The first Cathedral was started after William the Conqueror ordered Bishop Remigius to establish a Cathedral in Lincoln in 1072.
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Its design was in the shape of a cross — the Christian symbol — with the altar at the east and the entrance at the west.
The Norman Cathedral
The fortress-like appearance of the Norman Cathedral can still be seen at the heart of the west front today. Many of the rounded arches of the doors and niches survive. The low west towers were probably topped by pyramidal roofs.
In 1125 or 1141 (the chronicles disagree) a fire swept through the Cathedral, after which a timber roof over the wide central expanse of the nave may have been replaced with a stone vault. A frieze was carved and painted in a horizontal band above the main doors, showing Bible stories of God’s salvation for the faithful and fearful punishments for sinners. Disaster struck again when the earthquake of 1185 necessitated a major reconstruction of the Cathedral.
The Gothic Cathedral in the 12th to 14th Centuries
St Hugh, Bishop of Lincoln from 1186 to 1200, began rebuilding the east end with a new polygonal apse and five chapels. The pointed arches, ribbed vaults and flying buttresses of the Early English Gothic style enabled lighter construction and larger windows for stained glass. The double arcading in the choir aisles is an unusual feature. Attached to the north and south walls are arches and columns in relief, with a second layer arranged in a syncopated fashion in front, giving the illusion of a passageway. The nave, completed in the middle years of the 13th century, was joined to the remains of the Norman west end. The west front was widened and heightened in the Gothic style.
The collapse of the central tower in the 1230s was a setback to the building of a shrine for Hugh, who was declared a saint in 1220. After Henry III granted a license in 1256 to extend the cathedral beyond the city walls, work began on the Angel Choir. Dedicated in 1280, its square east end was given a vault comparable in height to the nave. Rich carvings and the east window’s huge expanses of stained glass give an impression of richness and light.
In the 14th century the central tower was raised and topped with a lead-covered spire, making the Cathedral the tallest building in Europe, until the spire blew down in 1548. The stone Choir Screen of the 1330s separated the choir from the rest of the Cathedral. Its intricate carvings bear traces of blue and red, silver and gold.
Reformation and Civil War
In the 15th and 16th centuries three chantry chapels were built adjoining the Angel Choir in the Perpendicular Gothic style, with an emphasis on strong vertical and horizontal lines in the window tracery and wall panelling. But aspects of medieval piety, such as the veneration of saints, indulgences and chantries for prayers for the dead were about to be challenged. In 1540 Henry VIII’s agents destroyed the Cathedral’s shrines, removing gold and silver from them. Precious vestments, plate, and statues encrusted with jewels were seized. Bishop Longland’s chantry chapel was built but never used, as Edward VI abolished chantries before Longland’s death in 1547.
When Michael Honywood became Dean of Lincoln at the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, he found a Cathedral devastated by the destruction of the Civil War and decades of neglect. In 1676 he paid for a new library adjoining the chained library of 1422. The ‘Wren Library’ is named after its architect, Sir Christopher Wren. This English Baroque building replaced a dilapidated Gothic north cloister.
People down the centuries have left their mark on Lincoln Cathedral, changing the way in which it is used, and undertaking the challenge of keeping up its repair.
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