In the second part of his blog, Volunteer guide Peter Lowis points out carvings of interest in the Quire, the Chapter House and the Galilee Chapel

If you missed part 1, click here before reading on.

The Quire in Durham is a treasure trove for those seeking mythical beasts in stone. Above the Sanctuary, around 20 feet above the marble floor and particularly on the northside, countless creatures have been carved in the ethos of architectural design. Higher still, birds that bear the heads of men or others with tails four feet in length are depicted being chased or chewed by an aggressor.  Above the north Parclose door a lengthy capital depicts a feeding frenzy as this carving has upwards of half a score of birds within.  

On the south side, the reciprocal carving is more subdued. Possibly a hundred small bird-like creatures give way to floral design.

The 13th century Chapel of the Nine Altars continues in this vogue with carvings head high of countless Bishops and Kings whilst many other carvings are 60 feet above ground. A mason is near the Joseph window. Contrast that with those hard to find such as the bird towards the junction of the southern face of the south Quire Aisle at its junction with Eastern Transept. On the contrary John Gibson’s carving of Bishop Van Mildert is not difficult, sighted beneath the Joseph window.

The vault of the Quire displays 5 bosses, three of which are in the 13th century English style and two in the French style. These include a carving of Abraham catching the souls of the saved in a net, and a green man with a lion and two humans.

Beneath the vault, on the north side, is the marble carving of the Lightfoot memorial – designed by Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm (1834-1890) and finished after his death by his assistant, Alfred Gilbert.

Picture credit: DAVID WOOD

Wood carvings in the South Transept however are a gem. The DLI Chapel was created in 1923, and the pews a few years later by Cornish and Gaymer. Each pew end bears superb carvings of griffin, snakes, armadillo, and wild boar. The result – that each carving lives.

The carving of Shute Barrington by Francis Leggatt Chantrey (1781-1841), one of several memorial carvings he did of Anglican Bishops may catch our eye, opposite.

Picture: credit DAVID WOOD

So far, the Galilee Chapel has escaped examination. Around the walls, there are innumerable faces, but the master carving must be the Christie Cross in memory of Canon Cruikshank, based on the style of the 11th century.

The 1414 tomb of Cardinal Thomas Langley abuts into the chapel by the west door. Relatively plain, it still however commands respect for it was Langley who paid for massive buttressing which keeps this part of the church stable.

The Chapter House has a marvellous display of carvings. Sadly, due to the vandalism by our forebears, the east end is confined to late 19th century carvings, some copies of earlier ones of 12th century. However, at the west side of the door leading to the Cloister, a capital still displays a beautiful offering of a 12th century mermaid. This has been lauded as possibly the best of its kind in the United Kingdom. On the opposite capital there is also a centaur with a bow similar to one on a capital at the Nave south door. Three 12th century caryatids rescued from earlier destruction adorn the north wall.

The Cloister vault has benefitted from much carving. Green men already alluded too are interposed with carvings of the Passion. Most are about 600 years in age; therefore, colouring is dark.

The ceiling of the Dean’s dining room has a plethora of carving which includes another Green man, but that is as they say, for tomorrow.

All in all, there are plenty of carvings for us all to feast our eyes on, and we hope you enjoy marvelling at them when you next visit us here at Durham.  

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