Durham Cathedral

Actually, the real name is The Cathedral Church of Christ, Blessed Mary the Virgin and St Cuthbert of Durham, but I think Durham Cathedral will do for our purposes!  Now this is a really old church: it dates from 1093 and was one of the first cathedrals built after the Norman conquest.

The site has an even older history though, as the bones of St. Cuthbert were brought to Durham in 995 from the Isle of Lindisfarne.  (Cuthbert was a monk and bishop on Lindisfarne, and the famous illuminated manuscripts of Lindisfarne were created in his honor.)  Unfortunately Lindisfarne was threatened by Vikings, and so the monks carried Cuthbert’s bones around for a while until they found Durham. The strategic location on the top of the hill seemed perfect for a church, and they settled in.  (Actually there is a long story about a yellow cow that was predicted and then lost and so proved that this was the perfect spot for a church, but it seems perfectly ridiculous to me!)

Construction on the large cathedral began in 1093 and the majority was finished in 1135 … which is an amazingly fast building schedule! Of course there were additions and subtractions and renovations through its history, but overall the building that stands today is remarkably similar to the original plans.

As with most religious institutions, the church and monastery at Durham suffered greatly under Henry VIII, but perhaps they were not as disturbed as most. Being so far north, the cathedral escaped many of the destructive tendencies that demolished much of the established religion in the south. The monks were told to scatter and the tomb to St. Cuthbert was destroyed, but he was eventually reinterred at the high altar beneath a plain stone. I wish I had a picture of it, since it was pretty creepy, but we weren’t allowed.

In 1986 the cathedral and castle became UNESCO heritage sites.  Also interestingly, the Cathedral at Durham was used as the basis for Hogwarts School of Wizardry in the Harry Potter movies. A spire was digitally added to the top, but otherwise it is recognizable.

Unfortunately no photographs were allowed inside the cathedral. You’ll just have to come for a visit to get a glimpse for yourself!  My favorite part of the site was the former Monk’s Dormitory, which is now a working library. The ceiling is made up of 40 foot oak trees, only roughly finished. You can still see where branches came out of the trunks. It’s really a stunning site, and well-worth the trip.


Posted on 06/07/2010, in Exploring the UK, travel and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Absolutely beautiful! Thank you for sharing. You should consider writing a book about old churches and funky doors — I love both too! Keep the history and pictures coming!

  2. Suzanne M-G

    This is fantastic, Astrid. I’ve sent it to john.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s