Durham Cathedral

Durham Cathedral

Durham Cathedral has stood here for over 900 years. It contains the remains of Cuthbert, the saintly seventh-century bishop of Lindisfarne; it also holds the tomb of Bede, the chronicler of Cuthbert's life and the first English historian. It is one of the most beautiful buildings in England . Pevsner said of it "Durham is one of the great experiences of Europe to the eyes of those who appreciate architecture, and to the minds of those who understand architecture. The group of Cathedral, Castle, and Monastery on the rock can only be compared to Avignon and Prague." Bill Bryson called it 'the best Cathedral on planet earth'. And it is now part of a World Heritage Site.

The Cathedral Church of Christ, Blessed Mary the Virgin and St Cuthbert of Durham, to give it its full name, was founded in 1093 and has been a centre for Christian worship since. It is regarded as one of the finest examples of a Norman cathedral in Europe.

The Cathedral holds the shrine of Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, a 7th century saint, and these relics are on public view. It is also home to the remains of the Venerable Bede. The 325 steps to the top of the 66 m tall tower are also open to the public, and from the tower there is a view over Durham and the surrounding area. There are regular services sung by the Cathedral Choir.

When William the Conqueror took control of Durham he appointed a Norman called William Walcher as Durham’s first Prince Bishop by combining the powers of the Bishop with those of the Earl of Northumbria. The Bishops of Durham were very powerful Prince-Bishops up to the mid-19th century. The seat of Bishop of Durham is still the fourth most significant in the Church of England hierarchy.

Walcher was a weak a Prince Bishop and ended up being murdered at Gateshead in 1081. The next bishop was William St Carileph, who was responsible for building the present cathedral. Carileph designed much of the Cathedral of Durham as it stands today and started the construction in 1093. It occupied the site of an old stone minster built by Uchted. Carileph died before the completion of the cathedral in 1135. His successor Ranulf Flambard was then bishop.

The building is particularly noted for the ribbed vaulting of the nave roof, with pointed transverse arches supported on relatively slender piers alternated with massive drum columns. These features appear to be precursors to the Gothic architecture of Northern France a few decades later, presumably due to Norman stonemasons being used in Durham. The buttressing made it possible both to build taller buildings and create larger windows

Saint Cuthbert's tomb lies at the East of the cathedral. The original tomb, made of green marble and gold, was smashed during the Dissolutions of Henry VIII in 1538. Today it is a modest stone tomb. Two years later, in 1540, Henry VIII also dissolved the Benedictine monastery at Durham, although the cloisters are well preserved.

12th century, Bishop Hugh de Puiset built the Galilee Chapel at the West end of the cathedral. Also known as The Lady Chapel, being the only part of the building women were allowed to enter in medieval times, the Galilee Chapel holds the remains of the Venerable Bede.

William of St. Carilef, Ranulf Flambard and Hugh de Puiset are all buried in the cathedral's Chapter House which dates from 1140 and is opposite the cloisters.

13th century. The construction of the Chapel of the Nine Altars, at the Eastern end of the cathedral, beginning under Bishop Richard le Poore (1228-1237).The central tower of this time was destroyed by lightning, so the current tower dates from the fifteenth century. It now features a statue of William Van Mildert, the last Prince Bishop (1826-1836) and the man behind the foundation of Durham University.

In 1650, Durham Cathedral was used during the Civil War as a prison camp, and held Scots prisoners from the Battle of Dunbar (Sept 3, 1650). 5000 prisoners are believed to have died either en route to the Cathedral or while there. There bodies were buried in unmarked graves. The survivors were shipped to the West Indies, Virginia and Massachusetts.

In 1986, the Cathedral became a World Heritage Site. The UNESCO committee description was that "Durham Cathedral is the largest and most perfect monument of 'Norman' style architecture in England" ( full report Unesco Report).

Today, the Cathedral is still the seat of the Bishop of Durham. Durham Cathedral has also been featured in the Harry Potter films as Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where it had a spire added onto the top of the famous towers to make it look less like the cathedral.

Durham Cathedral Durham Cathedral official site

History of Durham Cathedral

Durham Cathedral and Castle World Heritage

Photographs of Durham Cathedral