England // The East Midlands //

Lincoln Cathedral

Not a hill at all, Castle Hill is in fact a wide, short and level cobbled street that links Lincoln’s castle and cathedral. It’s a charming spot and its east end is marked by the arches of the medieval Exchequergate, beyond which soars the glorious west front of Lincoln Cathedral, a veritable cliff-face of blind arcading mobbed by decorative carving. The west front’s apparent homogeneity is, however, deceptive, and further inspection reveals two phases of construction – the small stones and thick mortar of much of the facade belong to the original church, completed in 1092, whereas the longer stones and finer courses date from the early thirteenth century. These were enforced works: in 1185, an earthquake shattered much of the Norman church, which was then rebuilt under the auspices of Bishop Hugh of Avalon, the man responsible for most of the present cathedral, with the notable exception of the (largely) fourteenth-century central tower.

The cavernous interior is a fine example of Early English architecture, with the nave’s pillars conforming to the same general design yet differing slightly, their varied columns and bands of dark Purbeck marble contrasting with the oolitic limestone that is the building’s main material. Looking back up the nave from beneath the central tower, you can also observe a major medieval cock-up: Bishop Hugh’s roof is out of alignment with the earlier west front, and the point where they meet has all the wrong angles. It’s possible to pick out other irregularities, too – the pillars have bases of different heights, and there are ten windows in the nave’s north wall and nine in the south – but these are deliberate features, reflecting a medieval aversion to the vanity of symmetry.

Beyond the nave lies St Hugh’s Choir, whose fourteenth-century misericords carry an eccentric range of carvings, with scenes from the life of Alexander the Great and King Arthur mixed up with biblical characters and folkloric parables. Further on is the open and airy Angel Choir, completed in 1280 and famous for the tiny, finely carved Lincoln Imp, which embellishes one of its columns. Finally, a corridor off the choir’s north aisle leads to the wooden-roofed cloisters and the polygonal chapter house, where Edward I and Edward II convened gatherings that pre-figured the creation of the English Parliament.