19 November 2016


Somewhere, over The Rainbow.....

Will Brangwen’s beloved cathedral…..

When he saw the cathedral in the distance, dark blue lifted watchful in the sky, his heart leapt.  It was the sign in heaven, it was the Spirit hovering like a dove, like an eagle over the earth.  He turned his glowing, ecstatic face to her, his mouth opened with a strange, ecstatic grin.

‘There she is,’ he said

The ‘she’ irritated her.  Why ‘she’?  It was ‘it’.  What was the cathedral, a big building, a thing of the past, obsolete, to excite him to such a pitch?  She began to stir herself to readiness.

They passed up the steep hill, he eager as a pilgrim arriving at the shrine.  As they came near the precinct, with castle on one side and cathedral on the other his veins seemed to break into fiery blossom, he was transported.

They had passed through the gate, and the great west front was before them, with all its breadth and ornament.

‘It is a false front,’ he said, looking at the golden stone and the twin towers and loving them just the same.  In a little ecstasy he found himself in the porch, on the brink of the unrevealed.  He looked up to the lovely unfolding of the stone.  He was to pass within to the perfect womb.

Then he pushed open the door, and the great pillared gloom was before him…..  His soul leapt, soared up into the great church…..

Anna Brangwen’s feelings…..

The cathedral roused her too.  But she would never consent to the knitting of all the leaping stone in a great roof that closed her in, and beyond which was nothing, nothing, it was the ultimate confine…..

Her soul too was carried forward to the altar, to the threshold of Eternity, in reverence and fear and joy.  But ever she hung back in the transit, mistrusting the culmination of the altar…..

So that she caught at little things, which saved her from being swept forward headlong in the tide of passion that leaps on into the Infinite in a great mass…..

And it was as if she must grasp at something, as if her wings were too weak to lift her straight off the heaving motion.  So she caught sight of the wicked, of little faces carved in stone, and she stood before them arrested…..

These sly little faces peeped out of the grand tide of the cathedral like something that knew better.  They knew quite well, these little imps that retorted on man’s own illusion, that the cathedral was not absolute…..

[As an aside, this all springs to mind with Glenda Jackson's momentous portrayal of King Lear at the Old Vic.... Ms Jackson gained an Academy Award for her portrayal of Gudrun Brangwen in Ken Russell's 1969 film of Women in Love, D H Lawrence's sequel to The Rainbow. Gudrun Brangwen was the younger of Anna and Will Brangwen's two daughters.  Got it? Ed.]

Perhaps it is not surprising that there is no memorial to D H Lawrence in the Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lincoln?  After all The Rainbow was banned for eleven years following an obscenity trial in 1915.  And besides, Lawrence was born in Nottinghamshire and died in France, so not a local lad. 

Another famous Nottinghamshire chap also associated with Lincoln, was Robyn of Locksley, aka Robert Fitzooth, aka Robin Hood, though his connection was not through the Cathedral, but through the wool trade, which made Lincoln rich in the Middle Ages.  Lincoln Green, which Robin and his men chose as a uniform (with the probable exceptions of Friar Tuck – who would have worn grey – and Will Scarlett…..)  Wikipedia explains:  The dyers of Lincoln, a cloth town in the high Middle Ages, produced the cloth by dyeing it with woad (Isatis tinctoria) to give it a strong blue, then overdyeing it yellow with weld (Reseda luteola) or dyers' broom, Genista tinctoria. 

So now we know.

The most prominent literary figure commemorated in Lincoln is Alfred, Lord Tennyson, who was a Lincolnshire Poacher. A fine statue of him and his dog stands outside the Chapter House on the Cathedral’s East Green, with the poem Flower in the Crannied Wall attached:

Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies,
I hold you there, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower – but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.

Which just goes to show why we need Poets Laureate…..

John Ruskin (1819-1900), had this to say about the Cathedral: I have always held and am prepared against all evidence to maintain that the Cathedral of Lincoln is out and out the most precious piece of architecture in the British Isles and roughly speaking worth any two other cathedrals we have.

Not sure that the Chapters of Canterbury, Durham (thanks Michael, Ed), Ely, Liverpool (thanks Janet, Ed), Salisbury or Winchester, (to name but six of thirty-eight Grade 1 listed cathedrals) would necessarily agree with this, though it is an opinion…..

It is the third largest cathedral in Britain (in floor area) after St Paul's and York Minster, being 484 by 271 feet (148 by 83 metres) and it was the tallest building in the world (at 525 feet - 160 metres) for 238 years until the central spire collapsed in 1548.

It was built mainly in three periods: Norman (1075-1092), Early English (1191-1250 and 1256-1300).  It was badly damaged by fire in 1125, and partially destroyed by an earthquake in 1185 (though hardly touched by those in 1990 and 2008). 

The name Lincoln is believed to derive from the Iron Age Celtic Lindon, meaning pool by the hill; a reference to the Brayford pool and the hill upon which the modern city stands. These features provided good fishing, farming, transport links (via the river Witham) and defences against other tribes.  The Romans built a legionary fortress on the hill, which was known as Lindum Colonia.  They also constructed the  Fosse Dyke canal, which runs from the Brayford pool to the river Trent, which led to prosperity under the Vikings.  The Normans then built a castle and began the cathedral, though much of the current Gothic appearance was due to Bishop Hugh of Avalon, 

later St Hugh of Lincoln, who developed it after the great earthquake (and who, incidentally, had a pet swan, which hissed at people who approached the reverend Frenchman).

Following a £22 million upgrade (a mere 5% of the estimated refurbishment budget for Buckingham Palace, though still 628,570% of the cost of improving my family bathroom) Lincoln Castle is certainly worth exploring, though you may not wish to visit the Crown Court.  

Apart from the wonderful views from the medieval walls, there is a finely illegible copy of the Magna Carta in a dark crypt, and the Victorian prison, which, though sanitised and scrupulously clean,

gives you some idea of what it might be like in prison…..

[Great place to leave the kids!]

But this is all a bit prosaic!  So, I’ll end with a poem, by the very poetic Alfred Tennyson, the 1st Baron Tennyson, late of this parish…..  It’s a curious ditty, but it seems somehow fitting in this city of beautiful people, though you don't want to believe everything you may think.....

Beautiful City

Beautiful city, the centre and crater of European confusion,
O you with your passionate shriek for the rights of an equal humanity,
How often your Re-volution has proven but E-volution
Roll’d back again on itself in the tides of a civic insanity!

Oh, and by the way, for the purposes of disambiguation this piece refers to Lincoln (/ˈlɪŋkən/), a cathedral city and the county town of Lincolnshire, within the East Midlands of England.  It has nothing to do with President Lincoln, Lincoln Creams (one of the joys of my childhood, but sadly impossible to find these days), Lincoln Nebraska, Lincoln California, nor the Lincoln Continental, a motor car produced by Ford, which was one of the first personal luxury cars to enter into mass production…..


(In the Cardinal's Hat.....)



  1. I once worked as a hall porter in the Eastgate Hotel (now renamed, with stunning imagination, the Lincoln Hotel) just beside the cathedral. Maybe there's a blue plaque...

    1. Great pictures and commentary on one of Britain's finest cathedral cities. I just don't understand why Simon Jenkins chose Wells as his favourite cathedral, in his latest books when there are such gems as Lincoln, Ely and Durham.

    2. Not forgetting Liverpool ...