Keith Gascoigne



Lincoln Cathedral


I like to visit Lincoln Cathedral when I can. The last time, when these images were taken, being during a brief but beautiful Indian summer in early October.

West towers from the south

I grew up in the region and Lincoln Cathedral always held an attraction for me. The city has changed over the last 30 years or so. Most of the heavy engineering plants have gone so it is quieter in that respect but the traffic has increased, so it is noisier in that. The railway sidings that covered the area south of Brayford Pool are gone and in their place is a brash new university building and campus. However, the real centre of Lincoln for me is always ‘Super Lincoln’ - up the hill - and the area around the most splendid Cathedral in England if not the whole of Europe.

The Cathedral building has the quality of lightness in stone that must be difficult to achieve but this building achieves it perfectly. It symbolizes to me what humanity is capable of given the right motivation and stands in stark contrast to the horrors of war, genocide, greed and unregulated capitalism that mankind is also capable of. Here there is peace and beauty. I don’t consider myself a Christian. I don’t go to church on Sundays or have any connection with organized religion but I do believe strongly in right-living (from the Buddhist perspective) and try to practice loving kindness as much as I can in today’s self-centered society.

South wall near east corner

I think that words like ‘Christian’ ‘Buddhist’ ‘Hindu’ ‘Muslim’ are all labels that divide us when I think that most of us simply want a sense of reconnection with our world - what some people call ‘spirituality’ but I call ‘clear-seeing’. We are T S Eliot's ‘empty men’ (and women) without a ‘true’ religious aspect to our lives and by ‘true-religion’ I mean reconnecting with the actuality, the reality of life, the ‘what-is’. I think it would be beneficial if we all reappraised our lives and stopped seeing life through the distorting glass of economics and high-technology.

The bell tower, on the left, seen from the arch of the south door. I walk around the Cathedral as much as I can - especially Thursday evenings when it is bell-ringing practice.

West towers from the south doorway

The ringing room has the tall windows in the tower that can just be seen over the roof (It’s the only room brightly-lit in the evening). The evening I was there I heard the most enchanting ringing I have ever heard. It was uplifting and that, combined with being near the Cathedral on a warm evening as the sky was going dark blue added to the feeling of well-being. The following day I asked in the Cathedral if anyone knew what the ringing was. No-one did. I left my phone number and thought that was that but the following weekend, the Master of the Bells phoned and gave me the name - Yorkshire Surprise Royal. Unfortunately, there is no recording of this at present but maybe they will record it and put it on a CD. I’m sure that a lot of people would like to hear it - including myself. He said it was good to know that people appreciated their ringing and he invited me to make myself known next time I visit and maybe go to watch the ringers. It’s refreshing when people are nice to us instead of seeing us as potential targets for financial exploitation.

The tower over the crossing houses the clock bell known as Big Tom. It is said to be the deepest sounding bell in England.

The crossing tower

I once lived next door to an Abbey in a small commune in France and the bells would ring just before the hour and on the hour (in case you forgot to count the first time) and all through the night. At first I thought that this was an annoyance but after a while I got used to it. Then I started to appreciate it, finding it to be a comforting sound. I missed this when I returned to England. I like to hear them. It is a reminder to think of things other than money, politicians, greed and corruption and the corrupting influence of the mass media.
There is so much noise pollution in cities now. The chiming of church bells on the hour, although another noise, might help to bring a little sanity into our lives and remind us of the immeasurable aspect of life that has true value? It is because most of us do not feel the immeasurable that society is in the mess that it is.

The west front wall is part of the original building that survived the earth-quake shortly after the Cathedral was built. It is difficult to photograph because of the buildings close to it in the Cathedral Court.

Part of the west wall

In this image, taken of the part of the wall over the main door arch, can be seen the slightly different styles of the two west towers, which I think makes the building much more interesting to look at. In many ways the building is like an Impressionist painting which looks interesting at first glance but the more you look at it the more you see in it. It repays the time spent in attention - and contemplation.

There is an ongoing project to replace the stone-work damaged by wind and acid rain. This panel has been completely replaced and is a fine example of the stone-mason’s craft and interpretation of medieval stone-carving. The narrative, depicting Adam and Eve, right and wrong, and the temptation by the devil is fairly easy to follow.

Panel on the west wall

The ashlar blocks making up much of the Cathedral structure are formed from the beautiful, honeyed-brown, oolitic limestone and when the sun shines on them they almost appear to glow. The first thing I do when I return to Lincoln is go and touch the Cathedral. I suppose this is where the saying, ‘keep in touch’ came from - a physical touching, a physical connection to remind us of the spiritual or mental connection we all should have and which, if more of us had it, would improve life for every human being and the world society.

The tops of these columns on the west wall have been replaced with high-quality carving. The carved heads are interesting. It is quite possible that they represent the heads of some of the stonemasons who did a lot of the original carving.

Carving on the west wall

The honey-coloured stone adds to the warmth of the building here but much of the colour depends on the sun’s position and the time of day. The stone used is similar to limestone I have seen in the Dordogne region of France, on houses built around the same time as this Cathedral.

I think having travelled abroad a little makes me appreciate the subtle beauties of the English landscape and architecture.

The south face of the Cathedral from the grounds of the Bishop's Palace

Stone, brick, tile, glass and lead mix together well in our old, relatively unplanned buildings nestling on a hillside among mature trees. So much is lost when everything is planned and measured out. These buildings are even ecologically sound in one way - they face south to get the most benefit from the sun.

The tree-covered south side of the east green makes a welcome buffer area between the quiet of the Cathedral and the ubiquitous roar and pollution of traffic.

The east green

Near this once-quiet spot was a small chapel but this was demolished over a hundred years ago. The chapter house buttresses can be seen in the back-ground.

The Chapter house on the north of the east green has a stone vaulted ceiling with a timber and leaded roof over it. It is, I think, unheated. I was in there one particularly cold February and it was extremely cold. This made me mindful of how much we expect heating in our buildings. Previous generations would just put up with the cold and accept it as a part of life. I did as a child, often waking up in the mornings to frost on the inside of the windows. I wouldn’t want to go back to that now.

The Chapter House

Behind the Chapter House is the refectory and probably the best place (for me at least) to eat lunch in Lincoln. I go in there as much as I can and always find someone interesting to talk with - and it is music-free (except for the music of people talking together).
On the east lawn, near the refectory, there is a statue to Alfred Lord Tennyson standing on a high plinth. You can just make it out in the right background of the image. I know there are a lot of people who like his poetry but I’m not quite sure about it. To me it is ‘high’ Victorian (in the worst sense) and a little too close to doggerel for my taste. (I’ll probably get a lot of complaints for saying this.)

I include this poor quality image to give an impression of the inside. There are much better images on the Cathedral website. I like the inside of this Cathedral. The stone-work is particularly fine and it has a lightness that some others don’t have.

A poor quality image of the altar and east window

While I was in that day someone was playing the organ for a while and that lifted the ambience even further from the mundane. There are small chapels to sit in and meditate, one with murals painted on panels covering the walls and some modern stone-work and wood-work. It is possible, some days, to climb all the steps up one of the towers and go to the roof but I’ve never been there when this is possible so I have another treat to look forward to on my next visit.
The famous Lincoln Imp is at the top of the one of the last pillars on the left. The humorous creativity in the stone work (and the wood work) is carried on by the contemporary carvers. There is a wonderful stone bat carved on a window lintel. It is a heavy bat and it is gently sliding down the stone-work leaving the imprint of it’s claws in the stone. An image of this is on the Cathedral website and is well worth searching for. I haven’t found it on the building yet but I'm sure I will next time I visit.

The view from inside the gates looking out to the east green and probably to the site of the demolished church. This lane was the main coach entrance to the Palace.

Arch over the road from the Bishop's Palace

I think that originally this arch would have covered a gate into the grounds. Remains of the old city walls are just beyond the green but the gate would have been considered necessary to separate the laity from the clergy. Unfortunately, this division, I think, has caused most of the problems that humanity suffers - along with self-interest - but maybe that is getting a little too profound? It certainly will not be too profound when more people see that society is falling apart.
Greestone Lane (now that’s an old English name loaded with history) connects upper with lower Lincoln (another division) and is on the right, beyond the building with the white oriel window. Pilgrims would climb this steep lane, both really and metaphysically (or ‘metaphorically’ if you like), up to the Cathedral at the top to gain enlightenment when, really, they could all do the same thing sitting quietly at home, thinking about life as it is and seeing the truth as it is.

I walked away from the Cathedral early one morning and glanced up at the empty niche on the Exchequer Gate wall to see something just below it.

Fanciful face?

I thought I was ‘making faces’ and carried on. It was quite cold at eight o’clock but I went back for another look. I thought I was still half asleep so I went for my breakfast. The next afternoon I looked again and it was still there so I took this photo. Below is a close-up.

Fanciful face? close-up

It’s probably just a damp patch on the wall or a mark from something above but it does look, to me, like a face with a crown.

No Cathedral or church is ever far from a public house. I like that connection - the two aspects of humankind. It seems fitting here that the two towers can be seen behind the Lion and Snake public house.

The two West towers

Maybe the two towers also represent different aspects of human nature? I’m not saying that one is good and the other bad - simply that they are different aspects of the same whole. I wonder what the lion and the snake represent here - maybe the snake was once a ‘serpent’?

A problem of converging verticals and moving earth. This is a cottage and lamp-post on Greestone lane - where the pilgrims would walk up to their perceived goal many years before lamp-posts appeared.

Greestone Lane

Other leaning lamp-posts can be seen around this area. I think that the earth is still moving around here; they do get the occasional small earth tremor. The cottages don’t seem to suffer and seeing something well out of vertical is a welcome change from everything being ‘perfect’. It adds interest and character and reminds me that nothing is for ever, everything changes even if we don't see it changing or think that it is the same as it always was. What do you think?