s invasion of Scotland (post, Stirling Castle); and Edward died in 1307.  Further, when the Tudor’s (of Welsh origin) ascended the English throne in 1485, the Welsh were treated better.  Hostilities eased, castles became less important, and consequently they were neglected.  By 1620 only the Eagle Tower (shown later) and King’s Gate had roofs, and the domestic buildings had been stripped for building material.  Still, the interior is impressive!  The two pictures below look toward the unfinished Queens Gate.  In the first

picture, the large bare rectangle on the right is where the Great Hall once stood.  In its heyday the Great Hall would have been impressive, featuring fine architecture.  On the other side of the courtyard, the three joined brown rectangles are the foundations of the kitchen.  During the castle building, these kitchens would have fed up to 600 people.  A

large part of the diet was boiled meat (doesn’t that sound English?); the kitchen had fitted cauldrons and running water supplied by pipes from the Well Tower, as indicated above by the illustration and the picture of the ruins. There was also a waste disposal chute that went through the castle wall.

Inside Caernarfon Castle, looking at the Queen's GateReturning to the Caernarfon Castle overview, re-shown here, the jutting structure behind the kitchen site is the unfinished rear of the King’s Gate, and across from that the Chamberlain Tower, with the North-East Tower, Watch Tower and Queen’s Gate in the background.  The pictures below look in the opposite direction toward the huge three-

turreted Eagle Tower.  In the first picture, the leftmost tower is the Watch Tower, then the Chamberlain Tower and the Eagle Tower.  Note at the left edge of the right picture above, and in this The Granary Tower on the right, the North-East Tower on the left; note the notched walls that were unfinishedpicture of the Granary and North-East Towers, that there are notched walls ready for an expansion that never came.

Although the castle was never finished and never really used, King Edward (and other officials and overseers) did visit and were housed in completed royal lodgings on the upper floors.  When Edward and wife Eleanor visited in 1284 to have their son, the Eagle Tower was likely completed (up to the 2nd floor) and had the grandest

apartments.  Had Caernarfon been completed as intended, it could have contained a royal household of several hundred people.

City and castle walls are shown below.

When we were there, Caernarfon had a street fair.  Nice!  Among the highlights were a really cool (and momentarily convincing!) velociraptor moving through the crowd, and a

very cute calf.  Awwww!  Can I take him home??  And how about dining on super-fresh street seafood at the harbor under the shadow of a castle?  Crab anyone?  This kind of

experience is why we tolerate some of the discomforts of traveling.  Are you jealous, stay-at-home readers?  I’ll finish with pictures of the Caernarfon harbor.


Next post – Northern Wales III: Beaumaris

Northern Wales I: Conwy

Wales is a crescent-shaped peninsula jutting out from the England’s west side; it is relatively small, 170 x 60 miles.  Like Scotland, it’s part of the U.K. but not part of England, thank-you-very-much.  Their distinctiveness is evident in the pervasive presence of the Welsh language, which many speak, proudly.  Welsh is definitely not a dialect of English; its words look like an unpronounceable random assembly of letters, and it sounds like Elvish from Lord of the Rings.  It’s one of Europe’s oldest languages, written down around 600 A.D. and spoken 300 years before the existence of French or German.  All commendable, but let me give you an example of its challenges, like the name of this town a mile away from where we were staying.  As shown in the left picture below, the town’s name is “Llanfairpwllgwyngyll”.  Go ahead, pronounce it.  You see what I mean.  And

actually, that’s a compromise for the road signage.  The town’s real name is shown on the railroad station terminal, shown on the right picture – “Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch”.  In Welsh, it means “St. Mary’s Church by the white hazel pool near the fierce whirlpool with the church of St Tysilio by the red cave”.  You couldn’t pronounce the short version so don’t even try the full name!  The good news is that everyone in Wales speaks English.

A little history of Wales is needed to add context to what you’ll see.  Wales, like England, was conquered by the Romans.  When the Roman empire fell, the Germanic Saxon tribes conquered England but could not overcome the wild warriors of Wales.  The various medieval kingdoms of Wales were unified in 1216, but the country was independent for just over 60 years – in 1282 England’s King Edward I invaded and soon conquered the country.  To maintain control in the troublesome North Wales, he built 17 castles that were masterpieces of medieval engineering, with many having sea access to negate any siege.  Most castles were built simultaneously with a walled town that was then filled with English settlers – English islands in the midst of angry Wales.  Except for a rebellion that started in 1400 and lasted for several years (Conwy Castle was itself captured and held by the Welsh for 3 months), Wales has remained under English domination – a domination that at least in the first few hundred years was harsh and punitive.  Today Wales, like Scotland, enjoys some measure of self-rule within the UK; it was granted its own parliament in 1999.  The Brexit vote puts a new spin on Wales’ future, possibly giving it independence again after 700 years.

North Wales is more scenic than the south, with more mountains and less population, but

for us its allure is its high concentration of castles, some of the best in England.  We’ll do three of them, starting with Conwy.  Nearby is also Mt. Snowdon (not shown), taller than any mountain in England (it’s a whopping 3,560 feet; should be fun to climb!).

Before we go to Conwy, let me show you the Menai Suspension Bridge that we have to cross every day.  Built in 1826, it had to be a suspension bridge to allow passage of the tall-masted sailing ships of that time – particularly the Royal Navy.  It’s 100 feet above

sea level at high tide, and at 580 feet long it was the longest bridge of its day.  It was an engineering marvel, and is still used today for local traffic.  The hardware, particularly the huge Lego-like chain cables, are massive!  The view from the bridge isn’t bad either.

When King Edward I invaded and captured Northern Wales in early 1283, he built Conwy and its castle as a garrison town.  The area was a crossing point over the River Conwy between coastal and inland North Wales and was the site of a century-old Cistercian monastery (Aberconwy Abbey) favored by the Welsh princes.  As a powerful symbol of English power, he chose that site to build his English castle and walled town, uprooting the Welsh abbey.  It took only 4 years to build the castle and city walls.

Although the town itself is ordinary, it does have a good sense of humor, as shown in the store-front picture below.  It also has the best medieval walls in Britain, and a hulking,

still-awesome castle.  A representation of the (impressive!) city in 1287 is shown in the right picture.

So let’s see this castle!  The left picture below shows an entrance to Conwy through the city walls – the picture was taken from the left-most entrance to the city shown above in the representation of 1287.  The picture of the city street shows the problem of incorporating

a medieval city (with walls!) into the automobile age; you have to squeeze through that gate, and as you might surmise, yes, it’s a one-way road (actually, this is an exit from Conwy).  The right picture is a shot over the city wall showing the impressive castle in the background.  Doesn’t it look like an Eskimo art sculpture of a castle?  Solid; earthbound; compact.  And in this case, impenetrable.

Below are representations of the castle in 1287, and what it looks like today.  The entrance today is steep, but not like it was!  Then, as shown in the left picture below, you first

walked up a steep ramp that no horse could climb, then crossed a drawbridge, passed under a portcullis, stepped through 2 sets of doors (all protected with murder holes and arrow loops), and then entered the killing ground of the barbican.  The upper right picture isCastle walls from the side a good overview of the castle.  Notice that it’s divided into two sections, a front and a back.  The front was the working part of the castle; the back had the royal apartments.  The castle was at the cutting edge of military technology, with thick walls, rounded towers and turrets providing lethal fields of fire, a solid rock base, and royal apartments that could be defended separately.  Well supplied with fresh water from a spring-fed well, 91 feet down, and with its own dock, it could withstand sieges indefinitely.  Nothing on this scale had been seen before in Wales, which at that time had no real cities.  The last picture above and the picture to the left show how intimidating it still is.

The pictures below show the working part of the castle, viewed from the ground and from

the castle wall.  That doorway in the middle of the upper right picture went to the chapel Representation of the chapel and dining hall in the 1280'sand the Great Hall dining area, shown in the lower right picture.  A representation of how the chapel and dining hall looked in the 1280’s is shown here on the left.  People ate here regardless of rank; status was indicated by distance from the top table (and the further away, the plainer the food).

Below is a look at the living quarters, in this case the multiple apartments in the turrets and towers.  The floors are long gone, but you can see that each apartment had a window

and a big fireplace – and would have been quite cozy, if a bit compact.

Now to the royal apartments.  People of power protected their privacy, even in a castle.  As shown in the first representation below, entry to the royal apartments was barred by a

gatehouse, including a drawbridge!  Access from the castle walls was blocked by two doors, shown in the adjacent magnified image.  The royal apartments themselves are quite

spacious; in the 1280’s they would have been opulent and luxurious.  Today they’re one of the best unaltered medieval royal apartments in the UK.  Pictures of one of the apartments

are shown above.

I’ll finish this post by sharing a little Conwy history, and then some views of this pretty area.  The town buildings are not medieval, but the streets do have some history.  The street just outside the city walls is “Town Ditch Road”, named for the dry moat that was the first line of defense for the city.  The street running along the harbor by the castle is still “King’s Quay”.  Within the city walls there is a street that has a changed name; “Berry Street” was renamed from “Burial Street” – it had been a big ditch for mass burials during the plague in the 1600’s.  Shifting gears from that gruesome note, below are pretty views of the Conwy area from the castle walls.

Spiral fractures; be careful in castles!Not all went well on this trip to Conwy; descending a castle stairwell, perhaps foolishly in sandals, I slipped on a wet step and fell backward.  I protected my camera, but alas, not my hand, as shown in the x-ray.  I apparently sat on the hand, and the buns of steel did the rest; two fingers with spiral fractures.  Broken fingers are bad enough, but worse, that’s the end of the plan to climb Mt. Snowdon.  What a disaster!  So back we go to poor Britt in Lincoln.

I underestimated how delicate one’s fingers are; a year later I still need to do hand exercises.  Nevertheless, it’s only a wee blip in our adventures, and after a few months of healing we will return to this pretty area of Wales!

Next post – Caernarfon Castle!

The Lincoln Castle, Bishop’s Palace, and the Magna Carta


Lincoln Castle in the backgroundYou may remember from our first Lincoln post (The City of Lincoln) that in 1068 William The Conquerer built Lincoln Castle as a very visible symbol of power at the top of Steep Hill.  This picture, taken from the Lincoln Cathedral, shows the Cathedral’s Exchequer Gate in the foreground, and in the background, the walls of Lincoln Castle.  It may be a small town, but it is not a small castle!

The main castle entrance is imposing, as shown in the pictures below.  The double-gated

barbican would have been deadly, but after artillery was developed in later centuries a barbican became irrelevant; today its interior court features incongruously elegant rooms.

Model of Lincoln CastleThis model of the castle shows how roomy it is inside the walls.  The barbican entrance shown above is on the right side of the model. The castle has been re-purposed over the centuries, and nothing on the inside, other than the walls and towers themselves, looks anywhere close to its 1068 roots.  Below is the view of the courtyard from the castle wall above the main entrance.  That building straight ahead is the Courthouse, built in 1826.  Lincoln Castle was always a seat of justice,

and even today criminal cases are tried here.  In the 1800’s, trials for serious crimes (murder, arson) were a spectator sport, with fences built to control the crowds.  That last picture above shows Lincoln Castle’s beautifully preserved Victorian Prison; the ladies’ prison and associated exercise yard are in the foreground.  The prison was designed for the “separate system”, an isolating regime that kept inmates away from the corrupting influence of their fellow prisoners.  The Victorians believed that separation would encourage prisoners to reflect, repent, and more importantly, to reform.  Separation even

continued in the chapel, where prisoners sat in walled cubicles with a view only of the elevated pulpit (this chapel is the only original of its kind left in the world).  From 1848 to 1878, men, women and children as young as eight were held here for crimes ranging from

murder and highway robbery to stealing a waistcoat and Bible.  During this time seven murderers were hanged at the castle (again, a spectator sport) and their bodies buried in Lucy Tower (which we’ll see shortly).

One can walk the entire circumference of the medieval walls and enter the few towers.  The pictures below show the wall walk leading to the Lucy Tower, which was built in the late

1100’s.  Originally it was the castle keep, a fortified tower/residence and refuge of last resort (should the rest of the castle fall to an enemy).  It sits on a motte, an artificial mound that in this case is exceptionally high.  Keeps on a motte were a common building practice at the time of the Norman Conquest.

Finally, let me show you Cobb Hall, the small north-east tower dating from the 1200’s that housed the dungeon.  Entry is from ground level, with the dungeon underground.

Hey, as dungeons go, it’s small and would be dark, but I’ve seen worse!


The Bishop’s Palace, built in the late 1100’s, was the administrative center of the Lincoln Cathedral and was one of the most important buildings (and grandest residential structures) in England.  Both Henry VIII and James I were guests of bishops here.
Alas, the palace was sacked by royalist troops during the Civil War in 1648.  Today it’s just an evocative ruin (shown below).

THE MAGNA CARTA (and Charter of the Forest)

There are only 4 copies of this iconic document in existence, and Lincoln Castle is the only place in the world where an original 1215 Magna Carta and a 1217 Charter of the Forest can be seen side by side.  The story of the Magna Carta is fascinating.  One of the more celebrated documents in history, with enduring worldwide influence, it played a central role in England’s political life and greatly influenced our American Constitution.  Yet it is a complete political myth, ignored as soon as it was written, annulled by the Pope, and distorted 400 years later in order to oppose the divine right of kings.  So let me tell you the real story!  It’s a bit long, I’m afraid; my apologies: history is like that.

We start in the early 1200’s, when King John (following his predecessors) ruled England through a feudal system of laws and the principle of vis et voluntas, or “force and will” – the king’s executive and sometimes arbitrary decisions.  The king had waged war for many years trying to reclaim ancestral lands in Normandy, France, financing this effort with heavy taxes on the English barons.  Following a decisive defeat in 1214, King John was forced to sue France for peace and to pay compensation.  He was already personally unpopular with many of the barons in England, and his defeat galvanized “rebel” barons to organize resistance to his rule; they renounced their feudal ties and formed a militia that marched to London and Lincoln.  In order to avoid a civil war, John instructed the Archbishop of Canterbury (with other bishops, including Lincoln’s) to work out a peace agreement.  The resulting charter (let’s call it the Charter of 1215) promised protection for church rights and protection for the barons regarding illegal imprisonment, access to swift justice, and limitations on taxation and feudal payments to the Crown.  Importantly, it created a council of 25 barons to monitor and ensure John’s adherence to the charter, with the council empowered to seize John’s castles and lands until amends were made.  In return the barons agreed to dissolve their militias.  Although both sides agreed to the charter, neither stood behind their commitments.  King John appealed to the Pope for help, arguing that he signed it under duress and that the charter compromised the Pope’s rights as King John’s feudal lord.  The Pope declared the charter to be “shameful and demeaning … illegal and unjust” and the charter was “null, and void of all validity for ever”; further, under threat of excommunication, the King was not to observe the charter, nor the barons to try to enforce it.  Violence broke out, leading to the “First Barons’ War”, and the rebel barons offered the English throne to the French for their help.  That war, and its conclusion with the treaty of Lanbeth in 1217, was described in the earlier post (The City of Lincoln).  Following the war, a new council was called to re-assess the Charter of 1215 (actually now the Charter of 1216; King John died during the war and his son had issued a new and shorter charter eliminating some of its more radical content such as the council of barons).  The new council issued the Charter of 1217, which resembled that of 1216 with some additional clauses added to protect the rights of the barons over their feudal subjects and to water down restrictions on the Crown’s ability to levy taxation.  Because there were disagreements concerning the management of the royal forests, this issue was separated out as a complementary Charter of the Forest, and issued at the same time.  It pardoned existing forest offenses, imposed new controls over the forest courts, and established a review of the forest boundaries.  To distinguish between these two charters, the term magna carta libertatum, “the great charter of liberties”, was used to refer to the larger document, which in time became known simply as Magna Carta.  Both documents became part of English political life and for generations were renewed by each monarch in turn.  With time (and the advent of the English Parliament) they lost significance as their content was replaced with new laws.  However, 400 years later in the 1600’s, when the Stuart monarchs invoked the divine right of kings, the Magna Carta was revisited and (incorrectly) reinterpreted as a champion of individual rights that placed the king under the law, rather than above it (the “divine right of kings” argument went away with the English Civil War of the 1640’s and the execution of the Stuart King Charles I).

The Magna Carta that is commonly remembered today is the Magna Carta of King John, with the commemoration date of 1215.  That many clauses were omitted or redrafted, and new ones inserted, has made no difference in the collective memory of this venerable document.  The swindle is that the original 1215 charter (and the 1217 charter) concerned the medieval relationship between the monarch and the powerful barons; it did not mention the rights of ordinary people.  However, the political myth of the Magna Carta as a protection of everyone’s ancient personal liberties persists and forms an important symbol of liberty today – “the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot” (Lord Denning).

The pictures below show the 1215 Magna Carta and the 1217 Charter of the Forest.  The

charters were written on parchment sheets using quill pins, in heavily abbreviated medieval Latin, which was the convention for legal documents at that time.

Next post – Wales, U.K.

The Lincoln Cathedral

Cathedral Model, 1300's - 1500's

Cathedral Model, 1300’s – 1500’s

In 1072, William the Conqueror ordered that a Cathedral be built at Lincoln.  Construction of the first Lincoln Cathedral was completed in 1092; it was rebuilt and expanded after a fire destroyed its timber roofing (1141).  Destroyed again by an earthquake (1185), it was rebuilt on a magnificent scale beginning in 1192 using local rock; only the lower part of the Cathedral’s front and its two attached towers survive from the original Norman structure.  The choir, eastern transepts and central nave were built in Early English Gothic style, but the rest followed architectural advances of pointed arches, flying buttresses and ribbed vaulting.  Its crossing tower, completed in 1311, was an amazing engineering feat for the time.  With a spire giving it a height of 525 ft, Lincoln Cathedral became the tallest building in the world, and the first to surpass the pyramid of Cheops in Egypt which had held that title for 4000 years.  That honor, however, was lost after 238 years when the heavy, lead-coated but rotting wooden spire collapsed in a storm (1549).  The spire was not replaced, a symbol of Lincoln’s economic and political decline at the time (see previous post, “The City of Lincoln”).  Still, the cathedral is the third largest in Britain (in floor space) after St Paul’s (London) and York Minster (post of Jan 22, 2015; The York Minster).

Sitting on top of a hill, Lincoln Cathedral is visible for miles around and absolutely

dominates the city in an awe-inspiring, gorgeous way, irresistibly drawing your eyes.  It’s a high point of medieval architecture, and also a navigation beacon; where are you in the city?  Look for the Cathedral.

Let’s take a walk around the Cathedral.  The overall plan is shown below; we’ll start with Lincoln Cathedral planthe west-facing entrance. The previous Norman churches were short and thick-walled, with small windows resulting in dark interiors.  The Gothic style made churches bright and spacious, but during the building of the Lincoln Cathedral the architects were writing the rule book, and it was literally trial and error (you’ll see some of this in the interior).  As shown in the picture to the left, the The Exchequer Gate blocking the viewExchequer Gate that was the main entrance to the Cathedral close (arrow) does a great job of blocking the view of the stunning front of the Cathedral – particularly the preserved Norman (lower) structure.  Further, as you can infer from the picture, once inside the gate you’re too close to get a good overview.  Ah well, here’s the best I can do for the Cathedral entrance.

Let me show you that entrance in detail, top to bottom, Gothic to Norman.

Again, the lower part is from the early 1100’s, now set within the harmonious upper region from the early 1200’s.  The art that decorates the front entrance is impressive, from the Gothic repeating arch motifs in the first picture below to the many Norman carvings, two of which are shown below.  The next-to-last picture shows the faithful being rescued from the mouth of hell (far right), the detail in the last picture showing that hell is not a nice

place.  At the corners of this west-facing entrance are small towers that frame the front screen while continuing the arch motif – shown in the first 2 pictures below from the south side of the Cathedral.  And we can’t leave the entrance view of the Cathedral without showing the commanding towers that flank the nave just behind the entrance.

The south transept also has an entrance to the Cathedral, shown below.  In that last

picture, look at the base of the central column between the doors – it’s being hugged by

little devils, shown above.

The south side of the Cathedral is also highly decorated, with some interesting statues, many of them restored (Cathedral restoration costs $1.3 million/yr).

Then we come to the beautiful east side, and the chapter house.

The north side is more of the same, first picture below.  It’s a stunningly beautiful

Cathedral, and inside it’s impressive as well.  The first picture below is from near the entrance showing the many stained glass windows; the next pictures are from the nave looking inward and then looking back to the entrance.  In that last picture, the blue overtones highlight the preponderance of blue in the stained glass!

Notice in the pictures below how the vaulting changes going down the side aisles.  The vaulting was experimental during the building; it varies between the nave, aisles, choir and chapels, particularly in how the vaulting interacts with (ignores or enhances) the

Cathedral’s bays.  The transept crossing that separated public access from the choir and alter is pretty spectacular.  In addition to the tranquility of repeating designs, as

shown in the first picture below, there are interesting (and playful) carvings everywhere.

The choir dates from 1360-80 and is amazing, with beautifully carved wood stalls and bench-ends.  I wasn’t happy with my capture of the choir, so I cribbed that last picture from the internet.  It shows the “pulpitum”, the wood choir screen that separates the choir

from the nave; it dates from even earlier, the 1330’s.  In addition to the intricately carved bench ends such as the one in the first picture below, the choir has 62 fascinating misericords or “mercy seats”.  In the early medieval church, prayers were said standing,

Detail of the misericord carving, a lion fighting a dragon

Detail of the misericord carving, a lion fighting a dragon

and seats were constructed so they could be turned up.  However, the seat underside could have a small shelf (the misericord), shown in the right picture above, which allowed the user to slightly reduce discomfort by leaning against it.  The seats and carvings are in oak, all different, and delightful.  Most of the seats were unfortunately in the down position (and the lighting was poor), so I bought their book and took some pictures of misericords from it, and I’ll share a bunch with you – they’re just that cool.  I was told that the folding parts of the seats were installed as single blocks of oak, and each misericord was carved in place.  No mistakes allowed!  I didn’t believe that story at the time, but when I looked closely at the carvings, I could see that the wood grain in the seat and the carving line up!  You can also see that in some of the figures below.

If you look back at the pictures of the choir shown earlier, the upper-right picture looks into the beautiful east end of the cathedral, completed in 1280.  Other views are below.

The central region behind the main choir is called the Angel’s Choir because the upper arches are framed by stone carvings of angels playing medieval musical instruments.  I’ve shown some of them below.  That first picture is an angel playing a guitar precursor

The Lincoln Imp in the Angel Choircalled a citole.  A famous stone carving in the Angel’s Choir is the Lincoln Imp.  According to legend, two mischievous imps were sent by Satan to do evil work; after causing mayhem elsewhere in England, the imps came to Lincoln Cathedral where they smashed furniture and tripped up the Bishop.  An angel appeared in the Angel Choir and ordered the imps to stop.  One imp sat on a stone pillar and threw rocks at the angel, whereupon the angel turned him to stone; there he now sits.

Before I show you the cloister, let me backtrack to the transept crossing to look up at the Cathedral’s massive central tower from underneath.  It’s gorgeous, but because I didn’t quite capture what I wanted to show, I’m including a

picture from the internet.  Isn’t the geometry beautiful?

Corridor to the cloisterNow to the cloister.  Access is via this impressive windowed corridor that duplicates the cloister design.  The cloister itself (shown below) has a recent history – it was used for filming The Da Vinci Code, standing in for Westminster Abbey (which refused to permit filming).

What is impressive is the view of the cloister against the magnificent Cathedral (and its “Dean’s Eye” north transept window), shown below.  And there is an added bonus; part of the floor in a corner of the cloister is a mosaic from the Roman fort that occupied this hill!

At last, now the stained glass windows!  There are a lot of them, including some fabulous medieval glass.  We’ll start with the west entrance, pictures below.  Beautiful, yes?

A few of the windows in the naveThere are many, many windows in the nave.  Like most churches, the stained glass is mostly from the mid 1800’s, following a rebirth in its popularity.  There’s too much to show, so I’ll just do a little (which will still be a lot).  Although the windows do not present the life of Jesus sequentially, it seems that all the stories of the New Testament are here, examples shown below.  The windows are gorgeous, aren’t they?

You didn’t think we were done with the nave windows, did you?  There’s also the Old Testament, and monk history, and ….

Now let me show you the gorgeous east end windows.  The first picture below shows most of that east wall, overwhelmingly in blue.  The next three pictures show the left and right side windows in normal light; then I’ve shown the right side window at night, lit by the outside lights of the cathedral.  The windows are beautiful in any light!

The large, central – and very blue! – window is simply spectacular, commanding attention.  It is one of England’s largest windows.

At last, the good stuff!  Although stained glass reached its height as an art form in the Middle Ages, there isn’t that much of it left; huge numbers of windows were destroyed in the French Revolution and Protestant Revolution (for instance, the English Parliament ordered all images of the Virgin Mary and the Trinity removed from churches; Protestant mobs were less selective).  Until its revival in the mid 1800’s (600 years later), stained glass was a lost art.  Colored glass became scarce, necessitating the painting of white glass.  The little decorative glass that was produced was mostly small heraldic panels for city halls.  Lincoln Cathedral has some examples of stained glass from this time in one of its side rooms, shown below.

The medieval stained glass in the Lincoln Cathedral resides mostly at the ends of the transepts.  Each transept has a rose window, an uncommon feature in English medieval architecture.  The north transept has the “Dean’s Eye”, shown below, which depicts the Last Judgement.  It’s part of the original structure of the Cathedral, finished in 1220.

Underneath the rose window are a set of 5 windows with gorgeous geometrical designs,

and below them these final two windows.


The south transept has the “Bishop’s Eye”; it too was built in 1220, but rebuilt around 1330.  It’s one of the largest examples of curvilinear tracery in medieval architecture, and was a challenge for the designers (and glass artists).  The window from outside the Cathedral and from inside the transept is shown below.

Most cathedral windows during this time displayed biblical images; that’s hard to do with such curvilinear shapes, so the window is instead a mosaic of color.  I was told that within the window there are images of the saints Paul, Andrew, and James; if so, it requires imagination!  The Bishop’s Eye is shown in more detail below.

Details from two of the lower windows are shown below.

Goodness!  Could there be more to show of this majestic cathedral?  Of course!  But we never caught the chapter house when it was open.  There’s also lots of treasure, but I’ll only show two pictures.

Enough is enough!  I will simply end with a view of the The Lincoln CathedralCathedral at night.  It is stunningly beautiful.

You masochists that have waded the whole way through this long, long post, I salute you!

The next (shorter!  Promise!) post will finish the fair city of Lincoln, and will include the Lincoln Castle, the Magna Carta, and the Bishop’s Palace.