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.
The Lincoln imp
The Lincoln imp
Legends had abounded for centuries about the Lincoln imp, carved high on a column in Lincoln cathedral, but it was the entrepreneurial James Ward Usher in the 1880s who turned the wee beastie into a tidy profit, selling Lincoln imp tie-pins, cuff-links, spoons, brooches and beads. Usher also popularized the traditional legend of the imp, a tall tale in which a couple of imps are blown to Lincoln by a playful wind. They then proceed to hop around the cathedral, until one of them is turned to stone for trying to talk to the angels carved into the roof of the Angel Choir. His chum makes a hasty exit on the back of a witch, but the wind is still supposed to haunt the cathedral, awaiting its opportunity to be mischievous again.