The Many Faces of Lincoln Cathedral...

Lincoln Cathedral has to be one of the most impressive surviving medieval buildings in the world. I'm a self-confessed history-junkie with a passion for the medieval, but honestly I don't think anyone could deny just how amazing it is. Perched on top of the only hill for miles, you can't miss it and as you get closer, the sheer size and elaborate decoration are breath-taking.

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On our recent travels with a tent we were able to snatch almost twenty-four hours in Lincoln (actually we stayed in Bardney and cycled along the Witham to Lincoln, pushing our bikes up Steep Hill when we got there, but that's another story). I'd only been able to have a quick visit inside the cathedral once before, so I was determined to have a more detailed tour this time.

But you know, I've come to the conclusion that just like major art galleries and museums, you shouldn't attempt to see everything in one visit. One look at the West Front of Lincoln Cathedral and you quickly realise that a life-time would scarcely be enough to fully appreciate it. Trying to take it in you rapidly reach a kind of medieval-cultural-overwhelm.

Still, if you only have a few hours you have to give it your best shot, so I set off with eyes wide open, soaking up the atmosphere and trying to let it seep in and not wash over in great waves of gorgeousness.

The first building here was begun shortly after the Norman Conquest in 1088 and it was pretty much a continual project throughout the medieval period. During that time it suffered a number of set-backs, including being seriously damaged by an earthquake of all things in 1185 and the collapse of a tall central spire in 1549 (until the loss of that spire it was the tallest building in the world).

Parts of the West Front are survivals from the pre-earthquake era and arguably the most impressive part of the building - the sheer intricacy of the carving is mind-blowing (well it blows my mind for sure).

A selection of the intricate Norman carving surrounding one of West Front doors, Lincoln Cathedral (rotated 90 degrees). Those faces! Is it just me or are they somehow hypnotic? Who are they? What are they meant to be?

A selection of the intricate Norman carving surrounding one of West Front doors, Lincoln Cathedral (rotated 90 degrees). Those faces! Is it just me or are they somehow hypnotic? Who are they? What are they meant to be?

See what I mean - even if you could see that far, it would take months to really study all the carving.

See what I mean - even if you could see that far, it would take months to really study all the carving.

Going inside the grandeur is compelling. Almost all medieval cathedrals manage to fill me with awe, goodness knows how the average medieval peasant thought about them but Lincoln must have been right up there with 'wonders of the world'.

Looking up to the ceiling of the central tower. The geometry evident everywhere is staggering. 

Looking up to the ceiling of the central tower. The geometry evident everywhere is staggering. 

Somewhere around this point under the tower, with stained-glass windows in every direction I began to get a touch overwhelmed. I stood slowly revolving, staring up, gaping and no doubt looking like a prize idiot, except that most other people appeared to be doing much the same thing.

Coming back down to earth I began to notice a whole load more faces - men, animals, comic, serious - adorning the screen to our side and so I spent the next considerable time photographing some of them (clearly these were once painted, you can still see traces of the paint in many places).

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A little devil would you say?

A little devil would you say?

Eventually I had to tear myself away from all these goodies, because there was one more thing I had to see on my visit and that was the tomb of Queen Eleanor of Castile.

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Eleanor of Castile

Now in fact although there is an exquisite gilded brass effigy of Eleanor looking wonderfully serene in the cathedral (the work of English sculptor William Torell) only her viscera were actually interred here. Her body is in Westminster Cathedral (and her heart was buried in the Dominican Friary of Blackfriars, London).

I don't know if you're the same, but I have a small cast of historical favourites that just interest me more than others and one of mine is King Edward I, the husband of Eleanor. Now I'm the first to admit that although he was tall and athletic, he wasn't an entirely likeable chap. He was famous for his temper, could be extremely aggressive and had a relaxed attitude to fair-play and justice, and then of course he went about subjugating the Welsh, building the ring of Edwardian castles that still stand today, and followed that up by attempting to do the same thing in Scotland - although with rather less success.

I don't think Edward was every woman's ideal husband. But here's the thing, from surviving records it appears that they had a very happy marriage and were truly deeply attached to each other. They were both just teenagers when they married. Over the years she gave birth to more than 12 children, although only one of her sons survived her. Rarely apart, Eleanor accompanied Edward on his military campaigns throughout her life. And Edward, such a difficult man in many ways is not known to have had any extramarital affairs or fathered children out of wedlock, which was certainly unusual at that time.

When Eleanor died aged 49, Edward mourned her, they had spent most of their lifetime together. It was for Eleanor that he had crosses erected at the locations where her cortege stopped on the way to Westminster - now known as the Eleanor Crosses.

Needing to secure the dynasty, Edward was to marry again nearly 10 years later at the age of 60 and again it appears that this second marriage to Margaret of France, 40 years younger than him was also deeply affectionate and loving. This marriage produced two sons and a daughter and she was named Eleanor in honour of his first wife. Margaret never remarried after the death of Edward even though she was still a young woman.

So, whatever his political and military history and significant character flaws, I find Edward fascinating. If you want to know more about him, try reading A Great And Terrible King - Marc Morris.

And finally: Lincoln Cathedral or Westminster Abbey?

When I was reading about Lincoln Cathedral, I discovered that the cathedral is the stunt double for Westminster Abbey - appearing in the films The Da Vinci Code and Young Victoria. Apparently the real Westminster Abbey refused to have the film crews in, so Lincoln was made to impersonate it - I'm off to watch the DVD now and see if I can spot it....


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I wonder if you have a pet historical bad-boy or girl? Do tell who and why.

And until next time,

Happy Stitching x