Open Treasure turns two!

Two years on from opening its doors, Open Treasure has welcomed over 75,000 visitors of all ages from across the globe, and has housed many fascinating exhibitions and hosted a Royal guest. It’s been an exciting 24 months! We’ve picked out some of the highlights.

Building the exhibition

Durham Cathedral’s world class museum experience opened in 2016, but the project was set in motion many years earlier. As noted by previous Dean of Durham Michael Sadgrove in 2014, the philosophy of Open Treasure is openness, interpretation, and preservation of the buildings for future generations. A massive team including architects, contractors, the Cathedral’s property team and our archeologist worked immensely hard to combine the modern and the monastic when creating Open Treasure. Along the way the team revealed new hidden gems, such as a small 11th century stone staircase. The Monks’ Dormitory was transformed into a breath-taking exhibition space, combining the impressive architecture of the medieval cloister buildings with the engaging presentation of the Cathedral’s fascinating collections. Read more about the vision of the project in its early stages from this blog’s first post: Opening the door on Open Treasure.

In recognition of the outstanding ways in which architectural innovation was combined with an outstanding visitor experience, Open Treasure received a Royal Institute of British Architects National Award in June 2018. Read why the judges gave Open Treasure this prestigious award.

The Treasures of St Cuthbert

The final part of Open Treasure to be completed was our permanent exhibition of the Treasures of St Cuthbert, some of the most significant surviving Anglo-Saxon artefacts in the UK. The restored Great Kitchen is now home to St. Cuthbert’s Pectoral Cross, an incredibly rare piece of Anglo-Saxon jewellery worn by Cuthbert himself, and St. Cuthbert’s wooden coffin, which dates to 698AD. The launch of the Treasures of St Cuthbert in Open Treasure was a finalist in Best Event Durham category of The Journal Culture Awards 2018, recognising the splash the opening of the exhibition made around the region!

Historian and presenter Janina Ramirez launched the exhibition with a sold-out talk exploring the treasures. She featured in a video celebrating the exhibition alongside Dr. Richard Gameson from Durham University and the Dean of Durham Andrew Tremlett.


A grand opening

HRH The Prince of Wales officially opened Open Treasure in February 2018. During his visit to Durham the Prince enjoyed a tour of the exhibition and greeted many of those who made Open Treasure possible, from staff, volunteers and supporters, to those involved in the conservation work. Even Badger, the Cathedral Cat, made an appearance to greet the Prince!

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Enticing exhibitions

Within the exhibition itself, visitors and staff members alike have enjoyed exploring the North East’s rich heritage, with particular focus on our outstanding permanent exhibition, The Treasures of St. Cuthbert. The restored Great Kitchen is home to St. Cuthbert’s Pectoral Cross, an incredibly rare piece of Anglo-Saxon jewellery worn by Cuthbert himself, and St. Cuthbert’s wooden coffin, dating back to 698AD. The collections gallery houses ever-changing exhibitions, which have recently included Saintly Sisters, Tudors: the Family and Faith in Durham and, currently, Miners: Pitmen, Pride and Prayer. The latter has celebrated the mining history of Durham and the wider North East, in conjunction with the annual Miners’ Gala, taking place in mid-July each year. Colliery banners and artefacts from Durham’s last surviving mines were displayed in Open Treasure, exposing visitors to more recent local history, as well as that of St. Cuthbert.

Deryck Simpson Gala
‘The Pride of Pelton Fell’ by Deryck Simpson, on display in Open Treasure’s Miners temporary exhibition

Community outreach

There are innumerable examples of Open Treasure’s engagement with the community, from regular family fun events and make-and-takes, to Recreating the Community. As part of this project, the Cathedral worked with four commissioned artists to create art inspired by the Treasures of St Cuthbert, alongside community groups who also created their own art work inspired by the Treasures.

The Young Curators, a group aged between 11-16 and fascinated by history and museums, have learnt how to handle objects, as well as interpret the collections and engage younger children with the history on display. Open Treasure’s community gallery showcases work produced during outreach projects with local schools and community groups, interpreted by the Young Curators. Find out more about how the Young Curators began.

Young Curators 3
Open Treasure’s team of Young Curators


The future looks bright for Open Treasure, as it continues to welcome visitors and celebrates this exciting birthday milestone. Celebrate with us by paying us a visit – if you visit regularly, considering getting an annual pass so that you never miss a temporary exhibition!

Open Treasure 2nd birthday
Open Treasure staff and volunteers wish Open Treasure a happy birthday!

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