Of all the chapels in all the world, the Mary Magdalene or Morning Chapel in Lincoln Cathedral lies deepest in my heart. At every key stage in my life, and before every major decision, I have prayed there, asking for support, affirmation, guidance, reassurance, or simply the receiving of joy or holding of pain. It is more than that Lincoln is a spiritual home, born of years of growing up nearby, and of participation in important events in the cathedral and of all kinds of things in the city (including, of course, of its special little football club at Sincil Bank, the other Lincoln 'spiritual' centre inscribed in my heart). Mary Magdalene and I go way back, as I have reflected elsewhere. She has been my sister, model, and inspiration in struggle, faith and new life, helping me to be transformed from silence, suppression and stigma (see further here, and here). Yet now I discover something I should have known long ago: that her name and spirit is attached not only to that special cathedral chapel, but it lies also beneath the cathedral itself. As such, she symbolises for me the foundational love beneath the types of 'Norman yoke' we have forced, or placed, upon ourselves...
Norman impositions and deeper foundations
For outer elements can certainly mirror our inner lives, can't they? Each year, for centuries, those attached to the Church of St Mary Magdalene in nearby Bailgate have apparently had the right to process to the cathedral to mark Mary Magdalene's feast day in the Morning Chapel. The great West doors are opened and a special celebration is held (these days, for reasons of numbers, typically a festal evensong in the main body of the cathedral). For Lincoln Cathedral was originally a Norman imposition on the native people and landscape. Yet a previous Saxon church, dedicated to Mary Magdalene, sat on the site and was demolished to make way for the new regime.. This seems highly symbolic to me. For much as I have always loved what John Ruskin rightly called the most magnificent medieval building in Europe, I have always been concerned about those Norman foundations. In fact - something I have always been tempted to call an act of God's judgement on the Normans' theft, violence and yoke! - very little of the Normans original building remains, as so much was destroyed in the great East Midlands earthquake of 1185, as well as through poor construction. Most of the cathedral is therefore the product of a slightly less oppressive time and full of so much more beauty on every level. Beneath it all however lies the land, culture and religion of the native people and their presiding saint Mary of Magdala.
Escaping 'the Norman yoke'
All of this is pertinent to my own journey. For a few years ago I applied for a vacant job at Lincoln Cathedral. It was hard to do otherwise. Indeed the pull of my heart and soul to the place, its city and county is even now very strong. Happily, though I was quite sad at the time, I was not even called for an interview. For the walls had already tumbled in the developing earthquake of my gender transition. It would have been impossible to present and live in a male guise which is what the situation would have demanded. Moreover, as I reflected upon it, I came to feel unease at the thought of the Norman foundation. Working there might feel outwardly like my own life: a different kind of a spirit yet clad in heavy, alien, coverings. Now, set free from my own false coverings, it is a delight to learn that the true and deeper foundations of Lincoln Cathedral are actually those of my kindred soul. No wonder, with her, the cathedral and I both thrive afresh in these new days.
Jo Inkpin an Anglican priest, trans woman, theologian & justice activist. These are some of my reflections on life, spirit, and the search for peace, justice & sustainable creation.