Writing Medieval Lincoln -Lincoln Cathedral

I am standing at the top of the observatory tower of Lincoln Castle eyeing the streets of Lincoln and the magnificent Cathedral. What a fine setting for a novel, don’t you think? Yes, so did I, which is how Sir Stephan l’Aigle ends up in Lincoln in 1193 in For King and Country. But, the observatory tower didn’t exist back then. And Lincoln Cathedral? It was pretty much a pile of rubble after an earthquake rocked the area in 1185.¹

Writers want to place the reader in the shoes of the main characters so they see, hear, smell, and feel a place. It can be a bit challenging when writing historical fiction, and sometimes daunting – have I missed a source that would give more accurate information about this place and time? The reader familiar with the time period and location may put my novel aside if I screwed up, or at least, they might be temporarily thrown out of the story. Not a good thing!

I never intended for Stephan to enter the Cathedral, but I was curious. Would I need to mention it, especially given its proximity (about .2 of a mile) to the Castle? I had to do some sleuthing to discover if Hugh, elected as Bishop of Lincoln in 1186, had started reconstruction. Did the Cathedral look like this in 1193 when Stephan visits Lincoln Castle?

Would the interior look at all similar to the photos I snapped in September?

Were the flying buttresses built?

The answers to these questions: “No.” Bishop Hugh, who was canonized after his death, did begin raising money to rebuild this magnificent building in 1186 and construction was underway by the end of 1192.

timeline of 11-13th century construction – signage is part of the Cathedral experience and the photo is  copyright Sharon Connolly; used with permission

The original church dates back to 1072, a few short years after the Norman Conquest, and the signage shows renditions of the structure before and after the earthquake. I think I was safe to assume that there was little there in 1193 that resembled a cathedral. Stephan arrived under cover of darkness and departed rather quickly  – he probably wouldn’t have noticed anyway…


¹ “The damage to Lincoln cathedral has been debated. “… the extent of the damage is an inference from the other parts of the building which show no vestige of other earlier work. What has survived [of the pre-earthquake building] is the lower central part of the west end and the lower part of its two attached angle towers.”

Image credits

All photos, except where noted, are the author’s own, and are licensed for re-use under CC BY-SA.

See more of photos of Lincoln Cathedral on my FLICKR page.

  1. Sharon Bennett Connolly Avatar

    Great post, Char. 🙂

    1. Char Avatar

      I am so ready to go back, Sharon!

  2. writerchristophfischer Avatar

    A great post. I live closer to Lincoln than you and feel I am put to shame here 😉
    Fantastic pictures!

    1. Char Avatar

      Ha! I think that’s a common issue – my Mom grew up in Staten Island, NY, with a view of the Statue of Liberty. She didn’t visit the site until she was 21. I have traveled to many cities in the UK since 2008 and my British friends frequently say that I have seen more of their country than they have. 🙂

  3. Anna Belfrage Avatar

    That Cathedral must qualify as one of the wonders of the world. And as to Stephan, I bet he’d tread lightly over the rubble 😉

    1. Char Avatar

      He might at that! 🙂

  4. jadey36 Avatar

    I’ve driven past Lincoln a couple of times, but have failed to actually visit Lincoln itself. I must remedy this one day! Great post, Char.

    1. Char Avatar

      The medieval part of the town is wonderful – just make sure you do the audio tour in the Cathedral to get the most of it. We did a guided tour of the Castle. It was good, but the guide mostly concentrated on the history post-1400. I’ll be doing a separate post on the Castle and the Medieval Bishop’s Palace soon.

  5. Chris Avatar

    Wow, I had NO idea there’d been an earthquake there post-the Norman conquest. To my shame, as I’ve spent many hours in there, I love the place. I also see by the photos that the inner-walls have been cleaned up. I wrote a blog post about the same process having taken place in the cathedral is Chartres, France, and the effect it had on me, as part of my ‘Writers are Ghost Hunters’ series which ended up in my book ’22 daydreams’….

    I must show you sometime, to see if you agree.

    Great stuff, Char.

    1. Char Avatar

      Yes, you must point me to your post. I’d love to read it. I write, but sometimes cannot find the words to explain what comes over me when I see extraordinary places like this or the ruins of a medieval castle. I sit and stare at the walls, the ceiling, every crevice, every sculpture, and get teary or choked up inside.

      1. Chris Avatar

        Oh, we need to talk. The thing is, they were posts which were on my old website, which I lost – long story – hence the new one. I could post them again at some point. That being said – this isn’t a plug, I’m really interested in what you’ve said – but if you can afford 99 cents, both posts, ‘Writers are Ghost-hunters’, parts 1 & 2, are in here, I honestly think you’d enjoy reading them: http://amzn.to/2flrkow

        1. Char Avatar

          Will check those out, Chris! So sad you lost posts on the old website. Heartbreaking!

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