Friday, December 28, 2018


An old favourite

I’m sometimes asked which is my favourite among England’s fine group of cathedrals. I start by giving an evasive answer that goes a bit like this: I like Durham for the majestic Norman architecture of its interior, York for its stained glass, Southwell for the dazzling carving in the chapter house, Ely for the unprecedented ‘lantern’ crossing, Gloucester for the vaulting, Wells for the west front, Salisbury for the spire. But I also add that more than any of these* my favourite is Lincoln cathedral. It has so much: a hilltop setting that makes is visible for miles,† three towers of surpassing elegance, a masterful interior in which different stones are combined effectively, good misericords, and excellent carving in the Angel Choir and elsewhere. And, well, I was born in Lincolnshire, and I just like it.

It’s one of those cathedrals that’s also linked in my mind to music, partly because I’ve had some cherished visits when the choir has been singing. The accidental experience of a musical performance can be one of the best kinds of musical experience there can be and I’ve been bowled over by impromptu organ recitals and orchestral rehearsals in Gloucester cathedral and a mesmerising piano trio in Oxford’s small secretive cathedral tucked away within the vast college of Christchurch. Lincoln is also linked in my mind with William Byrd, one of England’s greatest composers, who was organist and master of the choristers in the 1650s and 70s.

So I’m not going to go on about the magnificent architecture of Lincoln cathedral, which deserves a whole book to itself, never mind a blog post. I’ll limit my comments to saying simply, if you’ve not been: go; if you’ve been: go again. Without further ado, I’ll offer below some music by the great William Byrd, with my very best wishes to all my readers.

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*And more indeed that the sometimes surprising architecture of Canterbury, than Lichfield with its three graceful spires, than Peterborough with its dramatic front, than Norwich, than Winchester, than domed St Paul’s, all wonderful, but…

† Almost as good as the setting of Durham.

William Byrd, Ave Verum Corpus, sung by the Tallis Scholars 

1 comment:

Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

I suppose the definition of a fine cathedral is that although you've been there, you still can't believe in the reality of it. I walked round York Minster really slowly and took photos, but still can't quite believe it. Gloucester I've seen many times, but on a recent visit was impressed again by its sheer presence. Alas, I didn't go inside Lincoln, but I did labour up the veritable mountain it's on and had a good look at the outside. Photos again, and lots of standing to assess what a photo would look like - and still if you compare it with even the largest parish churches in the town, you can't imagine how it got there. Norwich bucks the trend of flint-using Norfolk: every last piece of stone brought from Caen, all used generously,and one amazing storey piled on top of another.In a different category to modest country churches with round flint towers: again you wonder at the sheer boundless aspiration of the builders. And people accuse the Middle Ages of being primitive, backward, etc.?