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Durham Cathedral









"Durham Cathedral is amongst the greatest churches ever built.  Planned and begun by Bishop Carileph (1081 - 1096) most of the cathedral was built in the Norman (Romanesque) style.  The (east) Rose Window is a later addition and was remodelled in the the late eighteenth century.  The Nave, Quire and two Transepts, north and south, were all built between 1093 and 1133.  The Galilee Chapel (west) was added in 1175.  The two western towers were built between 1217 and 1226.  Finally, the Chapel of the Nine Altars (east) was completed in the Gothic style between 1242 and 1280.  Until 1540, the Cathedral was also the church of the Benedictine Monastery where the monks worked and worshiped" from "a short guide to Durham Cathedral".


The cathedral (monastery) church, cloisters and other monastic buildings make this, along with Worcester and Canterbury, the most complete "medieval cathedral monastery ensembles" (to coin a Spanish expression) in Britain.




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Durham Cathedral in Snow


Photo Andrew Heptinstall and Durham University


Durham Cathedral in the snow - 2005.  The Galilee Chapel is the crenulated structure at the west (left) end of the cathedral.


Durham Cathedral from NW

Durham Cathedral, Castle, University from the Air

Airfotos and Durham University


The island like structure which houses Medieval Durham -  Cathedral, University, Castle

(earlier the Bishop's Palace, but part of Durham University since its foundation in the 1830s), etc,

seen from the south



The Old English Cathedrals



The Prince Bishops of Durham


In Western Europe a Conte Palatino (Earl Palatine sometimes in English), who was about as elevated power-wise as you could go without becoming King or Emperor, had pretty much absolute power over both church and state matters in his region.  Usually to be found in frontier areas (like a Margrave / Marchese / Marquis but more universally powerful). 


The closest that England had to Conte Palatinos were the Prince Bishops of Durham, who ran the entire Northern Border region,  including its army, and were second only to the monarch in power.  It was not until 1836 that this particular  title was abolished, though the powers of the position had steadily diminished in the three hundred years since Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, looted the shrines and other things, and  Cromwell's men smashed everything up a century later.  Cromwell (like Napoleon) often used churches as military barracks, stables and ammunition stores.  In Durham he banged up 3000 Scottish prisoners in the Cathedral.


The Marcher Lords of the Welsh borders were originally Conte Palatinos but early on got taken down a noble notch or two.  The infamous Mortimers carried the title "Earls of March".


The Abbot of our favourite Italian Abbey - Sant'Antimo in South Tuscany - also had the title and powers of a Conte Palatino in the high Middle Ages.


And if you want a memorable image, feast your eyes on Margravine Uta, wife of Margrave Ekkehard II, whose painted statue (1212 but going on a 2010 fashion model) is in Naumburg Cathedral.



Durham Cathedral Cloisters


Durham Cathedral Cloisters



North west corner of the cloisters surmounted by the monks' dormitory, and the twin western towers (1217 - 1226).  Monks' dormitories are more usually found on the other (east) side of the cloister, so that the monks were located proximately to chapter house and the parts of the church reserved for them - in most cases everything from the choir screen eastwards, with the exception of access to east end shrines.






Durham Cathedral Western Towers



Durham Cathedral Tower and Crossing



North east corner of the cloisters (above and below), central tower, transept and (inaccessible) chapter house.  "Normally" the monks' dormitory would appear as an extension of the upper part of the transept, with the "night stairs" descending from the dormitory set against the transept wall.



Durham Cathedral Cloisters



Durham Cathedral Refectory



The refectory (inaccessible) and west half of the cathedral (above) and the whole cathedral from the south (below)



Durham Cathedral South Side



Sanctuary Door Knocker - Durham Cathedral



The Sanctuary Knocker on the north door of the Cathedral (replica of original in the museum).  In the middle ages anyone who had committed a serious offence could claim sanctuary by knocking on this door.  The fugitives were given 37 days to organize their affairs, during which time they had to decide whether to stand trial of leave the country by the nearest port.



Durham Cathedral Norman Nave



Diamond decorated Norman column - Durham



Chevron decorated Norman column - Durham



The beautiful Norman nave (above) and choir (below).  The masons who built Durham were the first in Europe to have the skill and courage to throw a full stone roof over a large choir and nave (1093 - 1133), and to do so they invented ribbed vaulting (and also concealed flying buttresses).  The testing nature of such developments was underlined later by the collapse of the choir roof (the earliest section to be built).


By moving away from the barrel to the ribbed vault, the Durham masons had pioneered basic Gothic some decades before it manifested itself in the large cathedrals of northern France.  Prior to this large span roofs had been wooden.


The building activities of the early 1100s moved from east to west, and it is interesting to look at the arch decorations along this "timeline", which become more and more detailed as you move west.  The rose window now in the east was a much later addition.





Shrine of Saint Cuthbert, Durham Cathedral


Site of the Shrine of Saint Cuthbert in the Chapel of the Nine Altars (east end behind the high altar - completed in Gothic style between 1242 and 1280).  Chapels with multiple altars were common in larger monasteries who had a greater number of ordained monks (most monks were not). Cathedral Postcard.



Cross of Saint Cuthbert, Durham Cathedral


Cross of Saint Cuthbert - Cathedral Postcard


The abbey cathedral's Shrine of Saint Cuthbert  (from Lindisfarne) was the most visited shrine in England until Archbishop Thomas Becket was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral on 29 December 1170 and his shrine took over the popularity (and accessibility) stakes.  Because of the valuables stacked in a major shrine such as this, it would probably have been overseen by a duty monk looking out from an elevated story balcony like the one which has been preserved at St Albans.




Some early English Saints, Kings and Queens


including Cuthbert, Oswald and Bede






Looking to the west, back down the nave from the quire (choir).



Galilee Chapel, Durham Cathedral



The Galilee Chapel (aka Lady Chapel) dates from the late 1100s and the 1200s, and is located where the West porch or narthex would normally be (in most other cathedrals it's somewhere around the east end).  Women could come here and worship without setting the monks' hearts racing.  Although the chapel was only built a few decades after the nave, the design patterns have already become noticeably slimmer.  There are also a few paintings on the upper walls.



The tomb of another great Northumberland saint and historian - the Venerable Bede (from Jarrow - aka Saint Bede the Venerable) (right) - is in the Galilee chapel.  It's behind the modern wood carving on the right of the photo above.  Bede wrote "The Ecclesiastical History of the English Peoples"




More photos of the tombs of Bede and Cuthbert




Link to Durham Cathedral Website



Tomb of the Venerable Bede, Durham Cathedral





The magnificent medieval timber roofed monks' dormitory (now library and museum) over the west cloister.


Link to the Bewcastle Cross in a remote Cumbrian churchyard



Durham Cathedral



Photo by Nick Thompson









Durham Cathedral

View of Durham Cathedral from the south east, from the book below  ...




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