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There’s much to explore in our fine country, and now the pound’s down to 1.17 euros, the opportunity to spend patriotically whilst furthering our knowledge of England’s rich heritage and landscape is compelling. The Editor of Devonshire magazine visits this fabulous Romanesque cathedral that houses the Shrine of St Cuthbert amongst other treasures.
For many years, I’ve wanted to visit Durham Cathedral but somehow never managed it. I think it’s fair to say we’ve all heard of this outstanding jewel of the north, and so, hotel booked, steering wheel in hand, we finally set out to experience this historical and architectural gem.
You pretty quickly, when arriving at Durham, get the feeling that something’s going on with the river. I spent a fair while on the wrong side of the river, and only upon speaking to a friendly local, did we manage divert our path to the inner horseshoe side of the river where the cathedral and castle loftily perch themselves above the River Wear. Thankfully, Durham’s a verdant, pretty and relatively small city, so you’re not overwhelmed. At the time we’d planned a whistle-stop tour of northern England, so hadn’t factored in a stay, something that I intend to rectify in the future.
Durham Cathedral is an awe inspiring building from any angle. Its large square towers project up into the sky at astonishing height and when you enter the cathedral through the main door, you’re presented with enormous stone pillars, capped with semi circular arches. Once you’re in the centre of the aisle, you can let your eye wander to the stone vaulted ceiling, apparently the earliest surviving stone vault of such scale in the world. And as if the majesty of the building isn’t enough for you, there’s St Cuthbert’s Shrine, the tomb of The Venerable Bede, an amazing Astronomical Clock and to cap it all, they’re hosting a new world-class exhibition called Open Treasure, which has received £3.9 million pounds of Heritage Lottery funding (total project cost £10 million) to help achieve their goal of having a rolling exhibition that will enable Durham Cathedral to display artefacts from its internationally renowned collections. Entry to the cathedral remains free and open to all, although a ticket needs to be purchased for access to Open Treasure. Many thanks to Catherine Hodgson for patiently showing us round for over 3 hours – gratefully appreciated – Editor. Read more about our visit below:
Durham Castle is situated on the opposite side of the green to the cathedral and is now wholly occupied by the University College. The castle and cathedral stand perched on top of a hill at the side of the River Wear. The castle was built in the 11th century and the Bishop of Durham was uniquely appointed by the King to exercise royal authority on his behalf (due to the great distance between Durham and London), the castle being the Prince-Bishop’s seat.
The Shrine of St Cuthbert
Saint Cuthbert was a monk, bishop, hermit, associated with the monasteries of Melrose and Lindisfarne. After death, he became an important saint, with a cult centred around his tomb at Durham Cathedral. Initially, St Cuthbert’s body had been buried at Lindisfarne, but the threat of Vikings necessitated moving the body. On opening the coffin in readiness for the move, the monks found the body undecayed – evidence of Cuthbert’s great holiness.
It’s rumoured that whilst travelling to Ripon, the body became too heavy to move and through a vision that one of the community experienced, St Cuthbert made it known he wished to be moved to the rocky, uninhabited peninsula above the river at Durham. By 1104, the building had been made ready to receive St Cuthbert’s body.
In the photo (left), you can see St Cuthbert’s lost his head – the shrine was desecrated at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries, although many of his relics survived, it’s thought that the monks had removed his body and replaced it with one of their brothers previous to the destructive visit – that great thug, Henry VIII!
The tomb of The Venerable (Saint) Bede (672-735AD)
An English monk and scholar, his Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum (The Ecclesiastical History of the English People) gained him the title of ‘The Father of English History’.
The Ruthwell Cross (cast) – 7 or 8th century, Ruthwell, Dumfriesshire (red coloured).
The Bewcastle Cross (cast) – 7 or 8th century, Bewcastle, Cumbria (paler buff coloured).
Note – the casts are extremely valuable as they preserve detail that particularly on the Ruthwell Cross, has been eroded further.
Monks 14th Century dormitary
Much of the Open Tresures exhibition is set in the old 14th century monks dormitary which has a fabulous original roof.
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