After four lovely days in Northumberland staying at Eshott Hall, we wended our way southward towards Yorkshire. The lively and interesting people we met at Eshott Hall were all from England, and there was no shortage of advice on what stops to make on the relatively short journey. The town of Durham and its Cathedral, Ripon Cathedral and Beamish all made the list. So many choices – so little time!
In hindsight, I’m really glad we chose Durham. Not only was it beautiful, it happened to be one of the six cathedrals featured on a set of Royal Doulton hand-painted antique cabinet plates my husband gave me for my birthday this past February. We had seen three of the six (Salisbury Cathedral, Winchester Cathedral and Westminster Abbey) and I had meant to check which were yet to be seen before leaving on this trip, but I forgot. Upon returning home, it was kind of spooky to discover we had covered the remaining three just by chance, and Durham was one of them. The other two were York Minster and Canterbury.
A UNESCO world heritage site, Durham is home to Castle, Cathedral and University. The castle was closed the day we visited for a private event, so we had to content ourselves with the cathedral and town.
The present cathedral was built in 1093 and is unapologetically Norman, with its square towers and solid appearance.
Perched on a rocky peninsula, the Cathedral served partly as a fortification against the Scots to the north and the newly defeated Saxons, who had themselves previously built a cathedral on the site to house the relics of St. Cuthbert, transported in 995 from the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, one of the Farne Islands. St. Cuthbert was a 7th-century monk known for his love of learning and nature, who established a hermitage on the island of Inner Farne, where he died in 687.
The sanctuary knocker on the main door is a replica of the 12th-century original (now housed elsewhere). Until 1623, when the right of sanctuary was abolished, those accused of certain crimes could claim sanctuary for 37 days in the cathedral, after which they would either have to stand trial or leave the country.
The cloisters were the hub of daily activity for the Benedictine monastery. Originally glassed in, here the monks exercised, copied manuscripts, taught and studied. You may recognize them from the first two Harry Potter movies. The cloisters here and at Gloucester Cathedral were used in the filming.
Pictures of the inside of the Cathedral were not permitted, so we purchased a book in the gift shop, where Teddy also acquired his monk garb. There are some also great pictures on the Cathedral’s website, particularly of the interior columns.
Durham is fortunate to have survived the Dissolution of the monasteries with much of the structure intact, and the buildings surrounding the Cathedral speak to its rich history as the centre of a thriving community.
The combination of the Cathedral, Castle and the actual town of Durham make for a full day out. Well worth the visit!