The Treasures of St Cuthbert – Eight unmissable things to look out for when you visit!

The Treasures of St Cuthbert represent some of the most significant Anglo-Saxon artefacts in the UK! From Saturday 29 July you’ll be able to see these exquisite objects on permanent display in the stunning Great Kitchen in Open Treasure, Durham Cathedral’s world-class exhibition experience. Here are eight things to look out for when you visit:

  1. St Cuthbert’s pectoral cross – This spectacular 7th-century gold and garnet pectoral cross was designed to be worn on a chain around the neck and may have been worn by St Cuthbert during his lifetime. It is a rare and important early example of Christian Anglo-Saxon jewellery.
  2. St Cuthbert’s ivory comb – Based on multiples of 1¼ inches (the diameter of the hole at the centre of the comb), this is a rare surviving example of an Anglo-Saxon comb. The teeth have been painstakingly cut, with a little saw or file, and the cross is simple yet beautifully designed.
  3. St Cuthbert’s portable altar – Portable altars were used by missionaries during the 7th-century, and St Cuthbert’s portable altar would have been used to support St Cuthbert’s missionary work in the North East. This fragile treasure dates from 660 AD.
  4. St Cuthbert’s wooden coffin – Widely regarded as the most important example of Pre-Conquest woodwork, St Cuthbert’s coffin is the centrepiece of The Treasures of St Cuthbert exhibition. It is finely engraved with linear images, Latin lettering and Anglo-Saxon runes with names of apostles and saints, and is believed to date from 698 AD.
  5. 10th-century vestments – In the 930s, King Athelstan added an exquisite stole and maniple to St Cuthbert’s coffin which are the only existing Anglo-Saxon embroideries which depict human figures. See these beautiful silks on display in alongside the other Treasures of St Cuthbert from 29 July.
  6. The Sanctuary Ring – The 12th-Century Sanctuary Ring is one of Durham Cathedral’s most enduring symbols. Originally attached to the North Door of the Cathedral, those who ‘had committed a great offence’ could rap the knocker and would be given 37 days of sanctuary during which they could try to reconcile with their enemies or plan their escape. The Sanctuary Ring currently on the North Door is a replica of the original, which is now on display in Open Treasure.
  7. The Conyers’ Falchion – The Conyers Falchion is a medieval sword: 89cm long and less than three pounds in weight, it consists of a bronze pommel and cross and a handle made of ash. According to legend, it was used by John Conyers to slay the ‘Sockburn Worm’.
  8. The Great Kitchen – The Great Kitchen has been transformed into a permanent and fitting home for The Treasures of St Cuthbert. Used as a kitchen until the 1940s, this stunning space is one of only two surviving medieval monastic kitchens in the UK!

Visitors to The Treasures of St Cuthbert can also enjoy access to the other Open Treasure exhibition spaces, including the spectacular Monks’ Dormitory and the rolling programme of exhibitions in the Collections Gallery.

Tickets: £2.50 – £7.50 available online or from the Visitor Desk on the day of your visit. Click here for opening times and further information about Open Treasure.




From Monday 19 June – Saturday 9 September, the Open Treasure Collections Gallery at Durham Cathedral will  present a unique opportunity to see the only surviving copy of the 1216 issue of the Magna Carta and further issues from 1225 and 1300.  Also on display will be one of only two surviving issues of the Forest Charter, from 1217, and further issues from 1225 and 1300.

But why are these documents so important? Here are ten facts to highlight the significance of the Magna Carta and the Forest Charter:

1.Magna Carta was previously known as the Charter of Liberties.  It wasn’t called Magna Carta (which means Great Charter) until 1217 when the Forest Charter was published.  Because they were usually issued together from this point, a name was needed to distinguish the two.

2.Durham Cathedral holds the only original copy of the 1216 Magna Carta.  A contemporary copy exists in the French Royal Archives having been taking to France by Prince Louis (later King Louis VIII) after being defeated in his attempts to conquer England.

3.The Forest Charter was issued on 6 November 1217 and contained only 17 Clauses which were to deal with issues surrounding the Royal Forests including, among other things, pannage (pasture for pigs), estover (the collection of firewood), agisment (grazing) and turbery (the cutting of turf for fuel).

4. Elements of the Forest Charter remained law until 1971 when they were replaced with the Wild Creatures and Forest Laws Act.  This was the first time in history that the Crown lost its right to control the forests – ‘wild creatures…together with any prerogative right to set aside land or water for the breeding, support or taking of wild creatures; and any franchises of forest, free chase, park or free warren’.

5. Just because it ceased to exist in law didn’t mean it stopped having an impact on legal cases.  In 2015 a case was brought against the Forestry Commission that argued that sheep grazing should continue to be allowed in the Forest of Dean without restriction because this right had been granted to them in the Forest Charter.

6.Magna Carta had a worldwide impact.  It was used to grant the same liberties to the first colonists of the United States and is seen as the basis for the US Constitution.  The United States Supreme Court building has a frieze showing the signing of Magna Carta.

7.Before the Forest Charter, people who hunted in a Royal Forest without permissions could have been mutilated or executed as punishment.  The Forest Charter commuted this to a large fine or a year and a day in prison.

8.At the time the Forest Charter was issued , one third of England was designated as Royal Forest meaning it was under direct control of the monarch rather than on the common law of the land.  Reducing the size of these forests was the main reason for issuing the Forest Charter.

9.The Forest Charter didn’t technically apply to the palatine of Durham as it was under the control of the Prince Bishop.  Instead it was seen as a model to be followed for the administration of the Bishops Forests though there was no obligation to do so.

10. Royal Forests had strict rules about when hunting and grazing were allowed.  Cattle were banned from grazing in the forests between 11 November and 23 April as it was believed that they would drive away the deer.  Male deer were hunted from 24 June to 14 September with the female deer hunted from 14 September to 2 February.

Finally, The Forest Charter continues to have an impact today. 

The Woodland Trust have launched a new Charter designed to improve access to trees and forests and ensure their survival. Even more of a reason to come and see the original documents for yourself in the Open Treasure Collections Gallery at Durham Cathedral!

Tickets: £2.50 – £7.50 available from the Visitor Desk in the Cathedral, the Open Treasure Welcome Desk, and in advance from

Please note, from 19 June – 28 July inclusive, a 10% discount will apply to all single Open Treasure tickets. The Great Kitchen will not be accessible during this time whilst we install The Treasures of St Cuthbert. Thank you for your understanding.

Five reasons to visit Open Treasure this summer

On 23 July 2016 we opened our world-class exhibition experience Open Treasure! Almost one year later, 50,000 visitors have journeyed through this spectacular route at the heart of our medieval monastic buildings, exploring the heritage of Durham Cathedral and discovering remarkable objects from our collections.

Here are five reasons why Open Treasure should be at the top of your to-do list this summer…

1) Magna Carta and the Forest Charters

Monday 19 June – Saturday 9 September, Open Treasure

2017 marks the 800th anniversary of the Forest Charter, and we are celebrating in style! Durham Cathedral has not one but three issues of the Forest Charter, from 1225, 1300 and one of only two surviving originals from 1217.

See all three documents on display in the Open Treasure Collections Gallery alongside Durham Cathedral’s three issues of Magna Carta from 1225, 1300 and the only surviving original issue from 1216.

This is the first time all six documents will have been displayed together, marking a landmark moment in the Cathedral’s history.

2) The Treasures of St Cuthbert

From Saturday 29 July, Open Treasure

The Treasures of St Cuthbert are some of the most remarkable surviving Anglo-Saxon artefacts in the UK, including St Cuthbert’s preserved wooden coffin, pectoral cross, ivory comb and portable altar. See these stunning objects on permanent display in the spectacular Great Kitchen from 29 July, one of only two surviving medieval monastic kitchens in the UK!

3) New special offers and discounts 

Open Treasure ticket holders can enjoy exclusive offers and discounts, including 10% off in the Undercroft Restaurant when you present your ticket.

From 19 June, we will also be offering Open Treasure entry with a guided tour of Durham Cathedral for just £10 (instead of £12.50). 

Annual passes are also available, providing unlimited access for one year:

4) Ten Minute Talks

Every Wednesday at 2.00pm, visitors to Open Treasure can enjoy our series of Ten Minute Talks. Each week you can find out more about the extraordinary and unusual objects on display, and still have time for lunch!

Open Treasure admission applies.

Visit our website to see the talks scheduled for the next few weeks:

5) Fun for all the family!

Open Treasure is great fun for all the family! Dress as a monk, experience the sights, sounds and smells of monastic life in the Monks’ Dormitory, and explore the Open Treasure spaces with one of our family trails. We also have free backpacks designed especially for little explorers!

Throughout the summer holidays (from 28 July – 1 September), you can join us for our Family Fun Fridays with hands-on activities including cast-a-seal and strike-a-coin. We’ll even have our own medieval Scriptorium!

Admission to Open Treasure is free for under 5s and £2.50 for children aged 5 – 18, and includes all family fun activities.

Plan your visit…

Visit for opening times and ticket prices.

Please note, from 19 June – 28 July inclusive, a 10% discount will apply to all single Open Treasure tickets. The Great Kitchen will not be accessible during this time whilst we install The Treasures of St Cuthbert. Thank you for your understanding.

We look forward to welcoming you to Durham Cathedral and Open Treasure! 

10 Fantastic Facts about BEASTS!

Did you think beasts only existed on film or in fairy tales? Think again! The new BEASTS! exhibition in our Open Treasure Collections Gallery showcases some of the the weird and wonderful beasts and monsters which have fascinated people from earliest times through the Cathedral’s Collections and objects on loan from other institutions.

Here are some fantastic facts about some of the objects you can see on display…

  1. Conrad Gesner’s Historiae Animalium (History of the Animals) is said to mark the beginning of the modern science of zoology. Swiss naturalist Conrad Gesner’s published Historiae Annimalium between 1551 and 1558 in a five volume compendium, and tried to collect everything that had ever been written about animals including everything from crocodiles to unicorns! On display are two copies of the Historiae Animalium from 1617-1621.
  2. Johannes Jonstonus’s Historiae Naturalis (1657) became one of the most successful and influential natural history books of the 17th and 18th centuries. Perhaps the last great zoological encyclopedia of the Renaissance, one of the reasons for its popularity was the quality and range of its illustrations. Myth and reality are still combined, however: the pages displayed in Open Treasure feature a phoenix, pelican, harpy and griffin.
  3. Thomas Bewick published A General History of Quadrupeds in 1790. Bewick was unhappy with previously existing illustrated books and wanted to create a more accurate book by using illustrations drawn from life. Visitors to BEASTS! can see Bewick’s exquisite illustrations on display in the Collections Gallery.
  4. Also on display are several pieces of ‘evidence’ for the existence of various beasts, including a unicorn’s horn on loan from Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens. Nowadays we know this horn is a narwhal’s tooth, but in medieval western Europe people really believed in unicorns. The spiral horn of these graceful creatures was believed to have powers of healing and neutralising any poison.
  5. People today know that elephants are real, but in medieval England elephants were creatures of legend. On display in the exhibition is an elephant’s tooth from Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens. It was said that elephants would stamp on the head of a serpent or crocodile as they were believed to be mortal enemies.
  6. Griffins were a fierce mythical creature with the body, tail and back legs of a lion, the head and wings of an eagle and eagle’s talons on its front of feet. Like many other beasts they were believed to have special powers. Only a very holy person could obtain the claw of a griffin, and it is believed that the griffin claw currently on display in BEASTS! may have been gifted to St Cuthbert’s Shrine.
  7. Along with the griffin’s claw on loan from The British Museum, visitors can see griffin’s eggs on loan from Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens. The Griffin’s Claw is really the horn of an Ibex (Alpine wild goat), whilst the griffin’s eggs are probably ostrich eggs.
  8. Many manuscripts from the Cathedral’s Collection are richly decorated with beasts and other decorations of various kinds. One of the manuscripts on display is Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica (Theological Summary) part 1, a great work of instruction for theology students in the 13th and 14th centuries. The students set to study this volume were perhaps easily and frequently distracted, as many of its pages feature sketches and doodles, including some highly imaginative beasts. The page displayed features a dragon with an arrow-shaped tongue, and a bird eating a snake or eel.
  9. Beasts and fantastic creatures were seen also in the night sky among the stars. On display are pages from the Medicine, the Calendar, and Astronomy, a 12th-century a compendium of scientific procedures which covers everything from medicinal procedures to tables on astronomy.
  10. Visitors to BEASTS! can also see the inkwell used by Professor McGonagall in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s stone. Durham Cathedral was used one of the sites used to bring Hogwarts to life in the Harry Potter movies. This inkwell from the Cathedral’s Collections once belonged to Bishop Lightfoot, Bishop of Durham during the nineteenth-century.

BEASTS! will be on display in Open Treasure until Saturday 10 June.

Open Treasure is open Monday to Saturday from 10.00am – 5.00pm (last entry 4.00pm) and Sundays from 12.30pm – 5.00pm (last entry 4.00pm).

Tickets: £2.50 – £7.50 (under 5s free) available from and from the Visitor Desk in the Cathedral.

Open Treasure annual passes are also available so you’ll never have to miss an Open Treasure exhibition!

Ten Reasons to Vote for Durham Cathedral as Heritage Site of the Year

Bill Bryson has nominated Durham Cathedral as Heritage Site of the Year in the BBC Countryfile Magazine Awards 2017 and we need your votes!

In nominating Durham Cathedral for this award, Bill Bryson described it as ‘one of the supreme achievements of the architectural world‘ and a wonder to behold from every possible vantage point, inside and out’. He also famously once described Durham Cathedral as ‘the best Cathedral on planet earth’!

But if you still need convincing, here are ten reasons why you should vote for Durham Cathedral as Heritage Site of the Year:

  1. #SpiritualHeritage – Durham Cathedral has been a place of worship for almost one thousand years. It is the resting place of two of the North’s best-loved saints, St Cuthbert and St Bede, and is still a living place of worship with at least three services daily.
  2. #MusicalHeritage – Durham Cathedral’s musical heritage dates back to the 11th century and since 1416 the Cathedral Choir has been accompanied by a team of choristers. You can hear them singing Evensong in the Cathedral most days and there’s nothing more uplifting than hearing this incredible building filled with the sound of music!
  3. #NaturalHeritage – Durham Cathedral is surrounded by woodlands and riverbanks. This beautiful space at the heart of Durham City was created as part of a planned 18th-century landscape but is now open for everyone to enjoy, a haven for wildlife offering spectacular views of the Durham UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  4. #LiteraryHeritage – Durham Cathedral Library dates back to the library of the monastery founded by St Aidan on Lindisfarne in 635AD. It is now the largest in-situ medieval library in the UK with manuscripts dating from the 6th century onwards and 30,000 early printed books!
  5. #ArchitecturalHeritage – Durham Cathedral is renowned as one of the finest examples of Romanesque architecture in Europe and boasts the world’s first known example of a structural pointed arch, which paved the way for the development of Gothic architecture in Europe.
  6. #MonasticHeritage – One of few places to survive the Reformation intact, Durham Cathedral now boasts the most intact surviving set of medieval monastic buildings in the UK. These incredible spaces are now part of Open Treasure, including the UK’S best-preserved monastic dormitory with its fourteenth-century oak-beamed ceiling and the stunning Great Kitchen, one of only two surviving monastic kitchens in the UK.
  7. #ArtisticHeritage – Durham Cathedral is home to many pieces of modern artwork by artists including Paula Rego, Fenwick Lawson, Colin Wilbourn and Kirill Sokolov. The Cathedral continues to exhibit the work of local artists including Judy Hurst and the late Norman Wade.
  8. #GlobalHeritage – Durham Cathedral is part of the Durham UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of the first World Heritage Sites to be inscribed by UNESCO in 1986 and one of only two World Heritage Sites in the UK to include a Cathedral!
  9. #LivingHeritage – The heritage of Durham Cathedral is not confined to the past. Durham Cathedral is a place of living heritage that many of us call home, with annual events celebrating the vibrant culture of the region of Durham from the Miners’ Festival Service to Durham BRASS Festival.
  10. #YourHeritage – Most importantly, the heritage of Durham Cathedral is #yourheritage and we’d love to hear what makes Durham Cathedral special to you! Please share your stories with us on Facebook and Twitter before 28 February using the hashtag #yourcathedral to celebrate your heritage.

To vote for Durham Cathedral in the BBC Countryfile Magazine Awards, please visit before 28 February and cast your vote!

Ten things you didn’t know about ‘Textiles: Painting with the Needle’

So you think textiles are dull? Think again! The new textiles exhibition at the heart of Durham Cathedral’s world-class exhibition experience Open Treasure showcases some of the finest examples of church needlework from the last 1,100 years, and there are some intriguing stories hidden behind the glimmering threads and exquisite embroidery.

  1. The oldest textiles in the exhibition are the 8th-century Anglo-Saxon Dalmatic and the 12th-century Peacock Silk from the Shrine of St Cuthbert. When St Cuthbert’s tomb was first opened in 698, 11 years after his death, the monks of Lindisfarne found his body to be incorrupt or undecayed. The silks on display were added to St Cuthbert’s coffin following subsequent openings, and were removed in 1827.
  2. Also on display is a rare fragment of silk from the tomb of Bishop William of St Calais, nominated by King William I of England as Bishop of Durham in 1080. Bishop William of St Calais ordered the construction of Durham Cathedral in 1093 to replace the earlier Anglo-Saxon White Church, but he died in 1096 and did not live to see the finished result.
  3. The Arabella Stuart Bible is an exquisite embroidered bible, once owned by Lady Arabella Stuart, great great granddaughter of King Henry VII and potential heiress to the English throne. Imprisoned in the Tower of London by her cousin King James I in 1610, Arabella eventually died in the Tower on 25 September 1615 after refusing to eat.
  4. The first cope on display in the Collections Gallery dates from the fifteenth century. Probably made in Italy, this cope depicts an exquisite cycle of images. The hood, showing Christ seated on a rainbow, might have been added later, perhaps in the seventeenth century when the robe was sent to London for repairs and alterations.
  5. The Charles I Cope is a rare example of 17th-century needlework, commissioned for the visit of King Charles I in 1633. The embroidered image of David holding the head of Goliath on the hood of the cope is an eerily prophetic image of Charles I’s ultimate fate in 1649 following the English Civil War.
  6. The Bishop of Durham’s Coronation Cope has been worn at the coronations of the last four British monarchs, including the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. Traditionally the Bishop of Durham stands on the monarch’s right hand side to show support for the new ruler. Occasionally this has meant more than just symbolic support; Queen Anne could barely stand during her coronation as she suffered from gout so the Bishops of Durham and Exeter had to physically hold her up!
  7. Modern textiles are explored through the work of Durham Cathedral’s Broderers, a team of volunteer embroiderers who work tirelessly to produce textiles for everyday use in the Cathedral from altar cloths to cushion covers. Samples from the Lenten Altar Set are on display, embroidered with silks and pure gold metal thread.
  8. ‘Death of a Working Hero’, a tapestry by world-renowned artist Grayson Perry, is on display in the Monks’ Dormitory to complement the exhibition. Created for his recent Channel 4 documentary, Grayson Perry: All Man, the piece explores the concept of masculinity and its place in the modern world.
  9. As well as hosting world-class temporary and permanent exhibitions, Open Treasure is located in the most intact surviving medieval monastic buildings in the UK. Visitors can admire the breath-taking architecture of these historic spaces, including the 14th-century Monks’ Dormitory and the spectacular monastic Great Kitchen.
  10. Textiles: Painting with the Needle is part of a rolling programme of exhibitions in the Collections Gallery. Look out for more exciting exhibitions in 2017 including Beasts! from 20 February – 10 June, and Magna Carta and the Forest Charters from 19 June – 9 September.

Open Treasure is open Monday to Saturday from 10.00am – 5.00pm (last entry 4.00pm) and Sundays from 12.30pm – 5.00pm (last entry 4.00pm).

Tickets: £2.50 – £7.50 (under 5s free) available from and from the Visitor Desk in the Cathedral.

Open Treasure annual passes are also available so you’ll never have to miss an Open Treasure exhibition!

10 things you should know before visiting Open Treasure

Planning a trip to Open Treasure when it opens next weekend? Here are 10 things you should know before you visit, from practical information about tickets to fascinating facts about the incredible spaces along the exhibition route!

  1. Open Treasure is a permanent new exhibition experience located at the heart of Durham Cathedral’s medieval monastic buildings. There is a modest charge to enter Open Treasure, but entry to the Cathedral Church remains free for all.
  2. Open Treasure tickets cost £7.50 for adults, £6 for concessions and £2.50 for children aged 5-18. Open Treasure is free for under 5s, and annual passes are also available to take advantage of the rolling programme of exhibitions in the Collections Gallery
  3. Tickets are available online and from the Visitor Desk in the Cathedral. Tickets are available in advance or on the day of your visit. Visitors will be able to choose an hourly time slot to make the most of their visit to Open Treasure. To book tickets online, please click here.
  4. Open Treasure will be open 7 days a week, from 10.00am – 5.00pm Monday to Saturday (last entry 4.00pm) and from 12.30pm – 5.00pm on Sundays (last entry 4.00pm).
  5. Open Treasure is an interactive visitor experience for visitors of all ages. Exhibits in the Monks’ Dormitory evoke the sights, sounds and smells of life in a medieval monastery, and there is even the chance for children to dress up as a monk!
  6. Durham Cathedral has made Open Treasure as accessible as possible, no easy feat in a medieval building! There is lift access throughout and an accessible toilet half-way through the exhibition route. Seating is also available in the Monks’ Dormitory and Great Kitchen so you can take time out to admire the incredible architecture.
  7. Open Treasure will transform public access to the Cathedral’s collections, which have been hidden away for many years. Don’t miss the stunning church plate and metalwork exhibition in the Great Kitchen, which will eventually house the Treasures of St Cuthbert following a period of environmental monitoring.
  8. Highlights of Open Treasure include the Monks’ Dormitory, the UK’s only intact surviving monastic dormitory with an original fourteenth-century oak ceiling, and the Great Kitchen, one of only two surviving monastic kitchens in the UK.
  9. Open Treasure staff and volunteers will be on hand throughout the exhibition route to answer any questions you might have and provide a friendly welcome to all visitors.
  10. And last but certainly not least, the spaces along the Open Treasure exhibition route, along with Durham Cathedral’s Cloister, represent the most intact surviving set of medieval monastic buildings in the UK! Nowhere else can you feel such a palpable sense of history and imagine the scale of the medieval monasteries which were once found all over the UK until the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Durham survived relatively unscathed, and the buildings that remain provide a unique insight into life in a medieval monastery, whilst revealing the story of Durham Cathedral and its incredible collections.

We look forward to welcoming you to Open Treasure at Durham Cathedral, open to the public from Saturday 23 July 2016. To book tickets online, please click here.

The Heritage Lottery Fund has supported Open Treasure with a grant of £3.9 million.