Lincoln Cathedral

Cathedral Church of St. Mary

Lincoln Cathedral. Picture by Nathan Fairweather, 1996.


Lincoln Cathedral shares with Durham the most spectacular placing of any of the British cathedrals. It can be seen from approximately 20 miles in certain directions.

The Cathedral was built mainly in three periods: Norman (1075-1092), Early English (1191-1250 then 1256-1300) and then alterations and additions in 14th & 15th Centuries. In the late 17th Century the Wren Library was built and the cloister walk restored. Various other works and restorations have been carried out ever since.

The Cathedral is 482 ft long and the crossing tower is 271 ft high. The chancel vault is 74 ft high and the nave 82 ft. The majority of stone used in the construction is local Oolitic limestone.

The main visitors entrance is by the south door in the west front and as you enter the Cathedral shop is on your extreme right. Sometimes you may find the Nave full of chairs in rows but very often it is completely empty and is quite breath taking. Do come and enjoy a visit!

Picture courtesy of the Lincoln Cathedral guidebook, 1982.
Right: The west front of the cathedral seen from the castle walls.

Plan view of Lincoln Cathedral with links to photographs.

Diagram courtesy of the Lincoln Cathedral guidebook, 1982.  

Animated History of the Architecture of the Cathedral

Many thanks to D. R. Vale A.R.I.B.A. with whose drawings this animation was made possible. Images are copyright Dean & Chapter, Lincoln Cathedral.Using David Vale's excellent drawings from 1972 we have constructed an animated history.

The Tournai Font

Picture courtesy of the Lincoln Cathedral guidebook, 1982.Most Romanesque sculpture was usually brightly painted but in the second quarter of the 12th century it became fashionable for certain items to be made of a black looking carboniferous limestone which was finished by polishing and waxing . This gave it the appearance of black marble.

This material came from near Tournai in France and was sometimes exported in a raw state but mostly carved in workshops close to source and exported in an assembly kit state. One of the typical finished kit items is the font you see here. In the middle of the nineteen forties no less than 57 of a similar type had been discovered in Europe and more have come to light since.

The Lincoln example is thought to have been shipped to Boston and then transported up the River Witham to Lincoln City. There is another in the church at Thornton Curtis in the North of Lincolnshire.

The Lincoln font is typical of its type and consists of a large square bowl on four colonnettes with a heavy central drum support and a massive carved base to suit. The bowl has been split horizontally in antiquity and has been skilfully repaired. The top of the bowl has been carved with leaves and rosettes whilst each side of the bowl is carved with grotesques and lions with foliate tails, possibly to represent the original sin which baptism removes.

It is thought that Bishop Alexander, in 1141, may have first seen a Tournai Font at Winchester when he received Empress Matilda in that city with Bishop Henry of Blois and afterwards ordered one for Lincoln Cathedral.

St Hugh’s Choir Roof Vaulting.

The vault over St Hugh’s Choir in Lincoln Cathedral. Originally designed in about 1192 and was rebuilt after 1239 in a remarkably haphazard fashion. In addition to a ridge rib which runs along the central fold the unusual diagonal and transverse ribs of the sexpartite vault are linked in an odd design. Instead of converging on a central point and forming a series of distinct fairly equal compartments the ribs stretch out in what has been described as "a syncopated asymmetry". It is said that the author of The metrical Life of St Hugh likened the vaulting to "a bird stretching out its broad wings to fly - planted on its firm columns, it soars to the clouds. Personally it amazes me that they ever managed to get it to stand up once the patterns were removed, but stand it does and I have to agree it does bear some resemblance to a bird with half folded wings - Do come and have a look for yourself!!

The Bishop's Eye.

In about 1320, the gable end of the south transept was rebuilt, and a new window, the 'Bishop's Eye' replaced the original. The frame is filled with flowing tracery and a collection of fragments of mediaeval painted glass inserted in 1788. It was once thought that this rebuilding was done in honour of Bishop John Dalderby (1300-1320) and to have been paid for out of the offerings made at his shrine, which, made of silver, used to stand against the west wall, and which was removed in 1540, with all the other Cathedral treasures, by command of King Henry VIII.. There is no evidence to support this theory. Bishop Dalderby is now buried in The Chapel of St. John the Evangelist, the centre one of the three chapels in this transept.

Picture courtesy of the Lincoln Cathedral guidebook, 1982.

Picture courtesy of the Lincoln Cathedral guidebook, 1982.

The Dean's Eye.

'The Dean's Eye' is a fine example of plate tracery whose glass is thirteenth century work. The subject of the window appears to be The Last Judgement. although some insertions of a different character have been introduced. One of these, in the bottom large roundel shows the body of St. Hugh being carried into the City, for although he had died in London he had wished to be buried in Lincoln Cathedral. When his body reached the City boundary it was met by a large crowd which included two Kings, a Prince and three Archbishops. Canon Woolley, in his biography of St. Hugh suggests that the three figures in front represent the Archbishops of Canterbury. Dublin and Ragusa and the three crowned figures behind are King John of England. King William of Scotland and Roland, Prince of Galloway, and the figure below the coffin represents Adam, Sub-Prior of Eynsham, St. Hugh's Chaplain and biographer.

The Teaching Window

Picture courtesy of Roger Parson's website.(Text taken from Roger Parsons' World of... Lincoln Cathedral)

Today, George Boole is rightly regarded as one of the founding fathers of computing and information technology. George Boole is the unsung hero of the Information Revolution. It was his genius that set the scene for all the technological innovation that we take for granted today, from digital recordings and television through to the Internet itself. Eileen Harrison's article sets the record straight.

After the death of George Boole in 1864, his Lincoln friends decided they would like to raise a local memorial to him, equal to that in Cork. A meeting was held at the Guildhall on 11th January 1865, chaired by Alderman Shaw, and attended by Archdeacon Larkin and other notables. A list was opened for the purpose of providing a memorial window in the Cathedral, and a further memorial in the City (if funds should permit). 139.17s was donated, but another 50 was needed; this was collected gradually and window n31 in the North Aisle was inserted.

This is known as the "Teaching Window". The story of "the calling of Samuel" in the lower medallion was suggested by George's wife, as it was one of his favourite passages in the Bible. The centre medallion is of Christ with the teachers in the temple and the top one of Christ teaching "Render unto Caesar".

Beneath the window is a brass plaque: "In memory of George Boole, Dr of Laws, of Lincoln. A man of acutist intellect and manifold learning, who, being specially exercised in the severer sciences, diligently explored the recesses of mathematics and happily illuminated them by his writings. He was carried off by an untimely death in 1864."

Sadly, insufficient money was raised for a City memorial.

Recently, with the growth of interest in computer science, dust has stirred and world-wide interest is making us more aware of our 19th Century genius.

The Sower Window

Please see the Stained Glass Page

The Sower Window. Picture by Peter Fairweather.

The Services' Chapels

Picture courtesy of the Lincoln Cathedral guidebook, 1982.To the east of the Great North Transept are the three armed services' chapels. The Regimental chapel to commemorate the Lincolnshire Regiment was restored and dedicated to St George in 1914. It contains The Books of Memory of The Tenth Foot which later became The Lincolnshire Regiment. The Royal Lincolnshire Regiment and finally The Second Battalion Royal Anglian Regiment. All the military memorials and the regimental Colours have been laid up here. The oldest colour dates from 1685 when the Earl of Bath founded the Tenth Foot. His shield appears above the altar with that of The Earl of Ancaster. The window glass is designed by Archibald Nicholson, the brother of one of the Cathedral Architects, who himself designed the iron grill round the nave altar.

In 1923 the two chapels of St Andrew and St Michael adjoining the north side of the Chapel of St George were restored and re-dedicated to the Royal Navy and Royal Airforce respectively. The glass in the windows of St Andrew’s Chapel was designed by Christopher Webb and unveiled in 1953. The glass in St Michael’s Chapel by Harry Stammers of York was unveiled in 1958.

The ship’s bell of H.M.S.Tasman hangs as a memorial to George Bass to the left of the altar in St Andrew’s Chapel; to the right is a model of Matthew Flinder’s ship, H.M.S. Investigator.

The arms above the altar, from left to right , are those of Captain John Smith, Lord Clinton, Lord Monson and Admiral Sir George Ayscough. The kneelers were designed and worked by Lieutenant Commander G.W. Wells. R.N. Some of the staffs of the ensigns are topped by crowns because each such .ensign had been presented to the ship that wore it by the reigning sovereign of England.

In St Michael’s Chapel there are three memorial books containing the names of the airmen, based in Lincolnshire, who died in World War II. The badges of some of the squadrons which operated from Lincolnshire airfields during World War II. decorate the back of the altar.

The West Front

The Facade of the west front is the only remaining piece of the Norman cathedral along with the lower parts of the west towers. It was later framed in a Gothic screen. The deeply recessed western facade acts as a series of buttresses to the west towers which rise behind it. The west front suggests with massive emphasis the Eternal Gate through which all must pass at the end of an earthly life to attain their destiny as a child of God.

The west front has been considerably altered over the years. The large windows were put in much later and the central recess was heightened in the 13th century. Alexander the third Bishop had the great recesses at each side furnished with large richly decorated doorways and had the blind arcade which is surmounted by a gable built above them. His main embellishment however was the carved Romanesque Freize which extended across the whole width just above the doorways. These decorations probably originated after the great fire of 1141 after which the wooden roof was replaced by stone vaulting. This stone vaulting however proved too much of a strain for the weak masonry suitable only for wood roofing. During the earthquake of 1185 a greater part of the cathedral built by Remigius was left in ruins. Only the west front and west towers were suitable to be incorporated into the new building which was begun in 1192.The Prior of Witham at this time was a monk from the Great Chartreuse brought over from France. He was chosen by the King Henry II. As a man of conviction and a will and mind of his own. This man was Hugh of Avalon who became Bishop Hugh.

West Front and Romanesque Frieze.  Picture courtesy of the Lincoln Cathedral guidebook, 1982.

Drawing by David Vale. Copyright the Dean & Chapter, Lincoln Cathedral.Hugh selected an Englishman with a French sounding name to be his Clerk of Works, one Geoffrey de Noyers. This Clerk of Works started the rebuilding at the new east end which was quite a bit further east than that previously and strangely it is the only part of the building to have disappeared. It consisted of a "Chevet" or ambulatory with 5 radiating chapels. The central chapel was polygonal and the other four were semi circular. It is thought that the central one would have been dedicated to St John The Baptist patron Saint of the Carthusian order to which Hugh belonged.

The present choir known as St Hugh’s Choir, was almost certainly part of Bishop Hugh’s plan even if he didn’t live to see it rise to completion.

After Hugh died there was a period of three years till William de Blois was appointed and he lasted only another three years before another Inter- Regnum but the work still went on apace.

The great transepts and central tower built and the nave joined onto the old west front but in 1237 or 1239 the central tower fell. The unique double arcading along the walls of the two choir aisles were part of Bishop Grosseteste’s inspiration and the great chapter house was also built between 1220 and 1235. It is described as a structure of rare grace and beauty. Parliament was held in it in February 1301 with King Edward I presiding, and it was at this time in this place that his son the future Edward II was made prince of Wales.

The chevet was pulled down only 56 years after it was erected and the east end extended to include the tomb of Bishop St Hugh. This new section became known as the Angel Choir. The central tower was heightened in the 14th century and the two western towers were also added to.

The weight of the west towers and spires caused them to lean, and in around 1730 the architect James Gibb added cross walls for strengthening. The vast Gothic arch at the west end of the nave was inserted in 1761. The spires on the west towers were becoming unsafe by the latter half of the eighteenth century. Despite being a very unpopular descision to the people of Lincoln, the spires were finally removed in 1807 for safety reasons.

Major restoration was carried out in the 1920’s and in the 1950s. Thus the great Temple above Lindum Hill was preserved for posterity.

Lincoln Cathedral (before 1808), Watercolour by Augustus Charles Pugin (1762-1832). Whitworth Art Gallery, University of Manchester.
Lincoln Cathedral (before 1808), Watercolour by Augustus Charles Pugin (1762-1832). Whitworth Art Gallery, University of Manchester.

The Fleming Chantry and Cadaver Tomb.

In the north wall of the Angel Choir built in between two buttresses is the chantry Chapel of The Holy Trinity, otherwise known as the Fleming Chapel. This was built around 1425 at the expense of Dean Robert Fleming (1452 - 1483) as a chantry chapel for himself and his uncle Bishop Richard Fleming (1420 - 1431). Richard Fleming founded Lincoln College Oxford as a buffer against the teachings of Wycliffe.

The chapel was restored in memory of Sir Charles Anderson of Lea near Gainsborough, and the oak pews given in memory of Miss Savill in 1972. Miss Savill was a former headmistress of the Lincoln Christ’s Hospital High School for Girls.

In front of the chapel is the two tiered "Cadaver" tomb of Bishop Richard Fleming, This comprises him in a lifelike effigy on the top shelf whilst below at the back of support columns he is depicted as a rather emaciated corpse or cadaver lying as though unwrapped from his shroud with it still lying underneath him and knotted on the crown of his head.

These cadavers were sometimes depicted as having various verminous creatures feeding on the remains. These were such items as snails, lizards, snakes, worms, beetles and frogs. This one is different as it has none of these but in the top left hand corner of the entry door to the chapel just a couple of snails are carved.

This cadaver tomb is meant to convey the message to the viewer that even a great man like the one lying here will end up as an emaciated corpse rotting away so think on about the life you are leading and where will you end up!

Picture courtesy of the Lincoln Cathedral guidebook, 1982.
The Cadaver tomb of Bishop Richard Fleming

The Lincoln Imp

High in the Angel Choir, at the top of one of the columns, is the stone carving of an imp mischieveously mid-laugh, sat with one leg accross his knee. Although probably just the result of an imaginative stone mason there is an old story as to its origin. Legend has it that when let out to play by the devil, this little imp was blown to Lincoln by the wind. After causing mayhem in the Cathedral, he sat at this column top to survey his bad deeds and was turned to stone by an angel.

Picture taken from old photographic postcard

Original James Usher imp.  Picture: Nathan Fairweather. The image was made famous by the local jeweller James Usher when in the 1890's he made silver and gold replicas used as tie-pins and brooches. Shown on the left is an original silver Usher Imp from the late nineteenth century. Imp brooches and tie pins are still made and sold today by Ian Keat of Lincoln.

The story of the Lincoln Imp.

Edward I and Eleanor


The statues of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile on the outer south wall of the east end of the cathedral. Edward and Eleanor had been present at the consecration of the new east end in 1280.

Edward I and Eleanor of Castille. Photograph: Peter Fairweather.

The tomb for the viscera of Eleanor of Castile. The original tomb was made by Lymenge de Legeri and Alexander of Abyngdon, who were each paid 25. It was destroyed by Parliamentarian soldiers, but had been drawn in 1641 by Sir William Dugdale; with this it was restored in 1899 through the generosity of Joseph Ruston. The gilded brass figure of the queen is a copy of that cast for her tomb in Westminster Abbey by Master William Torel.

The Cathedral Library.

The library, known as the Wren Library, is built above the north walk of the cloisters. There were various scandals and problems due to the dictatorial attitude of Dean Mackworth during his "reign" from 1412 to 1452. One of these upsets was that he destroyed the North walk of the cloister in order to improve his stables and the site lay in ruins for about 200 years

Dean Mackworth’s dereliction in the Cloister was used in the end to the benefit of the Cathedral. Dr Michael Honeywood spent years in exile during the civil war, some time of it in Holland where he collected together a magnificent library. In 1660, when Dr Honywood was appointed Dean and found he had too many books for the ruins of the Cathedral mediaeval Library (a fire in 1609 had done much damage)and he invited Christopher Wren to design a room for his books and all the others belonging to the Dean and Chapter. He paid a local builder, William Evison, 731 to build it butting up to the ruins of the old mediaeval library above the north walk of the Cloister which was restored to good use at the same time. When he died Dean Honywood bequeathed this library and all its contents to the Dean and Chapter.

Although the earliest mention of a separate room for books is 1422 the Cathedral had already owned forty five books since 1150. A list of these is written on a fly leaf of the Chapter Old Testament. The Library used to house one of the four remaining examples of Magna Carta but this is now on permanent display in Lincoln Castle. The door frame against the wall under the Library may have been carved by Grinling Gibbons. The only clue to why this claim is made is that the carving includes a bursting pea pod which Gibbons is said to have put in all of his pieces of work.


The Chapter House

The chapter house was built as a meeting hall for assemblies and discussion particularly by the group of people who run the cathedral known as The Dean & Chapter. Built around 1230 to 1250 it was the first to be built in its style of vaulted ceiling and roof above supported like an umbrella on a strong heavy central column and polygonal walls with buttresses to spread the load. The roof inside , above the vaulted ceiling is very much like the spokes of an umbrella with the supported conical lead roof giving a large airy space with walkways for maintenance. The building has excellent acoustics and parliament was ordered to assemble here several times during the reigns of Edward I, II and III. The usual way of travelling was for the King to sail from London to Boston and then proceed up the river.

Picture by A.F. Kirsting. Taken from The Pictorial History Of Lincoln Cathedral, Pitkin Pictorials Ltd., 1965.
View from outside the Chapter House, facing south-west.
Picture taken from a Cathedral Postcard.
View from inside the Chapter House...
Picture by A.F. Kirsting. Taken from The Pictorial History Of Lincoln Cathedral, Pitkin Pictorials Ltd., 1965.
...and another, clearly showing the vaulted ceiling.

At the parliament of 1301 held in the chapter house by Edward I, he declared his fourth son Edward of Caernarvon, the First English Prince of Wales (he eventually became Edward II). The oak chair one can see here is very old and is said to have possibly been the chair used by Edward I, on this occasion. The arms of the chair are carved with the leopards of England and the lilies of France.

In 1536 the chapter house was used for meetings by the church and the members of the Lincolnshire Uprising against edicts from King Henry VIII. This uprising amounted to a crowd of about 10,000 people descending on the Lincoln area in protest. Without much strong leadership things looked ugly for a while, but the mob soon started to drift away when troops were called out.

It ended up that about a hundred people were eventually executed including The Lord Lieutenant. Many were despatched in the castle square and some in London. The favourite method was of course the Hang Draw and Quartering.

Many of the windows of the chapter house depict scenes from the uprising and were made in Victorian times by Clayton and Bell. There are cards in the chapter house which will explain each of the pictures in sequence.

Before you leave try to talk to a friend from one side to the other and test the ability for hearing a discussion in a meeting, the acoustics are superb.

Click for pictures inside the Chapter House roof.

Chapter House Cross replacement 1948 Picture courtesy John Ivory.

How To Get There

The best way to approach it from the city centre on foot, either heading via Silver Street from the precinct just North of the Stonebow for the Lindum Hill and then taking footpath Northwards past the Usher Art Gallery (turn up the narrow footpath and steps to the left just past the red brick buildings of De Montfort University). This is known locally as Greestone stairs. When one runs out of steps just follow the little road and it will lead you to the East end of the Cathedral just in front of you and slightly to your left.

To approach the west front from the city one should find the high street paved precinct and turn north and when the road turns left into St Martins square you take the right hand narrow cobbled street and proceed up The Strait walking ever onwards past the jewellers and the book shops until Castle Square is reached. Bear in mind though that this approach is a very steep walk.

A magnificent view can be obtained from the castle walls and the small observatory tower. Otherwise when one enters castle square with S.P.C.K. book shop on your right then take the first right turn to approach the West Front through Exchequer Gate. This gate dates back to the 14th century and is three stories high. There was an outer gate on the west side but this was removed by 1816.


For a delightful site, bursting at the seams, see:

external link:p@rsons'_world of... Lincoln Cathedral

external link:Also there is the official Lincoln Cathedral Website.

This site is a work in progress.

Back to main page.