The Victorian art critic John Ruskin described Lincoln Cathedral as “the most precious piece of architecture in the British Isles and, roughly speaking, worth any two other cathedrals we have.”
The cathedral dates from 1072 when William the Conqueror instructed Bishop Remigius that the largest diocese in England be moved to Lincoln from Dorchester. Lincoln Cathedral still has William’s Writ giving this instruction.
A fire and an earthquake in the 12th century damaged the building and Lincoln’s Bishop, St Hugh, took charge of the restoration work in 1192. He used the contemporary Gothic style, in which pointed arches (rather than round ones), ribbed vaults and flying buttresses allowed for larger stained glass windows and roof spans.
In 1311 the central spire reached a height of 525 feet and for 238 years thereafter Lincoln Cathedral was the tallest building in the world – the first to surpass the Pyramid of Cheops in Egypt, which had held the title for 4,000 years!
In 1548, however, the tall central spire collapsed under its own weight during a storm and was never replaced. The other two spires were removed in 1807 in controversial circumstances, and despite some recent campaigning there’s no prospect of the spires ever returning.
Today the Cathedral Works Department has a team of 30 artisans working to maintain the fabric of this beautiful building – masons, lead workers, joiners and stained glass workers. The Cathedral needs £1.5m every year to keep up with the repairs.
Visitors love hunting for the Lincoln Imp, stone symbol of the city, who can be found sitting high up in the Angel Choir. Said to represent the evil side of all of us, legend has it that a small devil entered the cathedral and plagued the angels, who had to turn him to stone to stop him.
Lincoln Castle and Magna Carta
William the Conqueror built castle and cathedral combinations up and down England, but nowhere is it done better than at Lincoln. They were his ‘carrot and stick’ approach to controlling his new population after his invasion in 1066. Lincoln Castle dates from 1068 and the two buildings face each other across Castle Square, both offering striking examples of how the Norman invaders left their mark on the physical landscape of Lincoln.
The castle has been used as a prison for its whole life and in 2018 celebrates its 950th anniversary. The Victorian prison will be opened to the public and the chapel can still be seen with its coffin-like pews. The castle is also home to Lincoln’s Crown Court. so justice is still being delivered here.
The £22m project called Lincoln Castle Revealed will restore and open up new areas to visitors and will be complete in 2015 – an auspicious year for the city as it marks the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta. Lincoln Cathedral owns one of four surviving original 1215 Magna Carta, and a new vault to house it is being provided at Lincoln Castle. This historic legal document sealed by King John in 1215 is revered today as a cornerstone of constitutional law.
The purpose-built vault which includes a cinema space which can tell the stories of Magna Carta’s long life of influence, will offer the highest possible spec for security and environmental care. The four surviving copies of the 1215 Magna Carta have been awarded ‘Memory of the World’ status by UNESCO, in recognition of their outstanding value. Magna Carta is the foundation of freedom in Britain.
It is written on parchment. The text, written in iron gall ink, consists of 54 lines of closely-written and abbreviated Latin. Alongside it will be the Charter of the Forest, produced in 1217 to amplify what was in Magna Carta. There are only two surviving copies of the 1217 Charter of the Forest and Lincoln is the only place where the documents can be seen side by side.
A complete Wall Walk circuit is also being created so that visitors can for the first time explore the entire perimeter of the castle and take in views across the city. A lift will provide wheelchair access onto the walls, quite something for a building of this age.