I’ve had a soft spot for the Lincoln Imp, ever since I needed to make a mask for a 17th century masque for my younger son and my wife found a photo of the carving in the cathedral. As a small child, our son insisted on most people calling him by his holy name “Destroyer of Worlds”, but to his Nana he was always the Prince of Imps. When we were in Lincoln a couple of years ago, I had to pop in to the cathedral and get a photo.
There are a number of different versions of the story, I like the one currently on Wikipedia best particularly as it gives the angel an origin (the hymnal) and the opportunity to do a spot of righteous smiting. I’ll paraphrase it here. Many of the stories date from the 14th century, contempory with building the Angel Choir in the Cathedral.
Two mischievous imps were sent by Satan to do evil work on Earth. the two Imps went to Chesterfield and sat on the church spire, twisting it. After causing mayhem in Northern England, the two imps headed to Lincoln Cathedral, where they smashed tables and chairs the in Angel Choir and tripped up the Bishop. When an angel came out of a book of hymns and told them to stop, one of the imps jumped up onto the pillar and threw rocks at the angel. The other imp hid, cowering under the broken tables and chairs. In order to put a stop to his mischievousness, the angel turned the first imp to stone and this gave the second imp a chance to escape.
The imp which escaped fled north to Grimsby, where it soon began making trouble. It entered St. James’ Church and began repeating its behaviour from Lincoln Cathedral. The angel reappeared and gave the imp’s backside a good thrashing before turning it to stone as it had the first imp at Lincoln. The “Grimsby Imp” can still be seen in St James’ Church, clinging to its sore bottom. Another legend has the escaped imp turned to stone just outside Lincoln cathedral, and sharp-eyed visitors can spot it on a south outside wall.
There’s a box in the Cathedral that if you drop in 10p or 20p (I forget which) illuminates the imp. The verger will look very oddly at you if you say “fiat lux” as the coin drops. The imp is only a small chap and devilishly difficult to spot if you don’t know where to look, so spend a few pence working out where the best angles (or angels, if you like) are for the photographs. I found the best lighting was natural but the exposure is nearly 1 second long.
That chap below the imp is St Hugh, I’m not sure what St Hugh did to be turned to stone in that location. From particular angles it looks like the imp is doing something unpleasant on St Hugh’s hat although from most it just looks like a light. I did have a go at spotting the south wall imp, but there were so many I couldn’t be sure.
Lincoln imp merchandise is available in the Cathedral’s shop. We bought a pair of imp socks and an imp fridge magnet, there were charms and earings, knitting patterns and a life-sized copy.
My imp has grown to be a perfectly lovely adult, with a fairly wicked sense of humour.