What is now the town of Lincoln in Lincolnshire, England was settled more than two thousand years ago and, in the first century C.E., it became the capital of the Roman province that covered eastern England. Flourishing during the medieval period as an inland port and a center of wool production, the ton was visited by pilgrims and became home t several communities of friars. They were drawn to the region by its cathedral, the third largest in England, consecrated in 1092 and reconstructed one hundred years later in the Gothic style. Today, its looming towers still command the view above a medieval town center making Lincoln a valuable destination for an aspiring art historian particularly interested in the later Middle Ages. During the summer of 2005, I sent eight weeks working in the Lincoln Cathedral Library, which gave me the rare opportunity to live in this region of extraordinary history while assisting with a project that would itself expend my knowledge of medieval culture and art.
The libraries of the Lincoln Cathedral contain manuscripts that date far back as one thousand years. The Medieval Library was built in the 1420’s and is now used for regular exhibitions of books and manuscripts. The Wren Library, designed by Sir Christopher Wren and completed in 1675, houses an important collection of early printed books. My project was to create a computer database classifying the woodcuts from the library’s holdings of incunabula and early printed books. It is estimated that around five hundred of the books printed before 1535 contain woodcuts. I compared these images with those catalogued in Edward Hodnett’s English Woodcuts, 1480 to 1535. This involved digital photography of the woodcuts and the creation of subject fields to enable cross-referencing.
The librarians arranged a visit to the Cathedral Works Department, where we were shown around the stonemason’s workshop and were allowed to see pieces of the Dean’s Eye rose window on the light box. I attended cathedral concerts, Shakespeare plays and a study day in the Wren Library. On the weekends, I traveled to London, York, Nottingham, and Haworth (the home of the lovely Bronte sisters). I took a trip to Cambridge with the library staff and visited King’ College Chapel and the Wren Library at Trinity College.
My summer work inspired my choice of thesis topic – I am now writing on a subject involving fifteenth and sixteenth century woodcut images. But, what I learned from my internship that was the most lasting came from my experience of the cathedral itself. I remember seeing Lincoln’s towering West Front for the first time, not over the rooftops of the town but as an image projected in a darkened Bryn Mawr classroom. Until I spent a summer in Lincoln, I had not truly realized that its Gothic monument was in fact still the center of so many lives. In the morning, choir men walked their dogs around the circling drive and stonemasons walked the roof. Organ music often drifted into the cloister where students from the Minster School took their lunches. Many of my co-workers, as children, had played rowdy games dangerously close to the chapter house windows. In the short time I’d spent working in the cathedral library, I grew to love this town in eastern England and was fortunate to be among those people whose faith and care had sustained this place for more than a thousand years.