Lincoln Cathedral

Dating from the 12th and 13th centuries, the impressive Lincoln Cathedral (officially the Cathedral Church of St. Mary in Lincoln) dominates Lincoln's skyline and can be seen from 30 miles away. Its 271-foot central tower is the second tallest in England.


History of Lincoln Cathedral

William the Conqueror ordered the first cathedral to be built in Lincoln in 1072. The church that existed before that, St. Mary's Church, was a mother church but not a cathedral. Bishop Remigius built the first Lincoln Cathedral on the present site, finishing it in 1092. He died two days before it was to be consecrated on May 9 of that year. About 50 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 in 1185. Only the central portion of the west front and lower halves of the west towers survive from this period.

King Henry II of England approved the election of St. Hugh of Avalon, a Carthusian monk, as Bishop of Lincoln in 1186. St. Hugh began a major rebuilding project in the emerging Early English Gothic style, but died in 1200 before his plan was completed.

The east end of the cathedral was moved each time the building was enlarged. The eastern wall of the Norman cathedral (1073) was in the middle of what is now St. Hugh's Choir. The east end of the Early English building (1186) was in what is now the Angel Choir behind the High Altar.

The existing structure was finished by about 1280, but repairs and remodeling have continued. There have been repeated problems with the spires (removed in 1807) and towers, which were sometimes thought to be in danger of collapsing. This was despite attempts to shore up the towers by digging underneath them to increase support, an early attempt of what is a common engineering project today on such building as the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Lincoln Cathedral and its bishops have had a leading role in the history of England. The Magna Carta was signed by the Bishop of Lincoln amongst others, and one of only two remaining copies resides in the cathedral's library.

Today, over £1 million each year is spent on keeping Lincoln Cathedral in shape. The most recent project completed was the restoration of the West Front in 2000. About 10 years ago it was discovered that the flying buttresses on the east end were no longer connected to the adjoining stonework, and hasty repairs had to be made.

The problems arise because the building techniques used were groundbreaking at the time, and the builders were literally making it up as they went along. Previously there were only Norman churches, which were short, dark, and with thick walls and small windows. The introduction of Gothic style made churches bright and spacious, but they were writing the rule book at the same time, and it was literally trial and error.

Worryingly though, parts of the ceiling of the nave have started to fall, requiring green netting to be slung under it to catch any pieces as the only alternative to shutting the cathedral. The outside has fared little better as tourists have had to dodge pieces of falling masonry creating the need for urgent repairs of some decayed stonework. Despite its structural problems, Lincoln Cathedral remains much loved and is visited by over 250,000 tourists a year. The peak of its season are the Lincoln Christmas Market and a massive annual production of Handel's Messiah.

What to See at Lincoln Cathedral

Although some notable parts survive from the Norman period, Lincoln Cathedral is mainly Gothic in style, particularly the Early English and Decorated periods of the 13th century.

The west front is one of the great glories of Lincoln Cathedral, rising tall and wide like a sheer cliff of stone. The lower part, including the portals and tall niches, dates from the Romanesque period and includes some notable sculpture, including a frieze of Heaven and Hell from c.1140. The rest of the facade - the huge Gothic "screen" decorated with small blind arches - was added in the 1240s.

The central tower rises to 271 feet and remains the tallest cathedral tower in Europe today without a spire. The tower originally carried a lead-encased wooden spire that rose 525 feet, but this collapsed in 1549 during bad weather.

Lincoln Cathedral was the first building to ever exceed the height of the Great Pyramid of Giza, thereby becoming the world's tallest structure, and remaining that for more than two centuries until the collapse of the spire.

It is well worth walking around to the back of the cathedral, especially in the morning, where there is a fine view across a manicured lawn to the cathedral's east end and the polygonal chapter house. Both date from the mid-13th century.

The great transept is home to the cathedral's two finest stained glass windows, rose windows known as the Dean's Eye (c.1220, north) and the Bishop's Eye (c.1330, south). The Dean's Eye still contains much of its medieval stained glass, which depicts the Last Judgment.

St. Hugh's Choir, dating from 1360-80, is one of the finest choirs in England. Its beautifully carved wooden stalls include 62 misericords and many finely carved bench-ends. The choir screen or pulpitum separating choir from nave dates from the 1330s and contains fine carvings and traces of original paint.

In the Seamen's Chapel (Great North Transept) is a window commemorating Lincolnshire-born Captain John Smith, one of the pioneers of early settlement in America and the first governor of Virginia. The library and north walk of the cloister were built in 1674 to designs by Sir Christopher Wren.

Among the persons interred in Lincoln Cathedral are:

Quick Facts on Lincoln Cathedral

Site Information
Names:Cathedral Church of St Mary and Cloisters and Chapter House and Libraries · Cathedral Church of St Mary in Lincoln · Lincoln Cathedral
Categories:cathedrals; Grade I listed buildings
Styles:Gothic; Normans
Dedication: Virgin Mary
Status: active
Visitor and Contact Information
Coordinates:53.234233° N, 0.536549° W
Address:Minster Yard
Lincoln, England
Hours:Jun-Aug: Mon-Sat 7:15am-8pm, Sun 7:15am-6pm
Sep-May: Mon-Sat 7:15am-6pm, Sun 7:15am-5pm
Lodging:View hotels near Lincoln Cathedral
Note: This information was accurate when first published and we do our best to keep it updated, but details such as opening hours and prices can change without notice. To avoid disappointment, please check with the site directly before making a special trip.


  1. Personal visit (September 11, 2007).
  2. Lincoln Cathedral - official website
  3. Lincoln Cathedral - Cathedrals in the East of England

More Information

View of Lincoln Cathedral and the Cathedral Quarter from the observatory tower of Lincoln Castle. © Holly Hayes
A closer view of the incredibly huge west front of Lincoln Cathedral. © Holly Hayes
East end and chapter house (right). © Holly Hayes
South exterior of Lincoln Cathedral near the west front. © Holly Hayes
A stone pig watches from high atop a pinnacle on the southeast side. © Holly Hayes
The nave, looking east. The chairs and video screens are in place for a degree ceremony of the University of... © Holly Hayes
The Bishop's Eye and lancet windows in the south transept. © Holly Hayes
Ceiling of the north transept, with Dean's Eye window. © Holly Hayes
© Holly Hayes
© Holly Hayes

Map of Lincoln Cathedral

Below is a location map and aerial view of Lincoln Cathedral. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.