Saturday dawned bright and beautiful and we made a fairly early… if somewhat leisurely… start, heading out towards Bakewell for Stuart to visit the church there where I had found such treasures a couple of weeks ago. It doesn’t take long by car, and we didn’t have to stop for supplies of Bakewell tarts as I had stocked up on the way through on the Thursday… honestly, I had to… though we did manage to acquire a Bakewell pudding….
Even though I had spent a fair bit of time exploring on my own, there was still a huge amount to discover, including some forlorn looking stained glass stacked in a side chapel full of medieval and Tudor tombs that looked as if it was being used as a storeroom. I’m never happy about that. I know that churches are not built with huge amounts of storage space, but to see plastic chairs and boxes of stuff piled amongst the ancient dead seems disrespectful somehow. And if they don’t want those stained glass panels I’d happily give them a good home….
From Bakewell we headed out for the main event of the day… a visit to Lincoln Cathedral. There may have been a pause for refreshment on the way… largely because there was a pub called The Fox in a village with what looked like a superb church. There were buzzards flying overhead, a random ancient head in the pub garden and a white horse eyeing us pointedly… so we were expecting something special in the little church on the mound. It was frustrating to find it locked… but perhaps we had found what we had come for in the recurring symbol of the weekend, carved into a gravestone by the door. Whatever the reason, we found we had one of the rituals for the April workshop pretty much written by the end of the trip. Inspiration comes in its own time.
We continued, passing through Sherwood Forest. If we’d had time the great Major Oak there would have been a stopping place, but it deserves more than a rushed visit. It has stood sentinel in the forest for almost a thousand years.
As Lincolnshire… the ancient kingdom of Lindsey… opened up its tableau of flatlands and sky the cathedral on its hilltop dominated the skyline. This too has stood for the best part of a thousand years… and somehow that throws the lifespan of the ancient tree into perfect relief. We parked easily and although there were others there, the town was quiet even for a Saturday in February.
It took a while to make it to the door, as there was a constant flow of ‘oh wow’ as we looked at the carvings, new and old, that smother the graceful building. Paul Ellis is the man responsible for many of the more intricate modern pieces, and his ‘Greed’ was one of the first we saw. He and the team of craftsmen reinstate the ancient carvings when possible with exact copies… make in exactly the same way and with the same skill as they were all those hundreds of years ago. When there is nothing of the weathered stone left they have the freedom to be creative, replacing the lost work with something in the spirit of old, and this, to me, is a beautiful way of watching the history unfold and evolve.
The western façade of the building is just incredible and I think it would take a lifetime to study all the carvings on there alone. From friezes to statues to heads and dragons… if the building was built to inspire awe, that façade is still working.
There was organ music playing as we entered the cavernous interior. Light streamed through the huge windows, casting a mosaic of colour on the floor. I began documenting the windows and carvings in a futile attempt to capture as much as I could…it was a research trip after all… but it very soon became apparent that the camera would die before I got everything.
So, the camera stayed at my side most of the time and with eyes wide open we tried to take in the grandeur of a bygone age. From the ancient beasts of the font to the vaulted ceilings… from the intricate stone carvings to the great rose windows north and south… to the wooden lacework of St Hugh’s choir, to the murals…. It is simply too much. You would have to live in the place to be able to see every detail. It crossed my mind I would like the opportunity to dust the place, just so I could get up close and personal with all the detail…. But a quick flick round with the duster here would also take a lifetime.
Encased within the ancient there is the new… modern artworks are framed within the delicate tracery of stone, murals a mere hundred or so years old decorate the walls, legends grow in stone and glass and even the bosses that support the points of the vaulting tell stories.
We may not have had the same ‘feel’ here as we do in our little old churches nestled quietly in sleepy hamlets, but it was an awesome place nevertheless. And that was the point of it, of course… to inspire awe… a place where political, secular and spiritual power met in unassailable glory. If it can do that today, how much more so when it was first conceived… standing the tallest building in the world for so many years. Awesome? Yes.