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Everyone knows William the Conqueror; imagine standing in front of a building he commissioned, built by one of his right-hand men?

Norman Times

The heavy rounded arches at the west front are believed to date from Remigius’s original structure designed to set William’s Norman stamp on the country he had invaded. Imagine the Anglo-Saxon inhabitants and how they may have responded to this giant of a building rising amid their huts? Perhaps they may have felt protected from the threat of Vikings from the north?

It was in 1092 that this first Cathedral at Lincoln built by Bishop Remigius was consecrated. Remigius, a Benedictine monk was the first Norman Bishop of the largest diocese in medieval England, extending from the Humber to the Thames. The cathedral of this diocese had been at Dorchester, near Oxford, but in 1072 William instructed that the Bishopric should be moved to Lincoln.

A castle had already been established in Lincoln by William, located in the south-west corner of the old Roman upper city. The new cathedral was built of Lincolnshire oolitic limestone opposite the castle in the south-east corner.

Moving to the Gothic

In 1141, or possibly earlier, there was a fire which severely damaged the Cathedral. It fell to Alexander ‘the Magnificent’ (Bishop of Lincoln, 1123-48) to see to its rebuilding. Educated in Laon in northern France, Alexander had travelled widely and was familiar with the most advanced architecture of his day. He gained high praise from Henry of Huntingdon, who compiled his ‘History of the English’ at Alexander’s request, who said  that the Bishop had restored the Cathedral ‘with such subtle workmanship that it was more beautiful than before, and second to none in England’. Perhaps the inhabitants of Lincoln began to view it differently?

St Hugh

An earthquake caused structural damage to Lincoln Cathedral in 1185. St Hugh (Bishop of Lincoln, 1186-1200) began work on reconstructing the Cathedral in 1192. He used the Gothic style, where pointed arches (rather than round ones), ribbed vaults and flying buttresses made it possible to make larger windows (for stained glass) and larger roof spans. St. Hugh himself was said to have carried a hod to help with the building work, but he died in 1200, before the great Transept and Nave were finished. St Hugh was a saintly man and stories about him tell of his concern for ordinary men and women and how he was prepared to stand up to bullying kings (Henry and John). His restoration is said to have be paid for by local people, including, famously, the Swineherd of Stowe who gave his life savings towards the great work. His statue sits aloft the northwest turret partnering that of St Hugh on the southwest.

Magna Carta

It was another Bishop Hugh who was among those who witnessed King John place his seal on Magna Carta at Runnymeade in 1215. The battle of Lincoln Fair took place in the shadow of the cathedral. It is thus fitting that one of the four surviving 1215 copies of Magna Carta belongs to the cathedral and sits with the Charter of the Forest in Lincoln Castle.

Given the experimental nature of Gothic architecture, mistakes occurred, and the central tower’s collapse in 1237 or 1239 was a major setback. A new tower was started immediately and in 1255 the Dean and Chapter petitioned Henry III to allow them to take down part of the extended town wall to enlarge the Cathedral. They replaced Hugh’s rounded chapels with a larger and loftier square east end to provide more space for the increasing numbers of pilgrims venerating the saint’s shrine.

This Angel Choir was consecrated in 1280.

the tallest building in the world

Between 1307 and 1311 the central tower was raised to its present height. Then around 1370 to 1400 the western towers were heightened. All three towers had spires until 1549 when the central tower’s spire blew down. It had been the tallest building in the world.

Later generations added the wonderful carved screen, the 14th century misericords, the Wren Library and the Duncan Grant frescoes.

Modern Times

The north side of the cathedral has seen the most recent repairs, including the re-building of one of the pinnacles. Work to the North Transept culminated with the restoration of the Dean’s Eye rose window. The Medieval glass was returned to the all new stonework tracery and the project completed in early 2006.

Find out more in the Cathedral Guidebook or dig deeper into the story in Lincoln Cathedral A Journey from Past to Present.

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