Plinth box 8
Site: Lincoln Cathedral, Lincolnshire
Date: 14th century
What it represents: Medieval Christendom and a peak in world architecture and engineering
The plinth stone: A fragment from the cathedral exterior
Provenance: From a pinnacle on the north-east corner of the northern transept, which was unstable and taken down and replaced 2000–2006
Material: Lincoln stone, a local oolitic limestone
Maximum dimension: 63mm
Donated by: Nicholas Rank, for Buttress Fuller Alsop Williams, architects
Lincoln is one of a few of our cathedrals to have a permanent building workforce, with its own quarry near the city. An architect (Nicholas Rank), a surveyor of the fabric, a consultant engineer and a works manager, advised by English Heritage, the Cathedral Fabric Commission for England and other bodies, oversee a large team that includes a cathedral archaeologist (Philip Dixon), glass and stone conservators, masons, leadworkers, joiners and a stonecarver.
The replacement of the badly eroded pinnacle from which the plinth stone came – which on its own could have stood in for a parish church spire – was part of a 20-year project to restore the north transept. Completed in 2006, a major element of this project was the restoration of the 13th century Dean’s Eye rose window, which occurred in tandem with the pinnacle replacement.
Lincoln cathedral is big. In terms of floor area (as an estate agent would see it), it is the third largest in Britain, after St Paul’s and York Minster; until it fell in 1549, the spire was among the tallest (if not the tallest) in Europe. But it is also a fine representative of the extreme heights of our astonishing, and greatly under appreciated, medieval heritage of religious buildings.
Like all medieval cathedrals, historically Lincoln can be experienced in two ways: as one of many sites across Britain or Europe where ideas and events that shaped any particular time were expressed (such as the explosion of creativity that was English Gothic); and as a building that has come down to us with evidence of the times through which it has survived – between, say, the construction of the first Norman cathedral at Lincoln in 1072–1092, and filming for the Da Vinci Code movie in 2005 (welcoming the crew on the cathedral website, the Dean, after critiquing some of the key elements of the book, headed a “further reading” list with the Bible).
Lincoln’s bishop of the time was one of the signatories of Magna Carta; the Renaissance composer William Byrd was organist and choirmaster at Lincoln; Sir Christopher Wren designed its library (which includes a text of the Venerable Bede); John Ruskin considered Lincoln “the most precious piece of architecture in the British Isles”; the cathedral features in DH Lawrence’s The Rainbow; Duncan Grant painted some impressive murals in the Russell Chantry in the 1950s. All English culture is here.
Geoff Clinton & Gary Willis, 2007. Dean’s Eye Window – the reconstruction of a medieval rose window at Lincoln Cathedral. The Structural Engineer Feb 6, 40–46
TA Heslop & V Sekules (ed), 1986. Medieval Art & Architecture at Lincoln Cathedral. British Archaeological Association Conference Transactions 8