The Cathedral Church of Christ, Blessed Mary the Virgin and St Cuthbert of
Durham, which is almost always referred to as Durham Cathedral, in
the city of Durham
in the North East of
founded in 1093 and remains a centre for
Christian worship today. It is generally regarded as one of the finest
examples of a
Norman cathedral in
Europe, and has
been designated a
World Heritage Site along with nearby
Durham Castle, which faces it across
Green, high above the
The Cathedral houses the
related treasures of
Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, a
and these are on public view. It is also home to the remains of the
Venerable Bede. One can also climb the 325 steps to the top of the 66 m tall
tower, from where a fine view of
Durham and the
surrounding area can be enjoyed.
There are regular services sung by the Cathedral Choir. Except for Mondays,
and certain vacations, the Choir sing every day.
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
Church of England hierarchy, and signposts for the modern day
County Durham are nowadays subtitled "Land of the Prince Bishops".
The cathedral was initially designed and built under the first
William of St. Carilef. Construction began in
William died before completion of this phase in
responsibility to his successor
Ranulf Flambard. The building is notable for the ribbed
vaulting of the
nave roof, with
pointed transverse arches supported on relatively slender composite piers
alternated with massive drum columns, and
flying buttresses or lateral abutments concealed within the
over the aisles. These features appear to be precursors to the
Gothic architecture of Northern France a few decades later, doubtless due to
stonemasons responsible, although the building is considered
overall. It was the skilled use of the pointed arch and ribbed vault which made
it possible to cover far more elaborate and complicated ground plans than
hitherto. The buttressing made it possible both to build taller buildings and to
open up the intervening wall spaces to create larger windows
Saint Cuthbert's tomb lies at the East. Once an elaborate monument of green
marble and gold, the tomb was smashed by
Henry VIII in 1538,
so is now a modest stone affair. Two years later, in
1540, Henry VIII
also dissolved the
at Durham, although the
are well preserved architecturally.
In the twelfth century, Bishop
Hugh de Puiset added 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
William of St. Carilef,
Ranulf Flambard and
Hugh de Puiset are all buried in the cathedral's Chapter House, which
lies opposite the cloisters and dates from
The thirteenth century saw the construction of the Chapel of the Nine
Altars, at the Eastern end of the cathedral, beginning under
Richard le Poore (1228-1237).
It features a large
window originally from the
1600s and rebuilt
in the 18th century, and a statue of
William Van Mildert, the last Prince Bishop (1826-1836)
and driving force behind the foundation of
Durham University. The central tower of this time was destroyed by
lightning, so the current tower dates from the fifteenth century.
In 1650, Durham Cathedral was converted into a prisoner of war camp, and held
Scots POWs from the Battle of Dunbar (Sept 3, 1650). As many as 5000 prisoners
died enroute to the Cathedral or while there. There bodies were buried in
unmarked graves. The survivors were shipped to the West Indies, Virginia and
Massachuetts. 150 Scots POWs were shipped to
Berwick, Maine in December 1650.
In 1986, the
Cathedral - together with the nearby
Durham Castle - became a
World Heritage Site. The
committee classified the Cathedral under criteria C (ii) (iv) (vi), reporting "Durham
Cathedral is the largest and most perfect monument of 'Norman' style
architecture in England" (View
full report (PDF)).
Today, the Cathedral remains seat of the
Bishop of Durham, an
church in the
diocese of Durham. Durham Cathedral has also been featured in the
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 prominent.
"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
and Prague." -
Nikolaus Pevsner, 'The
Buildings of England'.
"I paused upon the bridge, and admired and wondered at the beauty and glory
of this scene...it was grand, venerable, and sweet, all at once; I never saw so
lovely and magnificent a scene, nor, being content with this, do I care to see a
Nathaniel Hawthorne, 'The English Notebooks'.
"I unhesitatingly gave Durham my vote for best cathedral on planet Earth." -
Bryson, Notes from a Small Island.