Lincoln Cathedral East End

Dave Godden

Maidstone, United Kingdom

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Remigius de Fécamp, first bishop of Lincoln, ordered the first cathedral to be built in Lincoln, in 1072. Before that, St. Mary’s Church in Lincoln was a mother church but not a cathedral, and the seat of the diocese was at Dorchester Abbey in Dorchester-on-Thames, Oxfordshire. Lincoln was more central to a diocese that stretched from the Thames to the Humber. Bishop Remigius built the first Lincoln Cathedral on the present site, finishing it in 1092 and then dying two days before it was to be consecrated on May 9 of that year. In 1141, the timber roofing was destroyed in a fire. Bishop Alexander rebuilt and expanded the cathedral, but it was destroyed by an earthquake about forty years later, in 1185.

After the earthquake, a new bishop was appointed. The new bishop was St Hugh of Lincoln, originally from Avalon, France; he began a massive rebuilding and expansion programme. Rebuilding began at the east end of the cathedral, with an apse and five small radiating chapels. The central nave was then built in the Early English Gothic style. Lincoln Cathedral soon followed other architectural advances of the time – pointed arches, flying buttresses and ribbed vaulting were added to the cathedral. This allowed the creation and support of larger windows.

The cathedral is the 3rd largest in Britain (in floor space) after St Paul’s and York Minster, being 484 feet (148 m) by 271 feet (83 m). It is Lincolnshire’s largest building and until 1549 the spire was reputedly the tallest medieval tower in Europe, though the exact height has been a matter of debate. Accompanying the cathedral’s large bell, Great Tom of Lincoln, is a quarter-hour striking clock. The clock was installed in the early 19th century.

There are thirteen bells in the south-west tower, two in the north west tower, and five in the central tower (including Great Tom).

The matching Dean’s Eye and Bishop’s Eye were added to the cathedral during the late Middle Ages. The former, the Dean’s Eye in the north transept dates from the 1192 rebuild begun by St Hugh, it was finally completed in 1235. The latter, the Bishop’s eye, in the south transept was re-constructed 100 years later in 1330. A contemporary record, “The Metrical Life of St Hugh”, refers to the meaning of these two windows (one on the dark, north, side and the other on the light, south, side of the building):

“For north represents the devil, and south the Holy Spirit and it is in these directions that the two eyes look. The bishop faces the south in order to invite in and the dean the north in order to shun; the one takes care to be saved, the other takes care not to perish. With these Eyes the cathedral’s face is on watch for the candelabra of Heaven and the darkness of Lethe (oblivion).”

After the additions of the Dean’s eye and other major Gothic additions it is believed some mistakes in the support of the tower occurred, for in 1237 the main tower collapsed. A new tower was soon started and in 1255 the Cathedral petitioned Henry III to allow them to take down part of the town wall to enlarge and expand the Cathedral, including the rebuilding of the central tower and spire. They replaced the small rounded chapels (built at the time of St Hugh) with a larger east end to the cathedral. This was to handle the increasing number of pilgrims to the Cathedral, who came to worship at the shrine of Hugh of Lincoln.

In 1290 Eleanor of Castile died. As his Queen Consort of England, King Edward I decided to honour her with an elegant funeral procession. After embalming, which in the thirteenth century involved evisceration, Eleanor’s viscera were buried in Lincoln cathedral, and Edward placed a duplicate of the Westminster tomb there. The Lincoln tomb’s original stone chest survives; its effigy was destroyed in the 17th century and replaced with a 19th-century copy. On the outside of Lincoln Cathedral are two prominent statues often identified as Edward and Eleanor, but these images were heavily restored in the 19th century and probably were not originally intended to depict the couple.
Further information: Eleanor cross
View into the crossing

Between the years 1307 and 1311 the central tower was raised to its present height of 83 m (271 feet). The western towers and front of the cathedral were also improved and heightened. At this time, a tall lead-encased wooden spire topped the central tower but was blown down in a storm in 1548. With its spire, the tower reputedly reached a height of 525 feet (160 m) (which would have made it the world’s tallest structure, surpassing the Great Pyramid of Giza, which held the record for almost 4,000 years). This height is agreed by most sources but has been doubted by others. Other additions to the cathedral at this time included its elaborate carved screen and the 14th century misericords, as was the Angel choir. For a large part of the length of the cathedral, the walls have arches in relief with a second layer in front giving the illusion of a passageway along the wall. However the illusion does not work, as the stonemason, copying techniques from France, did not make the arches the correct length needed for the illusion effect.

In 1398 John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford founded a chantry there to pray for their souls, and in the 15th century the building of the cathedral turned to chantry or memorial chapels. The chapels next to the Angel Choir were built in the Perpendicular style, with an emphasis on strong vertical lines, which survive today in the window tracery and wall panelling.

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Artwork Comments

  • Charmiene Maxwell-Batten
  • Dave Godden
  • Ian David Soar
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