This majestic building, the Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Lincoln, this glorious house of God, is situated high on a hill and can be seen for miles around. The first cathedral at Lincoln was consecrated in 1092 but was damaged by fire shortly thereafter. Its replacement was likewise damaged by an earthquake. The present English Gothic cathedral was finished about 1280 and incorporates the surviving part of the first Romanesque structure. There are more recent additions such as the 14th century misericords, the Wren Library and the Duncan Grant frescoes. The cathedral is chock full of interesting artifacts, of which I'll mention only two: a baptismal font carved with grotesques, thought to be a reminder of original sin washed away in the baptismal waters; and a cadaver tomb of a former bishop, one carving depicting him in lifelike effigy and another depicting his emaciated corpse lying on a shroud and being eyed by a pair of rather hungry looking snails. In recent times the cathedral was one of the locations used for filming The Da Vinci Code.
Lincolnshire people are rightly proud of it. It is their cathedral and constantly reminds us of the glory of God. There are usually four services a day, increasing to six on a Sunday. There is also a crèche and activities for children, and regular public lectures. The cathedral owns one of only four surviving original copies of the 1215 Magna Carta.
Lincoln is a city in the east of England with a population of about 88,000. Its history can be traced back to the Iron Age. After Roman and Viking conquests, the city was known as one of the wealthiest towns in England. These days its population is mainly employed in the public sector, engineering, farming and tourism. It is a university town, with around 10,000 students. The cathedral is in the old part of the city, near the castle and lovely winding streets. There is a very steep hill to climb up to it. You arrive at the top of the hill feeling your heart will burst with exhaustion, then your heart nearly bursts with the glorious cathedral. It's magnificent.
The Rt Revd John Saxbee, Bishop of Lincoln (whose retirement was marked at this service); the Rt Revd David Rossdale, Bishop of Grimsby and Suffragan Bishop of the Diocese of Lincoln; the Rt Revd Timothy William Ellis, Bishop of Grantham and Suffragan Bishop of the Diocese of Lincoln. Preaching was the Very Revd Philip Buckler, dean of Lincoln. The readings were given by Cameron Waite, chairman, House of Laity, and Maximilian Manin, diocescan chief executive. The gospeller was the Revd David Oxtoby, assistant curate, St George's Stamford. The intercessor was the Revd Canon John Patrick, chairman, House of Clergy.
What was the name of the service?Celebration Eucharist to Mark the Retirement of the Rt Revd Dr John Saxbee, Bishop of Lincoln.
How full was the building?
Bulging. Full of all sorts of people, for the bishop mixes so well with everyone. He has a wonderful gift in that he remembers people's names. Civic dignitaries were seated in the front pews, along with Mrs Saxbee and Helen Saxbee, their daughter.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
The dean welcomed the seated congregation.
Was your pew comfortable?
Plastic seat. Uncomfortable after one hour, but not moaning as I was so pleased to be there.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Reverential. That's all you can be in such a glorious setting. The procession entered with a fanfare of organ and trumpets and included the cathedral chapter, the prebendaries, the diocescan regstrar, the precentor, the chancellor, subdean, archdeacons, the dean, and of course Bishop John. (No one ever calls him Bishop Saxbee.)
What were the exact opening words of the service?
The cathedral choir sang Anton Bruckner's Locus Iste. The first words were spoken by the bishop: "In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Special service sheet.
What musical instruments were played?
The cathedral's magnificent organ. Later, the Bishop of Grantham and the U2 Eucharist Band played an organ and keyboard as they sang "May the saints and saviour watch over you" by Sammy Horner, based on a 19th century blessing. The Sanctus was from the Coronation Mass by Mozart, and the Agnus Dei was sung in Latin also to a Mozart setting. Among the communion hymns were Ralph Vaughan Williams' "Love made me welcome" and "If there is to be peace" by Richard Shephard.
Did anything distract you?
You, of course, can't help be distracted by the majestic beauty of the building. Aside from that, the microphone wasn't working for the first reading so people were coming and going fixing it.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
What you would expect from a cathedral. There was also a child's choir and a women's choir as well as the cathedral choir, but of course it was all performed beautifully. The altar was just a mass of people dressed in gold. There was no chanting, but the altar was censed. There were several poignant moments: Bishop John and his wife knelt before the Bishop of Grimsby and were prayed for, after which Bishop John escorted his wife back to her seat. Later he handed over his crosier to the chaplain and was given one his brother-in-law had made for him as a symbol of his continuing episcopal ministry in retirement.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
Didn't time it, but it was very good.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10 – Dean Buckler's sermon was informative, funny and sincere.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The dean reviewed the ministry of Bishop John and his wife Jackie. It was the dean's tribute to a very fine bishop and his wife. Bishop John came from humble beginnings, from Knowle West in Bristol. He is a photographer, a wing walker, and a stunt man. He loves the long-running BBC soap opera The EastEnders and the Bristol City football club. He hates meringues. He has a seat in the House of Lords. His is a very deep faith. His leadership, but above all his humour (he often made us laugh in his sermons), will be greatly missed.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Music, surroundings, receiving communion. Bishop John's passion for Lincolnshire and its people. Also, the lovely way he tells a tale. I can't remember the exact words, but he said that when he was taking over from the bishop before him, he was advised that he was coming to so many square miles of land and bugger all else!
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Microphone not working. Maybe the coming and going of so many stewards. Inevitable, I suppose. I also felt uncomfortable about a woman I thought was going to go up to the altar and present the bishop with something unofficially. She apparently caught the attention of the vergers as well, as they seemed to be keeping an eye on her. Worst of all, I recognised her as someone from my congregation back home (I don't think she spotted me, though).
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
This didn't apply. The recessional was the hymn "Guide me, O thou great Redeemer". After the bishop had left, refreshments were brought to everyone in their seats: wine or fruit juice and biscuits. Quite an accomplishment considering how full the cathedral was! Then the bishop came back for a presentation made by the Revd Canon Robin Whitehead, priest of St Botolphs, Boston, Lincolnshire.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
It wasn't like that see above.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 – It's my "mother church" and I love it. If I hadn't duties elsewhere I would consider making it my regular place of worship.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
It could not fail to do that. So many people gathered to say good-bye to a fantastic bishop and his wife.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The ceremony brought tears to my eyes. I would just like to say to "Mr Bish": maybe I will see you again one day. Never forget where you came from; I know you won't. Thank you from us all.