|The Cathedral Church of Christ, Blessed Mary the Virgin and St Cuthbert of Durham|
Durham Cathedral from the north-west
|Denomination||Church of England|
|Style||Romanesque, Norman, Decorated|
|Years built||1093–1133, additions until 1490.|
|Length||469 feet (143 m) (interior)|
|Nave width||81 feet (25 m) (inc aisles)|
|Nave height||73 feet (22 m)|
|Choir height||74 feet (23 m)|
|Number of towers||3|
|Tower height||218 feet (66 m) (central tower)|
144 feet (44 m) (western towers)
|Number of spires||0 (2 on western towers until 1658)|
|Diocese||Durham (since 635 as Lindisfarne, 995 as Durham)|
|Precentor||Michael Hampel (Vice-Dean)|
|Canon(s)||Sophie Jelley (Dir. Mission)|
Simon Oliver (Professor)
|Director of music||Daniel Cook (Organist and Master of the Choristers)|
|Organist(s)||Francesca Massey (Sub-Organist)|
|Chapter clerk||Amanda Anderson|
|Lay member(s) of chapter||Cathy Barnes|
Ivor Stolliday (Treasurer)
|UNESCO World Heritage Site|
|Part of||Durham Castle and Cathedral|
|Criteria||Cultural: ii, iv, vi|
|Inscription||1986 (10th Session)|
The Cathedral Church of Christ, Blessed Mary the Virgin and St Cuthbert of Durham, commonly known as Durham Cathedral and home of the Shrine of St Cuthbert, is a cathedral in the city of Durham, United Kingdom. It is the seat of the Bishop of Durham, the fourth-ranked bishop in the Church of England hierarchy. The present cathedral was begun in 1093, replacing the Saxon 'White Church', and is regarded as one of the finest examples of Norman architecture in Europe. In 1986 the cathedral and Durham Castle were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Durham Cathedral holds the relics of Saint Cuthbert, transported to Durham by Lindisfarne monks in the ninth century, the head of Saint Oswald of Northumbria, and the remains of the Venerable Bede. In addition, its library contains one of the most complete sets of early printed books in England, the pre-Dissolution monastic accounts, and three copies of the Magna Carta.
From 1080 until 1836 the Bishop of Durham enjoyed the powers of an Earl palatine, being given military and civil as well as religious leadership in order to protect the Scottish Border. The cathedral walls formed part of Durham Castle, one of the residences of the Bishop of Durham.
There are daily Church of England services at the cathedral, with the Durham Cathedral Choir singing daily except Mondays and when the choir is on holiday. The cathedral is a major tourist attraction within the region, attracting 755,000 visitors in 2015.
The see of Durham takes its origins from the Diocese of Lindisfarne, founded by Saint Aidan at the behest of Oswald of Northumbria around 635. The see lasted until 664, at which point it was translated to York. The see was then reinstated at Lindisfarne in 678 by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Among the many saints produced in the community at Lindisfarne Priory, Saint Cuthbert, who was Bishop of Lindisfarne from 685 until his death on Farne Island in 687, is central to the development of Durham Cathedral.
After repeated Viking raids, the monks fled Lindisfarne in 875, carrying Saint Cuthbert's relics with them. The diocese of Lindisfarne remained itinerant until 882, when a community was reestablished in Chester-le-Street. The see had its seat here until 995, when further incursions once again caused the monks to move with the relics. According to local legend, the monks followed two milk maids who were searching for a dun-coloured cow and were led into a peninsula formed by a loop in the River Wear. At this point Cuthbert's coffin became immovable. This trope of hagiography was offered for a sign that the new shrine should be built here. A more prosaic set of reasons for the selection of the peninsula is its highly defensible position, and that a community established here would enjoy the protection of the Earl of Northumberland, as the bishop at this time, Aldhun, had strong family links with the earls. Nevertheless, the street leading from The Bailey past the Cathedral's eastern towers up to Palace Green is named Dun Cow Lane due to the miniature (dun) cows that used to graze in the pastures nearby.
Initially, a very simple temporary structure was built from local timber to house the relics of Cuthbert. The shrine was then transferred to a sturdier, probably wooden, building known as the White Church. This church was itself replaced three years later in 998 by a stone building also known as the White Church, which was complete apart from its tower by 1018. Durham soon became a site of pilgrimage, encouraged by the growing cult of Saint Cuthbert. King Canute was one early pilgrim, granting many privileges and much land to the Durham community. The defendable position, flow of money from pilgrims and power embodied in the church at Durham ensured that a town formed around the cathedral, establishing the early core of the modern city.
The present cathedral was designed and built under William of St. Carilef (or William of Calais) who was appointed as the first prince-bishop by King William the Conqueror in 1080. Since that time, there have been major additions and reconstructions of some parts of the building, but the greater part of the structure remains true to the Norman design. Construction of the cathedral began in 1093 at the eastern end. The choir was completed by 1096 and work proceeded on the nave of which the walls were finished by 1128, and the high vault complete by 1135. The chapter house, partially demolished in the 18th century, was built between 1133 and 1140. William died in 1096 before the building's completion, passing responsibility to his successor, Ranulf Flambard, who also built Framwellgate Bridge, the first crossing of the River Wear in the town. Three bishops, William of St. Carilef, Ranulf Flambard and Hugh de Puiset, are all buried in the rebuilt chapter house.
In the 1170s, de Puiset, after a false start at the eastern end where the subsidence and cracking prevented work from continuing, added the Galilee Chapel at the west end of the cathedral. The five-aisled building occupies the position of a porch, it functioned as a Lady chapel and the great west door was blocked during the Medieval period by an altar to the Virgin Mary. The door is now blocked by the tomb of the bishop Thomas Langley. The Galilee Chapel also holds the remains of the Venerable Bede. The main entrance to the cathedral is on the northern side, facing towards the castle.
In 1228 Richard le Poore came from Salisbury where a new cathedral was being built in the Gothic style. At this time, the eastern end of the cathedral was in urgent need of repair and the proposed eastern extension had failed. Le Poore employed the architect Richard Farnham to design an eastern terminal for the building in which many monks could say the Daily Office simultaneously. The resulting building was the Chapel of the Nine Altars. The towers also date from the early 13th century, but the central tower was damaged by lightning and replaced in two stages in the 15th century, the master masons being Thomas Barton and John Bell.
The Shrine of Saint Cuthbert was located in the eastern apsidal end of the cathedral. The location of the inner wall of the apse is marked on the pavement and Cuthbert's tomb is covered by a simple slab. However, an unknown monk wrote in 1593:
[The shrine] was estimated to be one of the most sumptuous in all England, so great were the offerings and jewells bestowed upon it, and endless the miracles that were wrought at it, even in these last days.— Rites of Durham, 
Cuthbert's tomb was destroyed on the orders of King Henry VIII in 1538, and the monastery's wealth handed over to the king. The body of the saint was exhumed, and according to the Rites of Durham, was discovered to be uncorrupted. It was reburied under a plain stone slab worn by the knees of pilgrims, but the ancient paving around it remains intact. Two years later, on 31 December 1540, the Benedictine monastery at Durham was dissolved, and the last prior of Durham – Hugh Whitehead – became the first dean of the cathedral's secular chapter.
After the Battle of Dunbar on 3 September 1650, Durham Cathedral was used by Oliver Cromwell as a makeshift prison to hold Scottish prisoners of war. It is estimated that as many as 3,000 were imprisoned of whom 1,700 died in the cathedral itself, where they were kept in inhumane conditions, largely without food, water or heat. The prisoners destroyed much of the cathedral woodwork for firewood but Prior Castell's Clock, which featured the Scottish thistle, was spared. It is reputed that the prisoners' bodies were buried in unmarked graves (see further, '21st century' below). The survivors were shipped as slave labour to North America.
John Cosin, Bishop of Durham who had previously been a canon of the cathedral, set about restoring the damage and refurnishing the building with new stalls, the litany desk and the towering canopy over the font. An oak screen to carry the organ was added at this time to replace a stone screen pulled down in the 16th century. On the remains of the old refectory, the Dean, John Sudbury founded a library of early printed books.
During the 18th century, the deans of Durham often held another position in the south of England, and after spending the statutory time in residence, would depart to manage their affairs. Consequently, after Cosin's refurbishment, there was little by way of restoration or rebuilding. When work commenced again on the building, it was not always of a sympathetic nature. In 1777 the architect George Nicholson, having completed Prebends' Bridge across the Wear, persuaded the dean and chapter to let him smooth off much of the outer stonework of the cathedral, thereby considerably altering its character. His successor William Morpeth demolished most of the Chapter House.
In 1794 the architect James Wyatt drew up extensive plans which would have drastically transformed the building, including the demolition of the Galilee Chapel, but the Chapter changed its mind just in time to prevent this happening. Wyatt also renewed the 15th-century tracery of the Rose Window, inserting plain glass to replace what had been blown out in a storm.
The restoration of the cathedral's tower in 1859-60 was by the architect George Gilbert Scott, working with Edward Robert Robson (who went on to serve as Clerk of Works at the cathedral for six years). In 1874 Scott was responsible for the marble quire screen and pulpit in the Crossing. In 1892 Scott's pupil Charles Hodgson Fowler rebuilt the Chapter House as a memorial to Joseph Barber Lightfoot (Bishop).
The great west window, depicting the Tree of Jesse, was the gift of Dean George Waddington in 1867. It is the work of Clayton and Bell, who were also responsible for the Te Deum window in the South Transept (1869), the Four Doctors window in the North Transept (1875), and the Rose Window of Christ in Majesty (c. 1876).
In the 1930s, under the inspiration of Dean Cyril Alington, work began on restoring the Shrine of Saint Cuthbert behind the High Altar as an appropriate focus of worship and pilgrimage, and was resumed after the Second World War. The four candlesticks and overhanging tester (c. 1950) were designed by Ninian Comper. Two large batik banners representing Saints Cuthbert and Oswald, added in 2001, are the work of Thetis Blacker. Elsewhere in the building the 1930s and 1940s saw the addition of several new stained glass windows by Hugh Ray Easton. Mark Angus' Daily Bread window dates from 1984. In the Galilee Chapel a wooden statue of the Annunciation by the Polish artist Josef Pyrz was added in 1992, the same year as Leonard Evetts' Stella Maris window.
In 1986, the cathedral, together with the nearby 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".
In 1996, the Great Western Doorway was the setting for Bill Viola's large-scale video installation The Messenger.
Interior views of the cathedral were featured in the 1998 film Elizabeth.
At the beginning of this century two of the altars in the Nine Altars Chapel at the east end of the Cathedral were re-dedicated to Saint Hild of Whitby and Saint Margaret of Scotland: a striking painting of Margaret (with her son, the future king David) by Paula Rego was dedicated in 2004. Nearby a plaque, first installed in 2011 and rededicated in 2017, commemorates the Scottish soldiers who died as prisoners in the Cathedral after the Battle of Dunbar in 1650. The remains of some of these prisoners have now been identified in a mass grave uncoverered during building works in 2013 just outside the Cathedral precinct near Palace Green.
In 2004 two wooden sculptures by Fenwick Lawson, Pietà and Tomb of Christ, were placed in the Nine Altars Chapel, and in 2010 a new stained glass window of the Transfiguration by Tom Denny was dedicated in memory of Michael Ramsey, former Bishop of Durham and Archbishop of Canterbury.
In 2016 former monastic buildings around the cloister, including the Monks' Dormitory and Prior's Kitchen, were re-opened to the public as Open Treasure, an extensive exhibition displaying the Cathedral's history and possessions.
Durham Cathedral was featured in the Harry Potter films as Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where it had a spire digitally added onto the top of the famous towers. It is also featured on TV in Season 5's last episode of Inspector George Gently.
In November 2009 the cathedral featured in the Lumiere festival whose highlight was the "Crown of Light" illumination of the North Front of the cathedral with a 15-minute presentation that told the story of Lindisfarne and the foundation of cathedral, using illustrations and text from the Lindisfarne Gospels. The Lumiere festival was repeated in 2011, 2013, 2015, and 2017.
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There is evidence that the aisle of the choir had the earliest ribbed vaults in the country, as was argued by John Bilson, English architect, at the end of the nineteenth century. Since then it has been argued that other buildings like Lessay Abbey provided the early experimental ribs that created the high technical level shown in Durham. Interestingly there is evidence in the clerestory walls of the choir that the high vault had ribs. There is controversy between John James and Malcolm Thurlby on whether these rib vaults were four-part or six-part, which remains unresolved. The building is notable for the ribbed vault of the nave roof, with some of the earliest pointed transverse arches supported on relatively slender composite piers alternated with massive drum columns, and lateral abutments concealed within the triforium over the aisles. These features appear to be precursors of the Gothic architecture of Northern France a few decades later, doubtless due to the Norman stonemasons responsible, although the building is considered Romanesque overall. The skilled use of the pointed arch and ribbed vault made it possible to cover far more elaborate and complicated ground plans than before. Buttressing made it possible to build taller buildings and open up the intervening wall spaces to create larger windows.
The cathedral is governed by the chapter which is chaired by the dean. Durham is a "New Foundation" cathedral in which there are not specific roles to which members of the chapter are appointed, with the exception of the Dean and the Van Mildert Professor of Divinity. The other roles, sub-dean, precentor, sacrist, librarian and treasurer, are elected by the members of the chapter annually.
As of 29 January 2019:
In the 17th century Durham had an organ by Smith that was replaced in 1876 by Willis, with some pipes being reused in Durham Castle chapel. Harrison & Harrison worked on the organ from 1880, with several major additions to the stop list, and a refurbishment in 1996. The cases, designed by C. Hodgson Fowler and decorated by Clayton and Bell date from 1876 and are in the galleries of the choir.
There is a regular choir of adult lay clerks, choral scholars and child choristers. The latter are educated at the Chorister School. Traditionally child choristers were all boys, but in November 2009 the cathedral admitted female choristers for the first time. The girls and the boys serve alternately, not as a mixed choir, except at major festivals such as Easter, Advent and Christmas when the two "top lines" come together.
In 1829 the Dean and Chapter authorised the engraving of a meridian line upon the floor and wall of the north cloister. A circular aperture about 1 inch (2.5 cm) in the tracery of the adjoining window about 10 feet (3 m) above the level of the floor directs a beam of sunlight to fall upon the line at the precise time when the sun passes the meridian. It was constructed by William Lloyd Wharton, of Dryburn in the city, and Mr Carr, then Head Master of Durham School.
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Letitia Landon's atmospheric poem, Durham Cathedral, appeared in Fisher's Drawing Room Scrap Book, 1835.
"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." — 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 on Durham Cathedral, The English Notebooks
'With the cathedral at Durham we reach the incomparable masterpiece of Romanesque architecture not only in England but anywhere. The moment of entering provides for an architectural experience never to be forgotten, one of the greatest England has to offer.' — Alec Clifton-Taylor, 'English Towns' series on BBC television.
Most of what makes Durham Durham is of the short space of time between 1093 and 1133, and of that phase [...]it is one of the most perfect and also historically most interesting buildings in Europe.
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