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Lincoln Cathedral
Lincoln Cathedral from Castle Hill.jpg
Basic information
Location Lincoln
Full name Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Geographic coordinates 53°14′04″N 0°32′10″W / 53.234444°N 0.536111°W / 53.234444; -0.536111Coordinates: 53°14′04″N 0°32′10″W / 53.234444°N 0.536111°W / 53.234444; -0.536111
County Lincolnshire
Country England
Ecclesiastical information
Denomination Church of England
Province Canterbury
Diocese Lincoln
Diocese created 1072
Bishop The Rt Revd Dr John Saxbee
Dean The Very Revd Canon Philip Buckler
Precentor The Revd Canon Gavin Kirk
Director of
Aric Prentice
Building information
Dates built 1185-1311
Architectural style Gothic
Length 143.3 metres (470 ft)
Towers 3
Tower height(s) 83 metres (272 ft) (crossing)
Spires 3 (now lost)
Spire height(s) 160 metres (520 ft) (crossing tower)

Lincoln Cathedral (in full The Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lincoln, or sometimes St. Mary's Cathedral) is a historic Anglican cathedral in Lincoln in England and seat of the Bishop of Lincoln in the Church of England. It was reputedly the tallest building in the world for 249 years (1300–1549).[1] The central spire collapsed in 1549 and was not rebuilt. It is highly regarded by architectural scholars; the eminent Victorian writer John Ruskin declared, "I have always held... that the cathedral of Lincoln is out and out the most precious piece of architecture in the British Isles and roughly speaking worth any two other cathedrals we have."



Remigius de Fécamp, first bishop of Lincoln, ordered the first cathedral to be built in Lincoln, in 1072. Before that, St. Mary's Church in Lincoln was a mother church but not a cathedral, and the seat of the diocese was at Dorchester Abbey in Dorchester-on-Thames, Oxfordshire. Lincoln was more central to a diocese that stretched from the Thames to the Humber. Bishop Remigius built the first Lincoln Cathedral on the present site, finishing it in 1092 and then dying two days before it was to be consecrated on May 9 of that year. About fifty years later, most of that building was destroyed in a fire. Bishop Alexander rebuilt and expanded the cathedral, but it was destroyed by an earthquake about forty years later, in 1185.

Main door, Lincoln Cathedral
Norman West front

After the earthquake, a new bishop was appointed. The new bishop was St Hugh of Lincoln, originally from Avalon, France; he began a massive rebuilding and expansion programme. Rebuilding began at the east end of the cathedral, with an apse and five small radiating chapels. The central nave was then built in the Early English Gothic style. Lincoln Cathedral soon followed other architectural advances of the time - pointed arches, flying buttresses and ribbed vaulting were added to the cathedral. This allowed the creation and support of larger windows.

The cathedral is the 3rd largest in Britain (in floor space) after St Paul's and York Minster, being 484 feet (148 m) by 271 feet (83 m). It is Lincolnshire's largest building and until 1549 the spire was reputedly the tallest medieval tower in Europe, though the exact height has been a matter of debate. Accompanying the cathedral's large bell, Great Tom of Lincoln, is a quarter-hour striking clock. The clock was installed in the early 19th century.

There are thirteen bells in the south-west tower, two in the north west tower, and five in the central tower (including Great Tom).

The matching Dean's Eye and Bishop’s Eye were added to the cathedral during the late Middle Ages. The former, the Dean's Eye in the north transept dates from the 1192 rebuild begun by St Hugh, it was finally completed in 1235. The latter, the Bishop’s eye, in the south transept was re-constructed 100 years later in 1330. A contemporary record, “The Metrical Life of St Hugh”, refers to the meaning of these two windows (one on the dark, north, side and the other on the light, south, side of the building):

“For north represents the devil, and south the Holy Spirit and it is in these directions that the two eyes look. The bishop faces the south in order to invite in and the dean the north in order to shun; the one takes care to be saved, the other takes care not to perish. With these Eyes the cathedral’s face is on watch for the candelabra of Heaven and the darkness of Lethe (oblivion).”

In the nave

After the additions of the Dean’s eye and other major Gothic additions it is believed some mistakes in the support of the tower occurred, for in either in 1237 or 1239 the main tower collapsed. A new tower was soon started and in 1255 the Cathedral petitioned Henry III to allow them to take down part of the town wall to enlarge and expand the Cathedral, including the rebuilding of the central tower and spire. They replaced the small rounded chapels (built at the time of St Hugh) with a larger east end to the cathedral. This was to handle the increasing number of pilgrims to the Cathedral, who came to worship at the shrine of Hugh of Lincoln.

In 1290 Eleanor of Castile died. As his Queen Consort of England, King Edward I decided to honour her with an elegant funeral procession. After embalming, which in the thirteenth century involved evisceration, Eleanor's viscera were buried in Lincoln cathedral, and Edward placed a duplicate of the Westminster tomb there. The Lincoln tomb's original stone chest survives; its effigy was destroyed in the 17th century and replaced with a 19th-century copy. On the outside of Lincoln Cathedral are two prominent statues often identified as Edward and Eleanor, but these images were heavily restored in the 19th century and probably were not originally intended to depict the couple.

View into the crossing

Between the years 1307 and 1311 the central tower was raised to its present height of 83 m (271 feet). The western towers and front of the cathedral were also improved and heightened. At this time, a tall lead-encased wooden spire topped the central tower but was blown down in a storm in 1549. With its spire, the tower reputedly reached a height of 525 feet (160 m) (which would have made it the world's tallest structure, surpassing the Great Pyramid of Giza, which held the record for almost 4000 years). This height is agreed by some sources[2] but has been doubted by others.[1] Other additions to the cathedral at this time included its elaborate carved screen and the 14th century misericords, as was the Angel choir. For a large part of the length of the cathedral, the walls have arches in relief with a second layer in front giving the illusion of a passageway along the wall. However the illusion does not work, as the stonemason, copying techniques from France, did not make the arches the correct length needed for the illusion effect.

In 1398 John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford founded a chantry there to pray for their souls, and in the 15th century the building of the cathedral turned to chantry or memorial chapels. The chapels next to the Angel Choir were built in the Perpendicular style, with an emphasis on strong vertical lines, which survive today in the window tracery and wall panelling.

Magna Carta

The Bishop of Lincoln, Hugh of Wells, was one of the signatories to the Magna Carta and for hundreds of years the Cathedral has held one of the four remaining copies of the original which is now securely displayed in Lincoln Castle.[3] There are three other surviving copies; two at the British Library and one at Salisbury Cathedral.[citation needed].

In 2009 the Lincoln Magna Carta was loaned to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.[3]

The Lincoln Imp

The View from the Tower of Lincoln Cathedral towards Lincoln Castle
The View from Lincoln Castle

One of the stone carvings within the Cathedral is the Lincoln Imp. There are several variations of the legend surrounding the figure.

According to 14th-century legend, two mischievous creatures called imps were sent by Satan to do evil work on Earth. After causing mayhem elsewhere in Northern England the two imps headed to Lincoln Cathedral where they smashed tables and chairs and tripped up the Bishop. An angel appeared in the Angel Choir and ordered them to stop. One of the imps sat atop a stone pillar started throwing rocks at the angel whilst the other imp cowered under the broken tables and chairs. The angel turned the first imp to stone allowing the second imp to escape. The imp that turned to stone, the Lincoln Imp, can still be found, frozen in stone, sitting atop his stone column in the Angel Choir.

Wren library

The Wren Library houses a rare collection of over 277 manuscripts, including the text of the Venerable Bede.

Rose Windows

Lincoln Cathedral features two major rose windows, which are a highly uncommon feature among medieval architecture in England. On the north side of the cathedral there is the, “Dean’s Eye” which survives from the original structure of the building and on the south side there is the, “Bishop’s Eye” which was most likely rebuilt circa 1325-1350. This south window is one of the largest examples of curvilinear tracery seen in medieval architecture. Curvilinear tracery is a form of tracery where the patterns are continuous curves. This form was often done within pointed arches and squared windows because those are the easiest shapes, so the circular space of the window was a unique challenge to the designers. A solution was created that called for the circle to be divided down into smaller shapes that would make it simpler to design and create. Curves were drawn within the window which created four distinct areas of the circle. This made the spaces within the circle where the tracery would go much smaller, and easier to work with. This window is also interesting and unique in that the focus of the tracery was shifted away from the center of the circle and instead placed in other sections. The glazing of the window was equally as difficult as the tracery for many of the same reason; therefore, the designers made a decision to cut back on the amount of iconography within the window. Most cathedral windows during this time displayed many colorful images of the bible; however at Lincoln there are very few images. Some of those images that can be seen within the window include saints Paul, Andrew, and James.

Wooden Trusses

Wooden trusses offer a solid and reliable source of support for building because through their joints they are able to resist damage and remain strong. Triangles are the strongest shape because no matter where the force is being placed on them they are able to use their three joints to their fullest extent in order to withstand the forces being placed on it. Making trusses with triangles inside of larger triangles adds even more strength, as seen in Lincoln’s choir. The design of all wooden trusses is a tedious task as there are many different things that need to be considered while building these supports. There are many different ways that the trusses can fail if they are not designed or built properly, therefore it is crucial to design trusses that suit a specific building with specific needs in mind. The simplest form of a truss is an A frame; however, the great amount of outward thrust generated here often times causes the truss to fail. The addition of a tie beam creates a triangular shape, although this beam can sometimes sag if the overall truss is too large. Neither one of these examples would have been suitable for Lincoln due to the sheer size of the roof. They would have failed to support the building, therefore collar beams and queen posts were added to the design in order to help prevent sagging. To protect against wind damage, braces were added. Secondary rafters were also added to the design to ensure that the weight was equally distributed. Saint Hugh’s Choir has a total of thirty six trusses keeping the roof in place, and it is held up entirely by using its own weight and forces.


One major architectural feature of Lincoln Cathedral are the spectacular vaults. The varying vaults within the cathedral are said to be both original and experimental. Simply comparing the different vaults seen in Lincoln clearly shows that a great deal of creativity was involved when designing the cathedral. The vaults especially, clearly define the experimental aspect seen at Lincoln. There are several different kinds of vaults that differ between the nave, aisles, choir, and chapels of the cathedral. Along the North Aisle there is a continuous ridge rib with a regular arcade that ignores the bays. Meanwhile, on the South Aisle there is a discontinuous ridge rib that puts an emphasis on each separate bay. The North West Chapel has quadripartite vaults and the South Chapel has vaults that stem from one central support columns. The use of sexpartite vaults allowed for more natural light to enter the cathedral through the clerestory windows, which were placed inside of each separate bay. Saint Hugh’s Choir exhibits extremely unusual vaults. It is a series of asymmetrical vaults that appear to almost be a diagonal line created by two ribs on one side translating into only a single rib on the other side of the vault. This pattern divides up the space of the vaults and bays, perfectly placing the emphasis on the bays. The chapter house vaults are also interesting. It is a circular building with one column where twenty ribs extend from. Each separate area of Lincoln can be identified solely by the different vaults of the space. Each vault, or each variation of the vault, is fresh and original. They illustrate innovative thinking and great creativity. There is no doubt that these vaults, and all of the other experimental aspects of Lincoln came with a slight risk; however the results are truly wonderful.


Floor plan of Lincoln Cathedral
Interior view, at the eastern end of St. Hugh's Choir

According to the cathedral website, over £1 million a year is spent on keeping the cathedral in shape; the most recent project completed has been the restoration of the West Front in 2000. About ten years ago it was discovered that the flying buttresses on the east end were no longer connected to the adjoining stonework, and repairs were made to prevent collapse. The most recent problem was the discovery that the stonework of the Dean's Eye window in the transept was crumbling, meaning that a complete reconstruction of the window has had to be carried out according to the conservation criteria set out by the International Council on Monuments and Sites.

There was a period of great anxiety when it emerged that the stonework only needed to shift 5mm for the entire window to collapse. Specialist engineers removed the window's tracery before installing a strengthened, more stable replacement. In addition to this the original stained glass was cleaned and set behind a new clear isothermal glass which offers better protection from the elements. By April 2006 the renovation project was completed at a cost of £2 million.

Aisle at the east end

Recently, concerns have been growing once more about the state of the West Front, as there has been some stonework falling, which has raised questions as to the effectiveness of the repairs carried out in 2000.

Lincoln Cathedral is at present a very popular destination and is visited by over 250,000 tourists a year. The semi-mandatory entrance fee for week day visiting is £5.00 or about $7.50 which is charged on admission throughout the tourist season.[citation needed] The cathedral offers tours of the cathedral, the tower and the roof. The peak of its season is the Lincoln Christmas Market, accompanied by a massive annual production of Handel's Messiah. The current Bishop of Lincoln is Dr John Saxbee. The current Dean of the Cathedral is the Very Reverend Philip Buckler, who had previously been Canon Treasurer of St. Paul's Cathedral in London.



The Choir is currently formed of 10 Lay Vicars (three of whom are choral scholars), a team of c. 20 boys and a team of c. 20 girls.

The Cathedral accepted female choristers in 1995. Lincoln was only the second Cathedral in the country to adopt a separate girls' choir, after Salisbury Cathedral, and remains one of few who provide exactly the same musical opportunities and equal weekly singing duties to both girls and boys. All the choristers are educated at Lincoln Minster School.

The Director of Music is Aric Prentice, who conducts the choir of girls and men, and the Assistant Director of Music & Sub-Organist is Charles Harrison, who conducts the choir of boys and men. The Organist Laureate is Colin Walsh, previously Organist and Master of the Choristers, and the Assistant Organist is Benjamin Chewter. Like any great cathedral, Lincoln has had its share of organists who have achieved international renown: perhaps the most famous is William Byrd, the Renaissance composer. Although it is uncertain whether Byrd was born in Lincoln as has been claimed, he was organist at the Cathedral from 1563 until 1572 and continued to compose works specifically for the cathedral choir after his departure.


The organ is one of the finest examples of the work of 'Father' Henry Willis, dating from 1898 (it was his last cathedral organ before his death in 1901). There have been two restorations of it by Harrison & Harrison in 1960 and 1998. The specification of the organ can be found on the National Pipe Organ Register.[4]


  • 1439 John Ingleton
  • 1489 John Davy
  • 1490 John Warcup
  • 1506 Leonard Pepir
  • 1508 Thomas Ashwell
  • 1518 John Watkins
  • 1524 John Gilbert
  • 1528 Robert Dove
  • 1538 Thomas Appilby
  • 1539 James Crowe
  • 1541 Thomas Appilby
  • 1563 William Byrd
  • 1572 Thomas Butler
  • 1593 William Boys
  • 1594 John Hilton
  • 1599 Thomas Kingston
  • 1616 John Wanlesse
  • 1660 Thomas Mudd
  • 1663 Andrew Hecht
  • 1670 John Reading
  • 1693 Thomas Hecht
  • 1693 Thomas Allinson
  • 1704 George Holmes

from 2003 the post was divided: Colin Walsh became Organist Laureate and Aric Prentice was appointed Director of Music.

Assistant organists

Articled pupils fulfilled the role of assistant organist until 1893 when the Chapter formalised the position of assistant organist.

See also the List of Organ Scholars at Lincoln Cathedral.

In popular culture



  • The cathedral was used for the filming of The Da Vinci Code (based on the book of the same name). Filming took place mainly within the cloisters and chapter house of the cathedral, and remained a closed set. The Cathedral took on the role of Westminster Abbey, as the Abbey had refused to permit filming. Although there was protest at the filming, the filming was completed by the end of August 2005. In order to make the Lincoln chapter house appear similar to the Westminster Chapter House, murals were painted on a special layer over the existing wall, and elsewhere polystyrene replicas of Isaac Newton's tomb and other Abbey monuments were set up. For a time these murals and replicas remained in the Chapter House, as part of a Da Vinci Code exhibit for visitors, but in January 2008 they were all sold off in an auction to raise money for the Cathedral.[6]
  • The cathedral also doubled as Westminster Abbey for the film Young Victoria, filmed in September 2007.[7]

Wartime history

  • Lincolnshire was home to many RAF Bomber Command airfields during the Second World War, giving rise to a nickname of 'Bomber County'. Lincoln Cathedral was an easily recognisable landmark for crews returning from raids over Germany, and as such took on much importance to the men. Appropriately, it currently has the only memorial in the United Kingdom dedicated to Bomber Command in the Second World War.

See also


  • "Lincoln Cathedral: Official Guide", Diocese of Lincoln
  • "Lincoln Cathedral" by Peter B G Binnall, Pitkin Publishing (ISBN 978-0853722038)

External links

Preceded by
Great Pyramid of Giza
World's tallest structure
160 m
Succeeded by
St. Olaf's church, Tallinn

Simple English

Lincoln Cathedral
File:Lincoln Cathedral from Castle

Lincoln Cathedral was the world's tallest building from ~1300 to 1549.[I]
Record height
Preceded by Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt
Surpassed by St Olav, Tallinn
General information
Location Lincoln, England
Status Complete
Constructed 1092–1311
Antenna or spire Original: 160 m (525 ft.)
Current: 82.6 m (271 ft.)

^ Fully habitable, self-supported, from main entrance to highest structural or architectural top; see the list of tallest buildings in the world for other listings.

Lincoln Cathedral is an Anglican church in Lincoln, England.[1] It was the tallest building in the world for over 200 years (1300–1549), but the central spire fell down in the sixteenth century and was not rebuilt. It owns one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta.[2]

Other websites

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  1. full name: The Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lincoln.
  2. The Cathedral Church of Lincoln: a history and description

Coordinates: 53°14′04″N, 0°32′10″W


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