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Hugh Bishop Of Lincoln by Charles L. Marson

CHAPTER VIII HUGH THE BUILDER

The strong personality of the man, his boldness and sagacity combined, come out in his building as clearly as in his conduct; but since the learned are very litigious upon the questions of his architecture, the reader must have indulgence in his heart and a salt cellar in his hand, when he approaches this subject.

First of all we must remember that in his age it was part of the education of a gentleman to know something about building. Hugh's grandfather must have built the old keep of Avalon Castle, which still stands above the modern chateau, and a family whose arms are, on a field or the eagle of the empire sable, were builders, both of necessity and of choice. When every baron, or at least every baron's father, had built himself a castle, planned and executed under his own eye; when King Richard in person could plan and superintend the building of his great Castle Saucy, the Chateau Gaillard, it is not wonderful that Hugh also should be ready and willing to do much in stone and mortar. Then, again, he must have had some architectural training at the Grande Chartreuse. The first buildings of wood were overthrown in 1126 by an avalanche, and Guigo, the fifth prior, had refounded the whole buildings after that date. The upper church, since then a chapter house, was built in Romanesque style, with round arches, two rose windows, and three sanctuary windows with wide splays. In 1150 Humbert, Count of Savoy, founded a beautiful chapel and a guest house for visitors; and even later than this there is a good deal of building going on at the lower house, farm buildings, guest house, and possibly even a church during the very time that Hugh was monk and procurator. Even if he took no personal part in any of these last works, he must have known and heard much of the art from men, who had done or were doing it. But it would not be rash to conclude that he had an apprenticeship in building before he set foot on English soil, and as well by education as by inheritance knew something of this work.

Next we must bear in mind that every stone would, if possible, have a mystic signification. For some reason or other this notion makes the modern man impatient; but this impatience does not alter the facts, but only obscures their explanation. Everybody knows that the three eastern lights mean, as they did to St. Barbara, the blessed Trinity; but few people recognize that all numbers, whether in beams, pillars, sides, arches, or decoration had a well recognised symbolism, which had come down, hall-marked by St. Augustine and St. Bernard, to the building and worshipping generations of those and much later days.

What was done at Witham we cannot now fully tell, for everything has perished of the upper house. The monks' church would be of stone, and probably was very like the present Friary Church. The cells certainly would be of wood in the second stage, for they were of |weeps,| as we have seen, in the first. This part of the Charterhouse we have concluded stood in a field now called |Buildings,| but now so-called without visible reason.

Round the present Friary Church there were the houses of the original inhabitants, a little removed from their foreign intruders; not quite a mile away, as at Hinton, where the two houses are thus divided, but yet something near three quarters of that distance.

When the inhabitants were removed to Knap in North Curry and elsewhere, they took their old rafters with them or sold these. Their walls seem to have been of mud and wattle, or of some unsaleable stuff, and these, no doubt, served for a time for the lay brethren, after a little trimming and thatching. But their church had to be looked to before it could serve for the worship of the conversi. The old inhabitants (near two hundred, Mr. Buckle thinks, rather generously), were still there up to Hugh's time, and if their church was like their houses the wooden roof was much decayed and the walls none of the best. Hugh resolved upon a stone vault of the Burgundian type, followed at the Grande Chartreuse, and he therefore had to thicken the walls by an extra case. The building was next divided into three parts, with doors from the north and west, so that men might seek refuge in the Holy Trinity from the dark of the world and its setting suns. The stone roof is supported upon small semi-octagonal vaulting shafts, ending in truncated corbels. This fondness for the number eight, which reappears markedly at Lincoln, has to do with St. Augustine's explanations that eight (the number next to seven, the number of creation and rest) signifies the consummation of all things and Doomsday. Four is the number of the outer world, with its seasons and quarters; three of the soul of man, the reflection of God; and eight, therefore, which comes after the union of these, is judgment and eternal life. Hugh was, no doubt, his own architect (if such a word is not an anachronism here), but he employed Somerset builders, who left the mark of English custom upon this otherwise peculiar and continental looking building. The leper window has been noticed above. The only other building at Witham which pretends to bear traces of Hugh's hand is the guest house, and this, as we have seen, may be at bottom the very house where Hugh hob-a-nobbed with King Henry.

The same style, the same severity, the same sacramental feeling no doubt marked the Conventual Church, and it is sad to think what great and pathetic memories perished with its destruction. If only the pigstyes and barns built out of these old stones could have been the richer for what was lost in the transit, they would have been the richest of their kind. For Hugh turned to this his first great work in the house of Martha with a peculiar relish, which was that of a lover more than of a man who had merely heaped up stones against the wind. If Lincoln was his Leah, Witham was his dear Rachael. Hither he was translated, like Enoch or Elijah, from a vexing world for a time every year. The two parts of the Charterhouse were the embodiments of |justice and innocence.| Here was |the vine of the Lord of Hosts.| His cell was kept for him, and while all the world was hotly harvesting he was laying up here his spiritual stores. Here his face seemed to burn with the horned light of Moses, when he appeared in public. His words were like fire and wine and honey, but poised with discretion. Yet he never became a fanatical monk, nor like Baldwin, whom the Pope addressed as |most fervent monk, clever abbot, lukewarm bishop, and slack archbishop.| He warned his monastic brethren here that the great question at doom is not, Were you monk or hermit? but Did you show yourself truly Christian? The name is useless, or positively baleful, unless a man has the threefold mark -- caritas in corde; veritas in ore; castitas in corpore -- of love in the heart, truth on the lips, pureness in the body. Here he told them that chaste wedlock was as pure as continence and virginity, and would be blessed as high. He lived as he taught always, but here he seemed beyond himself. His buildings at Witham, enumerated in the Great Life, and not even planned before his time, are the major and minor churches, the cells for monks, the cloisters, the brothers' little houses, and the guest chambers. The lay kitchen was a poor building of brushwood and thatch, six or seven paces from the guest house, the blaze of which, when it caught fire, could be seen from the glass windows of the west end of the lay church. The wooden cells of the brothers lay round this in a ring. The guest house roof was of shingles. This kitchen fire took place at the last visit of the bishop while he was at the |night lauds.| He gave over the office when it broke out, signed the cross several times, and prayed before the altar, while the young men fought the flame. He had already often ordered a stone kitchen to be built in its place, and so no real harm was done, for the fire did not spread. The only question which arises is whether the present guest house is far enough west to square with this story. No mention is made of the fish ponds, but they are likely enough to have been prepared in his time, for the rule, which never allowed meat, did allow fish on festivals. Hugh had no notion of starving other people, but used to make them |eat well and drink well to serve God well.| He condemned an asceticism run mad, and called it vanity and superstition for people to eschew flesh when they had no such commandment, and substitute for it foreign vegetables, condiments for fat, and expensive fishes. He liked dry bread himself, and the drier the tastier, but he did all he could to spare others. Consequently, we may credit him with the fish ponds.

His work at Lincoln was on a much larger scale and happily much of it is still there, a goodly material for wonder, praise and squabbling. It was imposed upon him, for he found the Norman building more or less in ruins. This building consisted of a long nave, with a west front, now standing; and a choir, which ended something east of the present faldstool in a bow. At the east end of the nave was a tower, and to the north and south of this tower were two short transepts, or porches. The tower was either not very high or else was shortened, and perhaps recapped to make it safe after the earthquake, for the comparatively small damage which it did when it fell upon the choir proves that it could not have been very massive. It fell in Grossetestes' time and its details with it.

The first requisite for building is money: and money, as we have seen, was very hard to obtain in England just at this juncture. Three means by which Hugh raised it are known to us. The austere ideals of the Carthusian bishop, his plain vestments, his cheap ring, his simple clothes set free a good deal of the money of the see for this purpose. Then he issued a pastoral summons to the multitude of her sons to appear at least once a year at the mother church of Lincoln with proper offerings according to their power; especially rural deans, parsons, and priests through the diocese were to gather together at Pentecost and give alms for the remission of their sins and in token of obedience and recollection of their Lincoln mother. This, combined with a notice of detention of prebend for all non-resident and non-represented canons, must have brought the faithful up in goodly numbers to their ecclesiastical centre. If they were once there, the cracked and shored-up building and the bishop's zeal and personal influence might be entrusted to loose their purse strings, especially as he led the way, both by donation and personal work, for he carried the hod and did not disdain to bring mortar and stones up the ladder like any mason's 'prentice. Then, thirdly, he established or used a Guild of St. Mary, a confraternity which paid for, and probably worked at, the glorious task. Its local habitation was possibly that now called John of Gaunt's stables,{20} but anyhow it stood good for a thousand marks a year. A mark is thirteen and fourpence; and six hundred and sixty six pounds odd, in days when an ox cost three shillings and a sheep fourpence was a handsome sum. It could not have been far short of L10,000 of our money.

It is evident from records and architecture alike that the building had to be begun from the very roots and foundations. In examining it we had better begin with the chroniclers. The Great Life is curiously silent about this work, and if we had no other records we should almost consider that the work was done under, rather than by, the bishop. He went to Lincoln |about to build on this mountain, like a magnificent and peaceful Solomon, a most glorious temple,| says his laconic friend Adam. |Also fifteen days before he died Geoffrey de Noiers (or Nowers) the constructor or builder of the noble fabric, came to see him. The erection of this fabric was begun from the foundations, in the renewal of the Lincoln church, by the magnificent love of Hugh to the beauty of God's house.| The dying bishop thus spoke to him: |In that we have had word that the lord king with the bishops and leading men of this whole kingdom are shortly about to meet for a general assembly, hasten and finish all that is needful for the beauty and adornment about the altar of my lord and patron saint, John Baptist, for we wish this to be dedicated by our brother, the Bishop of Rochester, when he arrives there with the other bishops. Yea, and we ourselves, at the time of the aforesaid assembly, shall be present there too. We used to desire greatly to consecrate that by our ministry; but since God has disposed otherwise, we wish that it be consecrated before we come thither on a future occasion.| This is all that Adam has to tell us. Giraldus Cambrensis says, |Item, he restored the chevet of his own church with Parian stones and marble columns in wonderful workmanship, and reared the whole anew from the foundation with most costly work. Similarly, too, he began to construct the remarkable bishop's houses, and, by God's help, proposed, in certain hope, to finish them far larger and nobler than the former ones.| Then again he says, |Item, he took pains to erect in choiceness, the Lincoln church of the blessed Virgin, which was built remarkably by a holy man, the first bishop of the same place, to wit the blessed Remigius, according to the style of that time. To make the fabric conformed to the far finer workmanship and very much daintier and cleverer polish of modern novelty, he erected it of Parian stones and marble columns, grouped alternately and harmoniously, and which set off one another with varying pictures of white and black, but yet with natural colour change. The work, now to be seen, is unique.| The Legenda says that Hugh carried stones and cement in a box for the fabric of the mother Church, which he reared nobly from the foundations. Other chroniclers say just the same, and one adds that he |began a remarkable episcopal hall| as well. But far the most important account we have is that of the metrical life -- written between 1220 and 1235. This gives us some of the keys to the intense symbolism of all the designs. Since a proper translation would require verse, it may be baldly Englished in pedagogic patois, as follows: |The prudent religion and the religious prudence of the pontiff makes a bridge (pons) to Paradise, toiling to build Sion in guilelessness, not in bloods. And with wondrous art, he built the work of the cathedral church; in building which, he gives not only his wealth and the labour of his people, but the help of his own sweat; and often he carries in a pannier the carved stones and the sticky lime. The weakness of a cripple, propped on two sticks, obtains the use of that pannier, believing an omen to be in it: and in turn disdains the help of the two sticks. The diet, which is wont to bow the straight, makes straight the bowed. O remarkable shepherd of the flock, and assuredly no hireling! as the novel construction of the Church explains. For Mother Sion lay cast down, and straitened, wandering, ignorant, sick, old, bitter, poor, homely and base: Hugh raises her when cast down, enlarges her straitened, guides her wandering, teaches her ignorant, heals her sick, renews her old, sweetens her bitter, fills her when empty, adorns her homely, honours her when base. The old mass falls to the foundation and the new rises; and the state of it as it rises, sets forth the fitting form of the cross. The difficult toil unites three whole parts; for the most solid mass of the foundation rises from the centre,{21} the wall carries the roof into the air. [So the foundation is buried in the lap of earth, but the wall and roof shew themselves, and with proud daring the wall flies to the clouds, the roof to the stars.] With the value of the material the design of the art well agrees, for the stone roof talks as it were with winged birds, spreading its wide wings, and like to a flying thing strikes the clouds, stayed upon the solid columns. And a sticky liquid glues together the white stones, all which the workman's hand cuts out to a nicety. And the wall, built out of a hoard of these, as it were disdaining this thing, counterfeits to unify the adjacent parts; it seems not to exist by art but rather by nature; not a thing united, but one. Another costly material of black stones props the work, not like this content with one colour, not open with so many pores, but shining much with glory and settled with firm position; and it deigns to be tamed by no iron, save when it is tamed by cunning, when the surface is opened by frequent blows of the grit, and its hard substance eaten in with strong acid. That stone, beheld, can balance minds in doubt whether it be jasper or marble; but if jasper, dull jasper; if marble, noble marble. Of it are the columns, which so surround the pillars that they seem there to represent a kind of dance. Their outer surface more polished than new horn, with reflected visions, fronts the clear stars. So many figures has nature painted there that if art, after long endeavour, toils to simulate a like picture, scarce may she imitate nature. Likewise has the beauteous joining placed a thousand columns there in graceful order; which stable, precious, shining, with their stability carry on the whole work of the church, with their preciousness enrich it, with their shine make it clear. Their state indeed is lofty and high, their polish true and splendid, their order handsome and geometric, their beauty fit and useful, their use gracious and remarkable, their stability unhurt and sharp. A splendid double pomp of windows displays riddles to the eyes, inscribing the citizens of the Heavenly City and the arms whereby they tame the Stygian tyrant.{22} And two are greater, like two lights; of these the rounded blaze, looking upon the quarters of north and south, with its double light, lords it over all windows. They can be compared to the common stars, but these two are one like the sun, the other like the moon. So do these two candles lighten the head of the Church. With living and various colours they mimic the rainbow, not mimic indeed, but rather excel, for the sun when it is reflected in the clouds makes a rainbow: these two shine without sun, glitter without cloud.

These things, described but puerilely, have the weight of an allegory. Without it seems but as a shell, but within lies the kernel. Without it is as wax, but within is combed honey; and fire lightens more pleasantly in the shade. For foundation, wall roof, white carved stone, marble smooth, conspicuous and black, the double order of windows, and the twin windows, which, as it were, look upon the regions of north and south, are great indeed, in themselves, but figure greater things.

The foundation is the body, the wall man, the roof the spirit, the division of the Church threefold. The body possesses the earth, man the clouds, the spirit the stars. The white and carved stone means the chaste and wise; the whiteness is modesty, the carving dogma. By the effigy of marble, smooth, shining, dark, the bride is figured, guileless, well conducted, working. The smoothness very rightly means guilelessness, the splendour good conduct, the blackness work. The noble cohort of the clergy lightening the world with light divine is expressed by the clear windows. The corresponding order can everywhere be observed. The Canonic is set forth by the higher order; the Vicarious by the lower; and because the canonic handles the business of the world, and the busy vicarious fulfils, by its obligations, divine matters, the top line of windows shines bright with a ring of flowers around it, which signifies the varying beauty of the world, the lower contains the names of the holy fathers. The twin windows, which afford the rounded blaze, are the two eyes of the Church, and rightly in these respects seem to be, the greater the bishop, and the lesser the dean. The North is Satan, and the South the Holy Ghost, which the two eyes look upon. For the bishop looks upon the South to invite, but the dean upon the North to avoid it. The one sees to be saved, the other not to be lost. The brow of the church beholds with these eyes the candles of Heaven and the darkness of Lethe. Thus the senseless stones enwrap the mysteries of the living stones, the work made with hands sets forth the spiritual work; and the double aspect of the Church is clear, adorned with double equipage. A golden majesty paints the entry of the choir: and properly in his proper image Christ crucified is shewn, and there to a nicety the progress of His life is suggested. Not only the cross or image, but the ample surface of the six columns and two woods, flash with tested gold. The capitols{23} cleave to the Church, such as the Roman summit never possessed, the wonderful work of which scarce the monied wealth of Croesus could begin. In truth their entrances are like squares. Within a rounded space lies open, putting to the proof, both in material and art, Solomon's temple. If of these the perfection really stays, the first Hugh's work will be perfected under a second Hugh. Thus then Lincoln boasts of so great a sire, who blessed her with so many titles on all sides.|

The church itself is the best comment upon this somewhat obscure account, and it may be briefly divided into Pre-Hugonian, Hugonian, and Post-Hugonian parts. The first, the Norman centre of the west facade, does not concern us, except that its lovely face often looked down upon the great bishop in his dark or tawny cloak trimmed with white lambs' wool, which hid his hair shirt. Except for this Norman work and the Norman font, it would hardly be an exaggeration to say that the whole is by or for Hugh, for his shrine, his influence, and his example, completed what his work, and his plans, never dreamed about. Yet these last are responsible for much. He built a cruciform church, beginning with the entrance to the choir, with the aisles on either side. The chapels of St. Edward Martyr and St. James{24} form the base or step of the cross. The east transept, with all chapels adjoining, the choristers' vestry, antevestry, dean's or medicine chapel, with its lovely door and the cupboards in the now floorless room above it, the vaulted passage and chamber adjoining, are all his. So are, possibly, the matchless iron screens between the two choirs (topped with modern trumpery). South-east of the Medicine Chapel is one of St. Hugh's great mystic columns, and there are a pair of them. Where the Angel Choir now lifts its most graceful form and just behind the high altar, rose the semi-hexagonal east end, the opened honeycomb, where most fitly was placed the altar of St. John Baptist. It was somewhere in the walls of this forehead that the original bishop's eye and dean's eye were once fixed, possibly in the rounded eye sockets which once stood where Bishop Wordsworth and Dean Butler are now buried.{25}

When we look closely at this work, we are astonished at the bold freedom, and yet the tentative and amateur character of it. The builders felt their way as they went along, and well they might, for it was not only a new church but a new and finer style altogether. They built a wall. It was not strong enough, so they buttressed it over the mouldings. The almost wayward double arcade inside was there apparently, before the imposed vaulting shafts were thought about. The stones were fully shaped and carved on the floor, and then put in their positions. Hardly anything is like the next thing. Sometimes the pointed arch is outside, as in |St. James'| Chapel, sometimes inside as in |St. Edward's.| Look up at the strange vaulting above the choir, about the irregularity of which so much feigned weeping has taken place. It represents, maybe, the Spirit blowing where it listeth and not given by measure. So, too, mystic banded shafts are octagonal for blessedness, and they blossom in hidden crockets for the inner flowers of the Spirit, and there are honeycombs and dark columns banded together in joyful unity, all copied from nowhere, but designed by this holy stone poet to the glory of God. The pierced tympanum has a quatrefoil for the four cardinal virtues, or a trefoil for faith, hope, and charity. Compared with the lovely Angel Choir which flowered seventy years later, under our great King Edward, it may look all unpractised, austere; but Hugh built with sweet care, and sense, and honesty, never rioting in the disordered emotion of lovely form which owed no obedience to the spirit, and which expressed with great elaboration -- almost nothing. He may have valued the work of the intellect too exclusively, but surely it cannot be valued too highly? The work is done as well where it does not as where it does show.

The bishop's hall, which he began, could not have been much more than sketched and founded. It was carried on by one of his successors, Hugh de Wells (1209-1235), though one would like to believe that it was in this great hall that he entertained women, godly matrons, and widows, who sat by his side at dinner, to the wonder of monkish brethren. He would lay his clean hands upon their heads and bless them, sometimes even gently embrace them, and bid them follow the steps of holy women of old. Indeed he had quite got over the morbid terror he once felt for these guardians of the Divine humanity, for he used often to say to them, |Almighty God has deserved indeed to be loved by the feminine sex. He was not squeamish of being born of a woman. Yea, and he has granted hereby a magnificent and right worthy privilege to all women folk. For when it is not allowed to man to be or to be named the Father of God, yet this has been bestowed upon the woman to be the parent of God.| The traces of his work at the other manor houses are wiped out by time. There is nothing at Stow; Buckden was built later; and the other footprints of this building saint are lost upon the sands of time.

FOOTNOTES:

{20} This building itself is of an earlier date.

{21} Of the earth.

{22} I.e., Saints and Lances.

{23} Side chapels.

{24} Or of SS. Dennys and Guthlac it may be.

{25} It is a pity in that case that the bishop lies under the old |dean's eye,| and vice versa.

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