Back in the 19th century, the tomb of St Cuthbert, in whose name Durham Cathedral was built, was opened twice, under very different circumstances. Today, Exhibitions Assistant Shaun McAlister takes a look back over the first of these great historic moments.
We are all too aware of how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting how we go about our daily lives. For us, we are having to find new ways of celebrating our beloved Saint Cuthbert, on his feast day today. As our Open Treasure museum is currently closed, we caught up with Exhibitions Assistant, Shaun McAlister, who shared with us the fascinating history of St Cuthbert and his treasures.
Danny Knight, the Public Fundraising Manager for York Minster Fund recently visited our Open Treasure museum and it’s safe to say our Mapping the World exhibition made a lasting impression on him.
Nothing adds historical weight to a world like old maps.
They have always seemed to me like a rudimentary form of time travel, allowing you to explore a landscape which is at once completely alien and yet instantly recognisable. Maps are a snapshot in time, a frozen instant in history. They capture both the eternity of the natural world and the human place in it, yet are equally evocative of the change experienced by that world. Names and places stitch together the fabric of our present and our past, anchoring memories and communities and people.
Durham is an ancient place. A settlement on the site may date back nearly 4000 years, and the city in its current form is recognisable as far back at the 10th century. The grand, towering facades of Durham Cathedral offer a continuous thread throughout the last millennium, displayed in its collection of ancient maps. At the centre of Mapping the World, the newest exhibition in the beautiful Open Treasure museum, unfurls a map of county Durham. Balanced precariously next to the river, nestled between the hills and mountains of the county, sits Durham Cathedral. And thus it remains in maps from subsequent centuries: Durham Cathedral rests unchanging, unflinching, atop its pinnacle.
This stability cannot be understated. Society may shift around it, but from Anglo-Saxon saints to modern mining communities, the Cathedral remains at the centre of North-East identities through it all. It ties us back to our past, a single stitch in the ever-changing fabric of our world.
Maps also demonstrate the endless human desire for truth. Our understanding of the world influences and is influenced by maps. In Mapping the World, we see how the vague, nebulous coastlines of the Americas become defined over time, in turn defining the truth of our world, its history and its future. The same can be said of the cathedral that houses these marvellous works. Its evolving place in society is testament to our evolving understanding of the world around us – a world which is in turn captured on paper by cartographers throughout the ages.
These artefacts, ancient maps and ancient buildings, give us reference points as we explore the past. We may think we have seen change in our lifetime, but what change has Durham Cathedral seen? If it can survive this long, surely it is eternal?
However, we should not be fooled. Ancient maps, ancient buildings and ancient landscapes require a great deal of care and attention. They only retain their longevity because of the countless individuals who serve them, ensuring that they remain strong and beautiful forever. Mapping the World at Durham Cathedral reminds us that we, today, are the stewards of our natural and cultural heritage. It is our responsibility to keep it and support it for future generations, just as previous generations kept it and supported it for us.
Interested in visiting Open Treasure?
You can visit the Mapping the World exhibition within Open Treasure until Saturday 18 January. Opening hours are Monday–Saturday, 11am-4pm, and Sundays from 12.30pm-4pm. Last admission 3pm each day.
Please note Open Treasure will be closed from 4pm on Saturday 18 December until 10am Monday 27 January 2020, to allow for exhibition changeover. From 27 January, Open Treasure opening hours will be Monday to Saturday, 10am – 5pm and Sundays, 12.30pm – 5pm. Last entry 4pm each day.
Tickets: £2.50 – £7.50. Under 5s free, family ticket £17.50, 50% discount with an art fund pass. Available from the cathedral’s visitor desk and in advance on the Open Treasure ticket booking page.
We asked Faye, a member of cathedral staff, for her thoughts on the last Divine Desserts dining event at the cathedral’s Undercroft Restaurant.
Divine Desserts was a spectacle in every way; everyone was gathered together for the same reason – to taste and appreciate the wonderful food on offer from the team of very talented chefs at the Undercroft Restaurant. The atmosphere was buzzing from the very beginning, which was followed by an excited and almost reverent hush as the food was brought out. For main course I had the ‘chargrilled pesto halloumi steak with autumn ratatouille and lemon beurre blanc’; every mouthful was absolutely delicious and was polished off in no time!
In the last blog in the series, artist Mel Howse describes the process of making our newest cathedral addition.
Over a period of 25 years my skills as a designer and maker have evolved into taking on some large-scale projects. I was fortunate to have had commissions coming in on graduation as a student, and my experience of transposing drawn designs to full-scale glasswork has grown along with my portfolio. I am not daunted in this respect by scale, in fact, I relish it, and the development of commissions that take years to unfold is all part of the territory. My focus as an artist is in creating unique pieces of work, that explore the opportunities afforded by my medium, keeping it relevant to our era.
Artist Mel Howse discusses the process of cartooning for our newest piece of glass art
In the stained glass tradition, the working drawing that an artist uses to create the final glasswork is called a cartoon. This cartoon is a full-size drawing at 1:1 scale and can be in either colour or black and white.
It conveys the
essence of the glass work to come: the size and the shape of the glass pieces,
details of applied techniques such as paintwork or etching. Quite simply, it is
the glassmaker’s guide for the coming stage of creating the art in glass.