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.


4 comments on “The Lincoln Cathedral

  1. Barbara Racioppi says:

    This is where Britt volunteered, isn’t it????


  2. Marty says:

    where is Lincoln located geographically?

  3. […] The nicely carved misericords (“mercy seats”, discussed in the post The Lincoln Cathedral) are from the 1500’s; a few examples are shown below.  At the edge of the choir is the […]

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