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The Strange Saga of the Creepy Imp of the U.K.’s Lincoln Cathedral

Today’s article is focused on a particularly creepy little critter that has become known as “Lincoln’s Imp.” It’s actually a carved figure that sits prominently on Lincoln Cathedral, England. As for the cathedral itself, here’s some background information: “After the Battle of Hastings in 1066, William, Duke of Normandy became King William 1 of England (more commonly known as William the Conqueror. The following years were spent by William having to fight rebellious natives across the land. To consolidate his power he built a series of castles, including the one at Lincoln. One of William’s supporters was a Benedictine monk called Remegius. As a reward for his loyalty, William made Remegius the first Norman Bishop of Dorchester (the largest diocese in England, extending from the Humber to the Thames). In order to consolidate Norman power further in the north, it was decided to transfer the centre of ecclesiastical power from Dorchester to Lincoln, and Remegius was ordered to build a cathedral in Lincoln.” And, that’s how it all began.

Lincoln Cathedral interior

The story of the devilish imp is a memorable one. Before we get to the tale, though, you may want to know what an imp actually is. Or, is said to be. At Mythology.net, there is the following: “If you haven’t already been waylaid by fairies, pixies, or goblins on your trip through Europe’s lovely countryside, you will almost certainly be targeted by Imps. These feisty little creatures love nothing more than to irk humans. You should just hope that the Imp who targets you is acting of his own accord. If his master has set him on you, you have much bigger problems than fending off the little rascal!” Mythology.net also state: “Imps are minor magical creatures with a big appetite for the spotlight. Always desirous of attention, they act out through practical jokes and small outbursts of magic, trying to get anyone to pay attention to them. Unfortunately, they are so small and unimportant that they don’t succeed at getting much attention—except, perhaps, from crafty evildoers who are willing to take them on as slaves.”

Staff at the cathedral say: “One day, according to a very old legend, the Devil sent his imps out to play, and the wind blew two of them all the way to Lincoln. At first they were so awestruck by the splendour of the Cathedral that they were afraid to enter. But soon, one imp plucked up courage, flew into the Cathedral where he tried to trip up the Lord Bishop, and to knock down the Dean, and teased the Vergers and Choir. When he started to break windows the Angels told him to stop his wicked doings; he cheekily replied “Stop me if you can!” Whereupon he was at once turned into stone, and made to sit for evermore in a cleft in the Angel Choir. The Lincoln Imp is the best known of all the grotesque carved figures in the Cathedral. Its half human, half animal form was probably meant to represent the devil – a popular theme for sculptors of the thirteenth century. The stone figure of the Imp is about 12 inches high, and sits cross-legged high up between two arches on the north side of the Choir.

The Imp

The BBC provide a different story: “Another version of the story with two imps is that they were sent by the devil to cause trouble in the cathedral and they soon started to annoy the angels in the cathedral. The angels told the two imps to leave but the first started to throw things at the angels and the second hid. The angels turned the first imp to stone but this gave the second imp a chance to escape. The second imp is said to have escaped with the help of a witch. The imp went off with the witch on her broomstick but the witch was so fond of the imp she turned the imp into a black cat.”

The team that runs VisitLincoln.com expands on the story: “Legend has it that one day the Devil was in a frolicsome mood, and let out all his young demons to play. After having allegedly stopping at Chesterfield, twisting the spire of St Mary and All Saints Church, a group of imps went to Lincoln and planned to wreak havoc in the city’s stunning Cathedral. Mischievous activities in Lincoln included knocking over the Dean, smashing the stained glass windows and destroying the lights. To put a stop to any further chaos, an angel appeared from the Bible left on the altar and commanded ‘Wicked Imp, be turned to stone!’ Some imps managed to escape, one of which is said to be found at St James’ Church in Grimsby. However, one imp remained, hurling insults and stones at the angel. The angel responded in kind, turning the imp to stone where it sat and it can still be seen there today.”

Whether or not you believe in the existence of the legendary imp of Lincoln Cathedral, there’s no doubting the fact that the story is an entertaining one!

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Nick Redfern works full time as a writer, lecturer, and journalist. He writes about a wide range of unsolved mysteries, including Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, alien encounters, and government conspiracies. Nick has written 41 books, writes for Mysterious Universe and has appeared on numerous television shows on the The History Channel, National Geographic Channel and SyFy Channel.
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