Lincoln Cathedral: A brief history

Lincoln Cathedral in 2016

Lincoln Cathedral can trace its origins back to William the Conqueror.

After the Battle of Hastings in 1066, William, Duke of Normandy became King William 1 of England (more commonly known as William the Conqueror. The following years were spent by William having to fight rebellious natives across the land.

To consolidate his power he built a series of castles, including the one at Lincoln.

One of William’s supporters was a Benedictine monk called Remegius.


As a reward for his loyalty, William made Remegius the first Norman Bishop of Dorchester (the largest diocese in England, extending from the Humber to the Thames).

In order to consolidate Norman power further in the north, it was decided to transfer the centre of ecclesiastical power from Dorchester to Lincoln, and Remegius was ordered to build a cathedral in Lincoln.

The new cathedral was built on the site of an existing church, but unfortunately Remegius died just hours before its consecration in 1092.

Over the next hundred years, Lincoln Cathedral experienced a series of unfortunate mishaps, including a fire in about 1141 which caused extensive damage, and an earthquake in 1185 which destroyed all but the West Front and the twin towers of the cathedral.

The fortunes of the cathedral are perceived to have been turned around by the appointment of Hugh of Avalon as Bishop of Lincoln in 1186. Bishop Hugh was a devout man, famed for his sense of justice and wisdom.

Despite his piety, he was a strong leader who was not afraid of standing up to the monarch of the day, be it King Henry ll, King Richard l (Richard the Lionheart), or King John. This made him very popular with his flock if not with his king!

In 1192, he oversaw the building of a magnificent new, Gothic-style cathedral using such state-of-the-art architectural features as flying buttresses, ribbed vaults and pointed arches. This is the cathedral we see today.

As with Remegius over a hundred years earlier, Bishop Hugh did not live to see the new cathedral consecrated.

Hugh died in 1200 and was buried in his beloved unfinished cathedral. Pilgrims who came to worship at his tomb reported experiencing miracles of healing. So frequent were these reports of miracles that in 1220, Hugh was canonised a saint.

On 6th October 1280, the body of Saint Hugh was reinterred in the newly built Angel Choir. Such was the importance of this ceremony, King Edward l and Queen Eleanor attended. The revenue from pilgrims attending the shrine of St Hugh made the cathedral very wealthy.

Lincoln Cathedral’s third famous bishop is Robert Grosseteste, who was one of the most prominent scholars of the 13th Century.

A philosopher and theologian, he first became Chancellor of Oxford University and then Bishop of Lincoln in 1235. As a reformer and evangelical, if he saw abuses of power he was not afraid of opposing the great and the good, whether they be the Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral, the King, or the Pope.

Just like with St Hugh, this made him popular with his flock but not with those in power.

In the 14th century, the central tower and the two western towers were raised in height. Wooden spires were added, making Lincoln the tallest building in the world for over 200 years!

The following centuries have been much less turbulent for Lincoln Cathedral.

As with all ancient buildings, restoration work is an on-going feature.  In recent years, the Bishop’s Eye and the Dean’s Eye, magnificent circular stained glass windows, have been restored to their full glory.

Hollywood came to Lincoln Cathedral when parts of both the Da Vinci Code (in which the cathedral acted as a ‘body double’ for Westminster Abbey) and The Young Victoria, were filmed in The Chapter House.

Not since Edward l held an English Parliament there has the Chapter House seen such excitement!

Visiting Lincoln Cathedral in person? Read our Top 10 Things To Do in Lincoln Cathedral.