At first blush, anyone hearing the name “University of Lincoln” might automatically think of our 16th president. The truth lies, however, in a reverse trajectory; Abraham Lincoln’s family name can be traced to an English town whose roots are ancient but whose institution of higher learning is relatively new.
Founded in 1996, the University of Lincoln has moved quickly to establish itself as a research-driven institution of international significance.
Located on the southern shore of the Brayford Pool, a natural lake in the center of the city, the campus, which looks almost like a floating island framed by moored sailing vessels, recently hosted the third annual conference on 21st-century writing in English.
That is how my USCA colleague Andrew Geyer and I found ourselves in Lincoln last month; we were introducing a host of European and Asian scholars to the concept of a composite short story anthology as exemplified by our ground-breaking, co-edited volume entitled “A Shared Voice,” published by Lamar University Press and listed as a Foreword Magazine Book of the Year Finalist.
Almost two hours by rail north of London, the town of Lincoln is still dominated by its medieval cathedral and castle, both built by the Normans in the 11th century on a hill fortified by the Romans almost a thousand years earlier. When we were not entangled in the conference schedule, Andrew and Emily Geyer – she teaches English at Aiken High – Michael Budd, and I explored the principal attractions of this picturesque city.
First and foremost is the cathedral, which has been a place of pilgrimage since it was completed around 1092. Even if we were not staying in such proximity to this massive structure, the four of us had rooms in the Old Palace, which had once been the residence of the bishop but is now a boutique hotel – no one in Lincoln can ignore the cathedral. It soars above the city, not only because of its impressive position on top of Castle Hill but also because of its three towers, two on the western front and one in the center. That central tower reputedly made the cathedral the tallest building in the world for more than 200 years during the 14th and 15th centuries.
Construction was supervised by Hugh of Avalon, who was named Bishop of Lincoln in 1186 and eventually made a saint partially because of the almost miraculous swiftness of the building process. He is also said to be the protector of sick people and swans; regarding the latter, his biographers tell of how he befriended a white swan that followed him about the city and ate from his hand. The tomb of St. Hugh beneath the East Window was the popular goal of religious pilgrims until the Reformation, when Henry VIII disbanded the monasteries and confiscated the treasures of the church. All that remains today is the elaborately carved base that once served as a foundation for the reliquary that contained his head.
An equally interesting resting place, also under the East Window at the back of the cathedral behind the choir, is the visceral tomb of Eleanor of Castile. She was the first wife of Edward I, nicknamed “Longshanks” because he was so tall. Historians record that Edward and Eleanor were devoted to one another. She died from a fever following her 16th pregnancy; at the time of her death, Eleanor was about 20 miles from Lincoln, traveling north to join her royal husband. Because medieval embalming required the removal of internal organs, most of her viscera were removed and entombed separately in Lincoln Cathedral while her embalmed body was transported south to London where it was entombed in Westminster Abbey. At every stop in that sad last journey, Edward I erected a cross, known popularly as an Eleanor Cross. Three of the twelve still stand. The London locale known as Charing Cross is named for one of the crosses now lost.
Kathryn Swynford is also buried in the cathedral; she was the third wife of John of Gaunt and the sister-in-law of Geoffrey Chaucer. She figures prominently in a fascinating mystery-thriller that I’ve just finished reading, “The Burnable Book” by Bruce Holsinger.
Directly opposite the cathedral is one of the best preserved Norman castles in England. Built by William the Conqueror in 1068, the castle played a major part in two battles, the first involving the struggle between King Stephen and Empress Maud in the twelfth century and the other involving the conflict between King John and his barons in the 13th century. As a tourist attraction, the castle is also noteworthy for a later addition to its enclosed grounds, prison buildings dating from the 18th and 19th centuries. The castle is now undergoing refurbishment; when this work is complete, visitors will be able to circumnavigate the walls – only two sides were open at the time we toured the castle – and see one of only four original copies of the Magna Carta, to be showcased in a specially designed underground vault.
In the next two weeks, I am going to take my readers to two more locations in the center of England. The first is Chatsworth, the ancestral home of the Cavendish family made famous by the film “The Duchess,” starring Keira Knightley as Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, and Ralph Fiennes as the Fifth Duke. The second is the birthplace of one of the leading lights of modern British literature, the author D.H. Lawrence.
A recipient of the prestigious Carolina Trustee Professorship, Dr. Mack currently holds the G.L. Toole Chair at the University of South Carolina Aiken.
Submitted photo The west front of the cathedral.×
Submitted photo The east gate of the castle is pictured.×
Submitted photo Pictured is the interior of the cathedral (nave).×
Submitted photo The Bailgate faces the west front of the cathedral.×
Submitted photo Pictured is the visceral tomb of Eleanor of Castile.×