Lincoln Cathedral: History, Height, Little Saint Hugh, Lincoln Imp, and Major Facts

Lincoln Cathedral – history and facts

Built using an early English Gothic style, the Lincoln Cathedral was considered the tallest building on earth for more than two centuries in the Middle Ages. Supposing its central spire had not fallen off in 1548, the cathedral would have held that honor until 1889 when the Eiffel Tower was constructed.

In addition to its height, the Lincoln Cathedral is considered one of the largest cathedrals in the UK in terms of floor area. Construction work for the 5,000-square meter structure took place throughout the High Middle Ages.

The article below contains everything you need to know about the Lincoln Cathedral, also known as Lincoln Minster, or the Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary of London.

History of the Lincoln Cathedral

Towards the later part of the 11th century William the Conqueror (also known as William I of England) tasked Remigius de Fécamp – the first Bishop of Lincoln – to construct the cathedral. The foundation of the cathedral is believed to have gone up between 1072 and 1092.

About two days after the death of Bishop Remigius, the Lincoln Cathedral was consecrated [on May 9, 1092]. As at when consecration took place, the cathedral was considered the “mother church” of Lincolnshire; it was also the largest diocese in England.

In the centuries following the consecration, the cathedral was battered by a number of accidents and natural disasters. For example, the roof was destroyed in a fire in 1124. About forty years [in 1185] after the fire incident, a massive earthquake of about 5 on the Richter magnitude scale rocked the area, destroying large parts of the cathedral. The powerful earthquake left only the west end and the towers standing.

Following those destruction, the Gothic style increasingly became the preferred architectural style for subsequent renovation and expansion of the Lincoln Cathedral during the Middle Ages.

Lincoln Cathedral

Lincoln Cathedral St Hugh’s Choir

Between 1123 and 1148, the Lincoln Cathedral was rebuilt and renovated extensively under the leadership of Bishop Alexander. It was also revealed that the cathedral suffered immensely because previous construction works on it were done very badly.

Another well-known historical personality involved in the reconstruction of the cathedral was Hugh de Burgundy of Avalon, France [later St Hugh of Lincoln]. Bishop Hugh invested quite a lot of time and resource in rebuilding and expanding the cathedral. Hugh also appointed William de Montibus to head the cathedral’s school. Owing to Montibus’ tireless effort the school became one of the most prominent places of learning in England. The school even nurtured the talents of famous English writers such as Richard of Wetheringsett and Samuel Presbiter.

During Hugh’s tenure as bishop of the Cathedral, the choir – known as St Hugh’s Choir – was rebuilt. Between 1192 and 120, extensive works on the eastern transepts were made. A central nave, buttresses, pointed arches and ribbed vaulting were included during the rebuilding.

The Bishop’s Eye and the Dean’s Eye

Underpinned by Gothic style, the cathedral could now allow for large windows to be constructed in it. For example, there are two stained glass rose windows – the Bishop’s Eye and the Dean’s eye. Construction of Bishop’s Eye began in 1192, during the time of Bishop Hugh.  As for the Dean’s eye, it was constructed around 1330.

According to “The Metrical Life of St Hugh”, those two windows are believed to have very important purposes. The Bishop’s Eye looking to the South is believed to allow in the Holy Spirit into the cathedral. On the other hand, the Dean’s Eye facing the north is meant to repel the devil and other demonic spirits away from the cathedral.

The Lincoln Magna Carta

How did the Lincoln Cathedral come to house the one of the four remaining original copies of the Magna Carter? The answer lies in Hugh of Wells. Hugh, the bishop of Lincoln, was one the signatories of the Magna Carta. As such, it was only befitting that one of the copies be kept in the cathedral.  The Magna Carta remained in the cathedral until it was moved to Lincoln Castle.

In 1939, the Lincoln Magna Carta was showcased at the New York World’s Fair. Two years later, it was gifted to the United States by the UK Foreign Office. The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California took host of the Lincoln Magna Carta in 2009.

Did you know: the three remaining copies of the famous Magna Carta can be found at the British Library (hosts two copies) and the Salisbury Cathedral?

Tallest building in the world until 1549

During the reign of Henry III, the cathedral witnessed some expansion, as well as the reconstruction of the central tower and spire in the mid-13th century. In that same century, Edward I ordered that his first wife Eleanor of Castile’s remains be buried in Lincoln Cathedral in 1290. The two statues outside the cathedral are even believed to be the statues of Edward and Eleanor.

Between 1307 and 1311, the central tower of the cathedral was constructed, making it reach a height of 271 feet (83 m).

After its completion, the tower on top enabled the cathedral to snatch the title of tallest building on earth from the Great Pyramid of Giza. All in all, the cathedral at the time, with the wooden spire on the central tower, reached a height of 525 feet (160 m).

The wooden spire was knocked down in 1548 after a massive storm in the area.

Towers, bells and clock

The South-west tower has 13 bells while the North-west tower has 2 bells. The central tower, on the other hand, has five bells, including Great Tom – a quarter-hour striking clock built in the 19th century.

Little Saint Hugh

In August 1255, a tragic discovery was made. An 8-year-old boy was found in a well in the cathedral. The boy was believed to have been kidnapped, tortured and then murdered by unknown assailants.

Armed with what was most likely trumped up, the authorities accused some elements in the Jewish community of perpetrating the heinous killing of the boy. They were blamed endlessly with many imprisoned. About  18 people were executed.

The boy’s death elevated him to martyrdom with some calling him a saint – although he was never officially canonized. Even to this day, Little Saint Hugh’s story continues to attract more and more visitors to the cathedral.

Story of the Lincoln Imp

Lincoln Cathedral

Lincoln Cathedral and the Stone Lincoln Imp

Another very interesting story from the Cathedral concerns the famous stone carving Lincoln imp near the column of the Angel Choir.

According to one famous account of the myth, Satan dispatched two very troublesome imps to wreak havoc on Northern England. After raising hell and devastating the North, the imps proceeded to the Lincoln Cathedral. They destroyed the furniture and even man-handled the bishop. And just as they were about to continue an angel appeared on the scene and ordered the two imps to cease their evil acts. The imps refused. The angel then turned one of the imps to a stone. The other imp is believed to have fled and never set foot in the cathedral again. The not so lucky imp that got turned to stone sits right on the stone column in the Angel Choir.

Other interesting facts about the Lincoln Cathedral

Lincoln Cathedral Nave

  • The cathedral temporarily served as a bomber command airfields in World War II.
  • Also during World War II, extremely valuable British treasures were buried (about 60 feet) deep beneath the Cathedral.
  • It has been estimated that it cost the British tax payer close to £2 million to keep the Cathedral running.
  • In 2006, a renovation exercise to the tune of £2 million was conducted on the Cathedral. The renovation work included fixing issues related to the stonework of the Dean’s Eye window.
  • For the first time in 36 years, Lincoln Cathedral will be scaffolding-free as the the 900 year-old Romanesque frieze goes on a new exhibition in January, 2022. The Romanesque Frieze on this iconic place of worship features scenes from the old and new testaments of the bible shown in 11th century style. The project, which was sponsored with funding from the national lottery heritage, began in 2016.
  • Beginning around 2016, close to 50 burials have been found in the cathedral by scientists.
  • In addition to those burials, numerous artefact have been found in the cathedral. For example, archeologists found an old coin depicting Edward the Confessor.
  • Constructors generally used the stones that the Lincoln Cathedral sits on to build and renovate it.
  • Because Westminster Abbey turned down requests from film directors of The Da Vinci Code (2006), The King (2019), and Young Victoria (2007), the Lincoln Cathedral has been used as location for the shooting of those films, as well as a number of other motion pictures.
  • In maintaining the cathedral annually, it requires about 100 tons of stone.
  • The famous personalities that have been buried in the Cathedral include: Remigius de Fécamp – Bishop of Lincoln, Robert Bloet, Lord Chancellor of England and Bishop of Lincoln, and Hugh of Lincoln – Bishop of Lincoln (1186-1200) and Saint.
  • The cathedral is open seven days a week.
  • Ancient Egypt’s most prized monument – the Great Pyramid of Giza – held the title of tallest structure in the world for about four millennia before it was knocked off its perch by Lincoln Cathedral.

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