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  1. If you visit the city of Lincoln, you won’t be able to miss the cathedral. Standing on top of a hill (the walk up to it is named “Steep Hill” – it’s not an exaggeration!) the cathedral dominates the skyline. The climb up the hill is well worth it though, as it brings you through little medieval streets in to a small square, and the cathedral itself with a medieval gate in front of it.

    It’s Up, It’s Down, It’s Up AgainStained glass window, Lincoln Cathedral

    Lincoln Cathedral has had a bit of a history of falling down. The first cathedral was built after the Norman Conquest, with completion in 1092. A fire in 1141 destroyed the roof, which led to an opportunity to expand and rebuild, but an earthquake in 1185 destroyed most of the building. St Hugh of Lincoln was appointed as bishop after the earthquake, and a new period of rebuilding began from 1192.

    Disaster struck again in 1237, when the main tower collapsed, probably due to poor support when it was originally built. The loss of the tower gave an opportunity for further expansion, St Hugh’s burial in the cathedral had led to an increase in pilgrim visits, and more space was needed. More building work was carried out in the 14th century, including increasing the height of the central tower to 271.

    Lincoln does not appear to have suffered too badly under Henry VIII, although a storm in 1548 did lead to the collapse of the spire that had been raised on the central tower. The worst damage was done during Cromwell’s time, when Lincoln was besieged by Cromwell’s forces. Restorations and new building work were carried out from the mid-17th century onwards, including the building of the Wren Library and the installation of bells in the central tower, which ring every quarter hour.

    Memorials and GlassEleanor of Castile, Lincoln Cathedral Tomb

    The Victorian restoration led to a new collection of stained glass being installed in the cathedral, especially in the windows along the nave, which show the usual Old and New Testament scenes. There’s also several memorial windows, such as the one dedicated to Robert Parker and Arthur Malcolm Cook, both canons and subdeans of the cathedral.

    Multiple Bishops of Lincoln have been buried in the Cathedral, and their carved tombs can be found dotted around the building. Up past the altar you can also find the viscera tomb of Eleanor of Castile, wife of King Edward I. Eleanor died a few miles away from Lincoln and was brought to the city to be embalmed before her remains were returned to London. The embalming process at the time included removing the internal organs, an in Eleanor’s case hers were buried in the cathedral. Her widower had a tomb raised in the cathedral, identical the one built for her in Westminster Abbey, although the effigy in place is a 19th century replica, the original was destroyed in the 17th century.

    Another memorial that was damaged during the Civil War, although one that hasn’t been restored and thus is now very unassuming, is the tomb chest of Katherine Swynford. A former Duchess of Lancaster as the former mistress and third wife of John of Gaunt, Katherine’s tomb was raised by her daughter Joan Beaufort, which was buried in a smaller tomb next to her mother. Before the damage the tombs had brass effigies of both Katherine and Joan, and were decorated with their heraldic symbols. Nowadays two plain stone chests, placed end to end instead of side to side, are all that remain.

    Lincoln Cathedral has continued to need serious restoration work over the years. The west front in particular has had a lot of work carried out. The cathedral is well worth a visit, a ticket can be purchased for £8 and entitles to you to a second visit within 6 months. Alternatively if you can’t visit but would like to donate to their restoration projects, you can do so here.

  2. Although most of this blog series has focused on English churches, there are also a few Italian churches I've visited as well. Today we have the church of Santa Maria in Trastavere. Quite close to another famous Trastavere church, St Cecilia, St Maria doesn't have any evocative sculpture, but does have some beautiful art.St Maria in Trastavere

    The church is one of the oldest in Rome. It's believed to have been founded in 221 by Pope Callixtus I, and has been rebuilt several times since. Most of the current structure dates from the mid-12th century, when Pope Innocent II had the old church pulled down and rebuilt using materials from the Baths of Caracalla. Many centuries later some of these materials (the pillars in the church) were defaced when pagan images of Roman and Egyptian gods were identified on them.

    The covered portico at the front of the church is very interesting, as the walls are inlaid with Roman and medieval inscriptions and grave markers. These are apparently fragments of the original churches that were on this spot, and they given an interesting insight in to the people that worshipped and were buried here hundreds of years ago. You could spend a good few hours alone photographing and translating the Roman inscriptions and images along the front.

    The inside of the church features a series of beautiful 13th century mosaics by the artist Pietro Cavallini. The heavy use of gilt in the mosaics makes the whole end of the church glow. As you 'd expect from a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the mosaics depict scenes from her life, such the annunciation. There's also a series of 16th century frescoes, particularly in one of the chapels, where the Council of Nicaea is depicted.

    Among the notable burials at this church is Cardinal Lorenzo Campeggio. Cardinal Campeggio has an important part in England's history, as he was the legate sent to England to rule on the validity of the marriage between Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon.

  3. Thriplow church stands on a small hill overlooking the Cambridgeshire countryside, close to the site of a Bronze Age tumulus (burial mound). The current church dates from the 13th century, as records show it was “given” to Peterhouse (the earliest College in Cambridge) in 1284. However Thriplow has been in existence since before the Norman invasion, so the current building was probably erected in place of an earlier Anglo-Saxon church. The font is believed to date from the Norman period, and some pillars and windows also suggest Norman origins.Thriplow Church, Cambridgeshire

    The Thriplow Society notes that the church was used several times as a place of sanctuary by people accused of committing crimes. Possibly the most shocking one they report is that of Peter de Cambere, who killed a young boy “when shooting arrows” – no indication if he was practising archery or deliberately firing them at people! He claimed sanctuary in the church, possibly from a mob intent on revenge, and eventually chose to go in to exile as punishment for his crime.

    In later centuries Thriplow was once again a target – but not for sanctuary. The church was one of many in the area visited by famous iconoclast William Dowsing, who travelled around Cambridgeshire and Suffolk mutilating any church that contained what he considered to be “Popish” symbols. Thriplow was damaged, Dowsing kept an extensive diary where he noted the work he carried out and mentions Thriplow in it.

    A south porch was added in the 18th century, and several of the memorials in the church date from this time. But in the following decades the church suffered from neglect, the British History website shows a list of parish vicars who were in charge of several other parish churches at the time, and since Thriplow was so small it appears to have been used for special services, instead of a regular communion. It didn’t help that Thriplow also appears to have a high proportion of dissenters, who refused to attend the Anglican church. Frequent services, including Sunday schools, began to be held in the early part of the 19th century, and Sir Gilbert Scott was employed by Peterhouse to carry out a restoration during the late 1800’s. This included rebuilding the 18th century porch and replacing the roof, which was then painted, as it would have been before the Reformation.

    Like Anstey church in Hertfordshire, Thriplow is built in a cruciform shape, with a central tower that holds a peal of five bells. Although it’s quite plain inside, it does have some interesting memorials (including two 13th century coffins), and the village itself is nice to walk around. If you’re interested in the history of Thriplow and the church, a Daffodil Festival is held every year (2017 will be 18 & 19 March) and includes talks held in the church itself.

  4. There’s a reason why Thaxted church is sometimes referred to as “the cathedral of Essex”. Sited on a hill, and with a tower that’s 181 feet high, the church of St John is far bigger than most parish churches in the area, and as a result it dominates the landscape.Thaxted Church, Essex

    The church was built in the 14th century, although there may have been one on the same site dating from Anglo-Saxon times. Thanks to a nearby Royal hunting lodge the church had more than its share of connections to the English Royal family. Lionel Duke of Clarence, son of King Edward III and Philippa of Hainault, paid for the erection of the south porch. Several generations later a north porch was added, this time arranged and paid for by King Edward IV. There is also a stained glass window with fragments showing a knight, which is believed to be Lionel’s son-in-law, Edmund Mortimer, 3rd Earl of March.

    Edmund isn’t the only stained glass fragment, several windows are made up with fragments of medieval stained glass. During the Reformation, stained glass was smashed, as the bright colours were considered to be another symbol of Catholicism. English churches were to be plain churches, and that included replacing the windows with clear glass. In some parishes, the local priest or parishioners would gather up the fragments and either bury it, or store it somewhere for safe keeping. Years later these fragments were rediscovered, and some churches had them reset in to new windows. In most cases the fragments are too small to be used for anything other than a jumble of colours, but in Thaxted some care has been taken to put together the more identifiable pieces. This includes the knight, believed to be Edmund, several saints, and Adam and Eve.

    Like many churches, Thaxted was part of the Victorian revival. The biggest evidence of this comes in more stained glass, several windows were replaced with designs by the Victorian glazer C.E.Kempe. One window depicts a series of images depicting notable church donors, including King Edward IV. Another Victorian addition is the largest of Thaxted’s three organs, which was built in London 1820 but moved to the church from St John’s Chapel, Bedford Row in London, in 1858. This organ was restored in 2014, after years of being virtually unplayable.

    I also really liked the various memorials that were dotted around the church, particularly the very old ones on the floor. There’s a medieval brass depicting a priest, and one memorial that particularly caught my eye was a grave slab from the 17th century, listing all the deceased children of John Rayner, and highlighting that his wife Elizabeth was the mother of 13!

  5. Yesterday's post on Reed was about the Anglo-Saxon features of the church, when I started writing this I didn't realise the next day would be similar! The beautiful church St Bene't stands in the middle of Cambridge, where many people walk by it without realising how old it is. In fact it's the oldest church in Cambridgeshire, and boasts an Anglo-Saxon tower!015AA

    The actual date when St Bene't's (the unusual name is a contraction of St Benedict) was founded is unknown, but was probably built around 1020, during the reign of King Cnut. Despite Cambridge's history as a college town, the church was one for the locals until the 1350s, when land just behind the church was purchased and used to build a new college - Corpus Christi. The first building, now known as "Old Court", ended up being the College's only building due to an on-going lack of funds. As a result there was no college chapel until the 16th century, and neighbouring St Bene't became the College's place of worship.

    The tower isn't the only remaining Anglo-Saxon feature, inside the church the tower doorway is an arch dating from the 11th century, and parts of the walls (especially the corners) are also Anglo-Saxon. Other parts of the church, namely the chancel and nave, were remodelled or rebuilt in the 14th century. Most of the bells in the tower date from the 1600s, and the church went through the usual Victorian restoration during the 19th century. If you step through the main church door and look up you'll see a series of painted wooden angels on the ceiling, probably done during the restoration.

    St Benet's is free to enter and holds services every day. If you're already visiting Corpus Christi, go and see their old spiritual home too!