A new year, a new adventure

A new year, a new adventure. I joined Durham Cathedral in January as the new Head of Collections and I have already learnt so much about this special institution and Open Treasure, the Cathedral’s development project which will enable the Cathedral’s most important and sacred treasures to be displayed, in some cases for the first time in their history! My role, and that of the Collections Team, is central to this project.

My key responsibility is the care, curation and documentation of the Cathedral’s library and objects, a vast array of treasures ranging from manuscripts and books to whale skeletons! The Library dates back to 635 AD, when it was founded on the holy island of Lindisfarne by St Aidan, and after many centuries found its way to Durham when St Cuthbert was brought here to his final resting place. Today the Library maintains significant collections of manuscripts, early printed volumes, archives material, historical music resources and modern books available to researchers to consult and study. There are also many thousands of objects under the care of the Cathedral, including a number of relics which belonged to St Cuthbert, an important collection of Anglo-Saxon stones, embroideries, church plate, furniture and more.

The new exhibition spaces will showcase many of the treasures under the Collections Team’s care. The Monks’ Dormitory, the former Great Kitchen and nearby spaces are being refurbished to allow for a new exhibition space where relics such as St Cuthbert’s coffin and the original Sanctuary Knocker will be on permanent display. We will also be able to display some of our important early manuscripts and books in a rolling programme of temporary exhibitions on a range of themes, complemented by loans from other institutions.

After only a few weeks here, no day is the same for me at the moment. While learning about the workings of a great Cathedral and how we can best serve the community, I am also helping to inform decisions about the exhibitions spaces to enable us to display our treasures and protect them as well through effective environmental standards. I also work with various teams to help develop outreach programmes to ensure the community can feel part of the Cathedral and access its activities. I liaise with colleagues to investigate the digitisation of some of the Cathedral’s collections, both manuscripts and objects, so as to make them more accessible. There are also a number of forthcoming exhibition loans of some of our collections to external institutions to arrange, but that is for another blog!

It is an enormous privilege and quite humbling to be charged with the responsibility for such important and special collections and I am excited about the opportunities that lie ahead!

Lisa Di Tommaso, Head of Collections