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Durham Cathedral

History

Durham CathedralBuilt in 1093 to house the Shrine of St Cuthbert, Durham Cathedral has been a place of worship, welcome and hospitality for almost a millennium.

Originally built as a monastic cathedral for a community of Benedictine monks, the Cathedral also served a political and military function by reinforcing the authority of the prince-bishops over England’s northern border. The prince-bishops effectively ruled the Diocese of Durham from 1080 until 1836 when the Palatinate of Durham was abolished.

The Reformation brought the dissolution of the Priory and its monastic community. The monastery was surrendered to the Crown in December 1540, thus ending hundreds of years of monastic life at the Cathedral. In January 1541 the Cathedral was re-founded, the last Prior became the first Dean, and twelve former monks became the first Canons.

Durham Cathedral witnessed further turbulence during the Civil War. In 1650 the Cathedral was closed and used by Cromwell to incarcerate 3,000 Scottish prisoners. With the Restoration in 1660, the new bishop of Durham - John Cosin, a former Canon - set about refurbishing the church and his work can be seen in the quire with its richly carved woodwork.

The nineteenth century saw the introduction of much of the stained glass in the Cathedral and in 1832 the Bishop of Durham and the Cathedral Chapter founded Durham University.

In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries the emphasis has been on sensitive conservation, along with the introduction of some contemporary art. The architectural and historical importance of Durham Cathedral was recognized in 1986 when it was inscribed on the World Heritage list by UNESCO as part of the Durham World Heritage Site.

Today the Cathedral thrives as a place of worship and hospitality, welcoming over 750,000 people every year. It continues to be a focal point for the community of Durham and the wider North East region offering a deep sense of place to all who come.

 

Architecture

Described by Nikolaus Pevsner as ‘one of the great architectural experiences of Europe’, Durham Cathedral is renowned as a masterpiece of Romanesque architecture. It is the only cathedral in England to retain almost all of its Norman craftsmanship, and one of few to preserve the unity and integrity of its original design.

The nave, quire and transepts are all Norman and the nave boasts what is believed to be the world’s first structural pointed arch. At the west end is the twelfth-century late Norman style Galilee Chapel and at the east end the thirteenth-century Chapel of the Nine Altars is in the Gothic style. The western towers date from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries whilst the great central tower dates from the fifteenth century and displays perpendicular Gothic detailing.

The Cloister, on the south side of the Cathedral, was begun at the same time as the Cathedral but contains much work from the fifteenth century or later. Many of the Claustral buildings are open to the public, including the stunning medieval vaulted Undercroft and the late fourteenth-century Monk’s Dormitory with its magnificent rough-hewn timber roof.

The College, the name given in Durham to the Cathedral Close, is a quiet area on the south side of the Cathedral which is home to the Cathedral clergy and others associated with its life. Many of the buildings surrounding the Green originated in the Middle Ages, and entry is gained via the medieval gate house which is still locked every night. Visitors are welcome to wander through The College and enjoy the quiet space.

Attractions

Durham Cathedral offers a wealth of inspiring spaces for visitors to enjoy.

Explore the Cathedral Church with its stunning stained glass windows, magnificent rib-vaulted Nave and contemporary artwork, climb the 325 steps of the Tower to enjoy breathtaking views, or spend a moment of quiet contemplation at the Shrine of St Cuthbert and the Tomb of the Venerable Bede.

Discover the remarkable medieval Cloister which featured in the first two Harry Potter films and marvel at the spectacular Monk’s Dormitory where the monks once slept and studied.

Visitors can also indulge in a slice of homemade cake in the Restaurant or browse the newly refurbished Cathedral Shop, both of which are located in the awe-inspiring medieval vaulted Undercroft.

The Cathedral woodlands which carpet the riverbank provide a peaceful haven from the hustle and bustle of the city. Amble along the riverside footpaths and admire splendid views of Durham Cathedral with its dramatic hilltop setting.

Open Treasure is a new exhibition route from the Monk’s Dormitory to the Great Kitchen which showcases more of the Cathedral’s treasures and collections and provides access to spaces which were previously hidden. There is an ongoing exhibition programme and complementary learning and outreach programmes. Visit www.durhamcathedral.co.uk/open-treasure to find out more and to book tickets.

Local Interest

There are numerous award-winning visitor attractions in and around the city of Durham.

Attractions in Durham city include Durham Castle, the Oriental Museum, the Museum of Archaeology, Durham University Botanic Garden, Crook Hall, the Durham Light Infantry Museum, Palace Green Library and the Durham Museum and Heritage Centre.

Other local attractions in County Durham include Beamish: The Living Museum of the North, Killhope Lead Mining Museum, the National Railway Museum: Shildon, Raby Castle, Auckland Castle, High Force and The Bowes Museum.

A vast range of attractions can also be found in nearby Sunderland and Newcastle-upon-Tyne including the Angel of the North, the National Glass Centre and the Great North Museum: Hancock.

For more information about local attractions please visit www.visitnortheastengland.com