Lincoln Cathedral

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Lincoln Cathedral (in full The Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lincoln, or sometimes St. Mary’s Cathedral) is a historic Anglican cathedral in Lincoln in England and seat of the Bishop of Lincoln in the Church of England. It was reputedly the tallest building in the world for 249 years (1300–1549). The central spire collapsed in 1549 and was not rebuilt. It is highly regarded by architectural scholars; the eminent Victorian writer John Ruskin declared, “I have always held… that the cathedral of Lincoln is out and out the most precious piece of architecture in the British Isles and roughly speaking worth any two other cathedrals we have.”

Lincoln Cathedral

Lincoln Cathedral

 

Lincoln Cathedral

Lincoln Cathedral

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 reconstructed 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 and King Edward I of England decided to honour her, his Queen Consort, with an elegant funeral procession. After her body had been embalmed, 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 they were probably not originally intended to depict the couple.

Between 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[5] 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 to give 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 to be effective.

In 1398 John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford founded a chantry in the cathedral, to pray for the welfare of 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.

The bishop of Lincoln, Hugh of Wells, was one of the signatories to the Magna Carta and for hundreds of years the Cathedral held one of the four remaining copies of the original, now securely displayed in Lincoln Castle. There are three other surviving copies; two at the British Library and one at Salisbury Cathedral. In 2009 the Lincoln Magna Carta was loaned to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.

In August 1255 the body of an 8-year old boy was found in a well in Lincoln. He had been missing for nearly a month. This incident became the source of a blood libel in the city, with Jews accused of his abduction, torture, and murder. Many Jews were arrested and eighteen were hanged. The boy became named as Little Saint Hugh to distinguish him from Saint Hugh of Lincoln, but he was never officially canonised (made a saint).

The cathedral benefited from these events because Hugh was seen as a martyr, and many devotees came to the city and cathedral to venerate him. Chaucer mentions the case in “The Prioress’s Tale” and a ballad was written about it in 1783. In 1955 a plaque was put up near “the remains of the shrine of ‘Little St Hugh’” in the cathedral, that decries the “Trumped up stories of ‘ritual murders’ of Christian boys by Jewish communities.”

According to 14th-century legend, two mischievous imps were sent by Satan to do evil work on Earth. After causing mayhem elsewhere in Northern England the two imps headed to Lincoln Cathedral, where they smashed tables and chairs and tripped up the Bishop. An angel appeared in the Angel Choir and ordered them to stop. One of the imps sat atop a stone pillar and started throwing rocks at the angel whilst the other cowered under the broken tables and chairs. The angel turned the first imp to stone, allowing the second imp to escape. The imp that turned to stone can still be found sitting atop his stone column in the Angel Choir.

Lincoln Cathedral features two major rose windows, which are a highly uncommon feature among medieval architecture in England. On the north side of the cathedral there is the “Dean’s Eye” which survives from the original structure of the building and on the south side there is the “Bishop’s Eye” which was most likely rebuilt circa 1325-1350. This south window is one of the largest examples of curvilinear tracery seen in medieval architecture. Curvilinear tracery is a form of tracery where the patterns are continuous curves. This form was often done within pointed arches and squared windows because those are the easiest shapes, so the circular space of the window was a unique challenge to the designers. A solution was created that called for the circle to be divided down into smaller shapes that would make it simpler to design and create. Curves were drawn within the window which created four distinct areas of the circle. This made the spaces within the circle where the tracery would go much smaller, and easier to work with. This window is also interesting and unique in that the focus of the tracery was shifted away from the center of the circle and instead placed in other sections. The glazing of the window was equally as difficult as the tracery for many of the same reason; therefore, the designers made a decision to cut back on the amount of iconography within the window. Most cathedral windows during this time displayed many colorful images of the bible; however at Lincoln there are very few images. Some of those images that can be seen within the window include saints Paul, Andrew, and James.

Wooden trusses offer a solid and reliable source of support for building because through their joints they are able to resist damage and remain strong. Triangles are the strongest shape because no matter where the force is being placed on them they are able to use their three joints to their fullest extent in order to withstand it. Making trusses with triangles inside larger triangles adds even more strength, as seen in Lincoln’s choir. The design of all wooden trusses is a tedious task as there are many different things that need to be considered while building these supports. There are many different ways that the trusses can fail if they are not designed or built properly; it is therefore crucial to design trusses that suit a specific building with specific needs in mind. The simplest form of a truss is an A frame; however, the great amount of outward thrust generated here often causes the truss to fail. The addition of a tie beam creates a triangular shape, although this beam can sometimes sag if the overall truss is too large. Neither one of these examples would have been suitable for Lincoln, owing to the sheer size of the roof. They would have failed to support the building, so collar beams and queen posts were added to the design in order to help prevent sagging. To protect against wind damage, braces were added. Secondary rafters were also added to the design to ensure that the weight was equally distributed. Saint Hugh’s Choir has a total of thirty six trusses keeping the roof in place, and it is held up entirely by means of its own weight and forces.

One major architectural feature of Lincoln Cathedral are the spectacular vaults. The varying vaults within the cathedral are said to be both original and experimental. Simply comparing the different vaults seen in Lincoln clearly shows that a great deal of creativity was involved when designing the cathedral. The vaults especially, clearly define the experimental aspect seen at Lincoln. There are several different kinds of vaults that differ between the nave, aisles, choir, and chapels of the cathedral. Along the North Aisle there is a continuous ridge rib with a regular arcade that ignores the bays. Meanwhile, on the South Aisle there is a discontinuous ridge rib that puts an emphasis on each separate bay. The North West Chapel has quadripartite vaults and the South Chapel has vaults that stem from one central support columns. The use of sexpartite vaults allowed for more natural light to enter the cathedral through the clerestory windows, which were placed inside of each separate bay. Saint Hugh’s Choir exhibits extremely unusual vaults. It is a series of asymmetrical vaults that appear to almost be a diagonal line created by two ribs on one side translating into only a single rib on the other side of the vault. This pattern divides up the space of the vaults and bays, perfectly placing the emphasis on the bays. The chapter house vaults are also interesting. It is a circular building with one column where twenty ribs extend from. Each separate area of Lincoln can be identified solely by the different vaults of the space. Each vault, or each variation of the vault, is fresh and original. They illustrate innovative thinking and great creativity. There is no doubt that these vaults, and all of the other experimental aspects of Lincoln came with a slight risk; however the results are truly wonderful.

The organ is one of the finest examples of the work of ‘Father’ Henry Willis, dating from 1898 (it was his last cathedral organ before his death in 1901). There have been two restorations of it by Harrison & Harrison in 1960 and 1998. The specification of the organ can be found on the National Pipe Organ Register.

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