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Durham Cathedral

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 England, was 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 UNESCO World Heritage Site along with nearby Durham Castle, which faces it across Palace Green, high above the River Wear.

Durham Photo Views

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The Cathedral houses the shrine and related treasures of Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, a 7th century saint, 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.

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, 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 Prince Bishop, William of St. Carilef. Construction began in 1093, although William died before completion of this phase in 1135, passing 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 triforium over the aisles. These features appear to be precursors to the Gothic architecture of Northern France a few decades later, doubtless due to the Norman stonemasons responsible, although the building is considered Romanesque 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 Benedictine monastery at Durham, although the cloisters 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 Venerable Bede.

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 1140.

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 rose 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 UNESCO 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 Anglican church in the diocese 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 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 to Avignon and Prague." - Sir 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 better." - Nathaniel Hawthorne, 'The English Notebooks'.

"I unhesitatingly gave Durham my vote for best cathedral on planet Earth." - Bill Bryson, Notes from a Small Island.

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