May 092017

On this date in 1092 Lincoln Cathedral or the Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lincoln, and sometimes St. Mary’s Cathedral in Lincoln was consecrated. Building commenced in 1088 and continued in several phases throughout the medieval period.  This reminds us that for centuries until modern times (with perhaps the exception of St Patrick’s cathedral in New York) cathedrals were considered works-in-progress, or complex buildings that could be altered at will, rather than structures that were definitively “finished.” Lincoln cathedral was designated as  the tallest building in the world for 238 years (1311–1549), replacing the Great Pyramid of Giza which had held that title (in theory if not in practice) since antiquity. The central spire collapsed in 1549 and was not rebuilt – thus causing the cathedral to lose the title. The cathedral is the third largest in Britain (in floor area) after St Paul’s and York Minster. It is held in high regard by historians of architecture with John Ruskin writing: “I have always held… 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.”

Remigius de Fécamp, the first Bishop of Lincoln, moved the episcopal seat some time between 1072 and 1092. Up until then St. Mary’s Church in Stow was considered to be the “mother church” of Lincolnshire (although it was not a cathedral, because the seat of the diocese was at Dorchester Abbey in Dorchester-on-Thames, Oxfordshire). However, Lincoln was more central to a diocese that stretched from the Thames to the Humber. Bishop Remigius built the first Lincoln Cathedral on the present site, finishing it in 1092 and then dying on 7 May of that year, two days before it was consecrated.

In 1141, the timber roofing was destroyed in a fire. Bishop Alexander rebuilt and expanded the cathedral, but it was mostly destroyed by an earthquake about forty years later, in 1185 (dated by the British Geological Survey as occurring 15 April 1185). The earthquake was one of the largest felt in the UK. After the earthquake, a new bishop was appointed. He was Hugh de Burgundy of Avalon who became known as St Hugh of Lincoln. He began a massive rebuilding and expansion program. Rebuilding began with the choir (St Hugh’s Choir) and the eastern transepts between 1192 and 1210. The central nave was then built in the Early English Gothic style, employing pointed arches, flying buttresses, and ribbed vaulting. This allowed support for incorporating larger windows. There are thirteen bells in the south-west tower, two in the north-west tower, and five in the central tower (including Great Tom). Accompanying the cathedral’s large bell, Great Tom of Lincoln, is a quarter-hour striking clock. The clock was installed in the early 19th century.


The two large stained glass rose windows, the matching Dean’s Eye and Bishop’s Eye, were added to the cathedral during the late Middle Ages. The former, the Dean’s Eye in the north transept dates from the 1192 rebuild begun by St Hugh, finally being completed in 1235. The latter, the Bishop’s eye, in the south transept was reconstructed a hundred years later in 1330. A contemporary record, “The Metrical Life of St Hugh”, refers to the meaning of these two windows (one on the dark, north, side and the other on the light, south, side of the building):

For north represents the devil, and south the Holy Spirit and it is in these directions that the two eyes look. The bishop faces the south in order to invite in and the dean the north in order to shun; the one takes care to be saved, the other takes care not to perish. With these Eyes the cathedral’s face is on watch for the candelabra of Heaven and the darkness of Lethe (oblivion).

After the additions of the Dean’s eye and other major Gothic additions it is believed some mistakes in the support of the tower occurred, for in 1237 the main tower collapsed. A new tower was soon started and in 1255 the Cathedral petitioned Henry III to allow them to take down part of the town wall to enlarge and expand the Cathedral, including the rebuilding of the central tower and spire. They replaced the small rounded chapels (built at the time of St Hugh) with a larger east end to the cathedral. This was to handle the increasing number of pilgrims to the Cathedral, who came to worship at the shrine of Hugh of Lincoln.

Between 1307 and 1311 the central tower was raised to its present height of 271 feet (83 m). The western towers and front of the cathedral were also improved and heightened. At this time, a tall lead-encased wooden spire topped the central tower but was blown down in a storm in 1549. With its spire, the tower reputedly reached a height of 525 feet (160 m).

One of the most well-known stone carvings within the cathedral is the Lincoln Imp. There are several variations of the legend surrounding the figure. According to 14th-century legend, two mischievous imps were sent by Satan to do evil work on Earth. After causing mayhem elsewhere in Northern England the two imps headed to Lincoln Cathedral, where they smashed tables and chairs and tripped up the Bishop. An angel appeared in the Angel Choir and ordered them to stop. One of the imps sat on top of a stone pillar and started throwing rocks at the angel whilst the other cowered under the broken tables and chairs. The angel turned the first imp to stone, allowing the second imp to escape.

Lincolnshire is well known for its pork products including pork pies, pork sausages, and haslet which I mention here:  The chief flavoring for these pork dishes that gives them a distinctively Lincolnshire air is fresh sage.  Let’s turn instead to Lincolnshire plum bread, which once was a Christmas specialty but now can be found throughout the year, and well beyond the confines of Lincolnshire. I like it served toasted with a little butter, but in Lincolnshire it is common to eat plum bread warm in slices with some sharp cheese. Cooks vary as to spices used. Some add allspice or cloves or mixed spice. It’s up to you.

Lincolnshire Plum Bread


2  black tea bags
½ cup dried currants
½ cup golden raisins
½ cup milk, heated to 115°
1 package active dry yeast
¼ cup sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 cups flour
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
½ tsp kosher salt
4 tbsp unsalted butter, softened


Steep the tea bags in 1 ½ cups of boiling water for 10 minutes in a mixing bowl. Remove the tea bags and add the currants and raisins to the tea. Let them sit for 30 minutes, then drain and set aside.

Combine the milk and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Let it sit until foamy (about 5 to 10 minutes). Add the sugar and egg and beat until smooth. Add the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt, and mix on medium speed until a dough forms. Increase the speed to medium-high and knead for 4 minutes. Add the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing until the butter is incorporated after each addition, and continue kneading until the dough is smooth. Add the currants and raisins, and mix until evenly incorporated.

Transfer the dough to a 9″ x 5″ x 2½” loaf pan and cover loosely with a kitchen towel. Let the dough rise until it has doubled in size (about 1½ hours). Check after about 1 hour because the rising is affected by many variables. Use the 2 second test. Press on the dough gently. If it springs back slowly let it rise a little longer. When it springs back in 2 seconds it is ready.

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Bake the loaf until it  is golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Let the loaf cool completely before slicing and serving.