William the Conqueror ordered the first cathedral to be built in Lincoln in 1072. The church that existed before that, St. Mary’s Church, was a mother church but not a cathedral. Bishop Remigius built the first Lincoln Cathedral on the present site, finishing it in 1092. He died two days before it was to be consecrated on May 9 of that year. About 50 years later, most of that building was destroyed in a fire.
Bishop Alexander rebuilt and expanded the cathedral, but it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1185. Only the central portion of the west front and lower halves of the west towers survive from this period.
King Henry II of England approved the election of St. Hugh of Avalon, a Carthusian monk, as Bishop of Lincoln in 1186. St. Hugh began a major rebuilding project in the emerging Early English Gothic style, but died in 1200 before his plan was completed.
The east end of the cathedral was moved each time the building was enlarged. The eastern wall of the Norman cathedral (1073) was in the middle of what is now St. Hugh’s Choir. The east end of the Early English building (1186) was in what is now the Angel Choir behind the High Altar.
The existing structure was finished by about 1280, but repairs and remodeling have continued. There have been repeated problems with the spires (removed in 1807) and towers, which were sometimes thought to be in danger of collapsing. This was despite attempts to shore up the towers by digging underneath them to increase support, an early attempt of what is a common engineering project today on such building as the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Lincoln Cathedral and its bishops have had a leading role in the history of England. The Magna Carta was signed by the Bishop of Lincoln amongst others, and one of only two remaining copies resides in the cathedral’s library.
Today, over £1 million each year is spent on keeping Lincoln Cathedral in shape. The most recent project completed was the restoration of the West Front in 2000. About 10 years ago it was discovered that the flying buttresses on the east end were no longer connected to the adjoining stonework, and hasty repairs had to be made.
The problems arise because the building techniques used were groundbreaking at the time, and the builders were literally making it up as they went along. Previously there were only Norman churches, which were short, dark, and with thick walls and small windows. The introduction of Gothic style made churches bright and spacious, but they were writing the rule book at the same time, and it was literally trial and error.
Worryingly though, parts of the ceiling of the nave have started to fall, requiring green netting to be slung under it to catch any pieces as the only alternative to shutting the cathedral. The outside has fared little better as tourists have had to dodge pieces of falling masonry creating the need for urgent repairs of some decayed stonework. Despite its structural problems, Lincoln Cathedral remains much loved and is visited by over 250,000 tourists a year. The peak of its season are the Lincoln Christmas Market and a massive annual production of Handel’s Messiah.
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