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Durham Travel Guide

Durham Cathedral



Durham's Cathedral Church of Christ and Blessed Mary the Virgin or simply known as Durham Cathedral described as ‘one of the great architectural experiences of Europe’ is one of the finest cathedrals of its kind in Europe and the greatest example of Norman architecture in England.

The Durham Cathedral was founded in 995 by monks from Lindisfarne in honor to St. Cuthbert, a saint who a lot of miracles are attributed, and took 40 years to build and was completed in 1133, most of the original craftsmanship on the exterior still remains.

Many aspects of the original interior were destroyed during the Reformation and many of the current furnishings date from the 16th century. The cathedral saw several other turbulent periods in its history. During the Civil War of the 17th century, Cromwell closed it and used it to incarcerate thousands of Scottish prisoners.

The main entry to Durham Cathedral is through the north door, which bears a great bronze sanctuary knocker, used in medieval times for those seeking sanctuary in the church.

The nave of the cathedral is dominated by impressive, massive carved with geometric design pillars. They have stood for almost 900 years and are 6.6 meters around and 6.6 meters high. Durham was the first cathedral in Europe to be fitted with stone rib vaulting and it has the earliest pointed transverse arches in England. Until the late 1800s there were no seats in the nave. The long, narrow slab of Frosterly stone set in the floor marks the point behind which women had to remain until the mid-16th century.

The stained glass windows of the nave are mainly Victorian. The stone tracery of the great West Window (or Jesse Window) is from c. 1350, but the glass is from 1850. Look for the brightly-colored window near the entrance door: known as the Daily Bread Window, this abstract depiction of the Last Supper was given by the staff of Durham's Marks and Spencer in 1984 to mark the company's centenary. The Rose Window, at the far east end, was remodelled in the late 18th century.

The large Galilee Chapel, located in the west end, is one of the most beautiful parts of the cathedral. Wall paintings on the northern side are 12th century and probably depict St. Cuthbert and St. Oswald. The chapel also contains the tomb of the Venerable Bede, the 8th century monk and the first English church historian.

The Quire (Choir) is the site of daily services, including the pretty Evensong. The stalls of finely carved wood date from the 1660s, replacing original medieval ones.

The Bishop's throne dates from the mid-14th century. The Bishop of Durham uses this lofty seat the first time he comes to the cathedral, but thereafter he sits near the chancel screen. When it was built, the throne was claimed as the highest in Christendom.

The Shrine of St. Cuthbert, behind the high altar, was a major pilgrimage center in the Middle Ages and remains a sacred site today.

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