Category Archives: Culture

‘A very Durham passion’: St John Passion at Durham Cathedral, in conversation with Pavlo Beznosiuk 

Durham Cathedral Choir and the Avison Ensemble join forces for a performance of Bach’s St John Passion at Durham Cathedral this Sunday, 14 April. We spoke with Pavlo Beznosiuk, leader of the period instrument orchestra for this performance, about the piece and his excitement to perform at Durham Cathedral.

Tickets for this performance are £8-28, available at

What does the St John Passion Oratorio consist of and what is it about the piece that makes it so special?

The St John Passion, just like the more-performed and more-famous St Matthew Passion, were special commissions put together for Good Friday. These are large scale works centering around a narrator, the Evangelist, who sings in a form called ‘recitative’ a kind of sung speech. He tells the story of the passion of Christ quite simply, a narrative punctuated by a sequence of choruses, solo arias and chorales, what we might describe today as hymns. The arias are moments slightly outside the narrative where the events are meditated upon. For example the high tenor aria ‘Erwage’ is a sublime piece of music with silvery-toned muted violins and a viola da gamba, but the text describes how the body of Christ, having just been scourged, is literally a mess of blood and torn flesh. Such arias provide a moment for personal contemplation, against a backdrop of utterly sublime music.

Continue reading ‘A very Durham passion’: St John Passion at Durham Cathedral, in conversation with Pavlo Beznosiuk 

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. Continue reading Open Treasure turns two!

Restoring Durham Cathedral’s collections at a Scottish book bindery – with your help!

Adopt a Book began at Durham Cathedral in the autumn of 2016, inspired by a similar scheme at the British Library. It allows members of the public to donate towards the restoration of a chosen book from the Cathedral’s Refectory Library, where 30,000 early printed books are housed. The Library was refurbished as part of the Open Treasure project, and now has carefully controlled conditions to protect the fragile books. However, many of the books have suffered over the years, and are in need of repair – some of the spines and covers are only kept together on the shelves with cotton tape. Continue reading Restoring Durham Cathedral’s collections at a Scottish book bindery – with your help!

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.

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

Ten things you didn’t know about Open Treasure

The launch of Open Treasure, Durham Cathedral’s new world-class exhibition experience, is just around the corner!

Open to the public from Saturday 23 July 2016, this spectacular new visitor attraction will reveal the remarkable story of Durham Cathedral and its incredible collections, with interactive exhibits and activities for visitors of all ages.

To whet your appetite, here are ten things you might not know about Open Treasure and the spectacular spaces along the exhibition route:

  1. Open Treasure is located at the heart of Durham Cathedral’s claustral buildings, which together represent the most intact surviving set of medieval monastic buildings in the UK.
  2. The journey begins in the magnificent fourteenth-century Monks’ Dormitory, the only intact monastic dormitory in the UK with an original oak-beamed ceiling rivalled only by Westminster Hall in London.
  3. Over the last 700 years, the Monks’ Dormitory has been a dormitory, a library and even included a two-storey house at one point!
  4. The Monks’ Dormitory includes a timeline exploring the history of Durham Cathedral. Interactive exhibits and activities will evoke the atmosphere of life in the medieval monastery with sights, sounds and smells!
  5. 89 new doors have been hand-crafted for the book cases in the Monks’ Dormitory by the Cathedral’s joiners. Each door had to be individually hand-crafted and stained because the nineteenth-century book cases were all different sizes.
  6. The new state-of-the-art Collections Gallery includes specially designed cases created by two prestigious case manufacturing firms, Goppion and Bruns, who have also designed cases for The Louvre and The Rijksmuseum amongst others.
  7. The Cathedral’s collections include over 75,000 items, including 30,000 early printed books and manuscripts, some of which will be displayed as part of a rolling programme of exhibitions in the Collections Gallery.
  8. The visitor experience continues in the Great Kitchen, a stunning space which is one of only two surviving monastic kitchens in the UK.
  9. The Great Kitchen once catered for the monks of Durham Cathedral’s monastery and was used as a kitchen until the 1940s. You can still see evidence of the fireplaces, a bread oven and even a spit!
  10. The Great Kitchen will eventually house the Treasures of St Cuthbert, following a period of environmental monitoring. These extraordinary artefacts represent some of the most precious surviving examples of Anglo-Saxon and Medieval metalwork, textiles and woodwork and will go on display in late 2017. In the meantime, visitors can enjoy an awe-inspiring exhibition of church plate and metalwork.

To find out more about Open Treasure, and to register your interest in tickets on-line, please visit

Behind the Pages – Discovering the hidden treasures of Durham Cathedral Library

I have recently been fortunate enough to participate in Behind the Pages, a special programme being offered to groups as a series of discussions and visits to Durham Cathedral. The project is linked to Open Treasure, the Cathedral’s exhibition experience open from 23 July 2016.

As a volunteer at Durham Cathedral, I first saw the project advertised in the Volunteers Newsletter and felt it was too good an opportunity to ignore!

Behind the Pages gives existing book groups the opportunity to study a book before being invited to the Cathedral’s Refectory Library (not normally open to the public) to examine rare texts, supported by informed staff.

My U3A Book Club were equally enthusiastic about the prospect of engaging with the Cathedral’s collections – it was our first experience of such a project!

A number of books spanning across different genres were selected by the Cathedral’s Head of Collections and Assistant Librarian. We were asked to select a title that we felt was appropriate to our group, with each title being linked to an object or artefacts held in the Cathedral’s hidden treasure collection.

We chose ‘English Passengers’ by Matthew Kneale almost by default, having previously read several of the other books suggested. We were then free to read the book at our leisure before being invited to visit the Cathedral and view the hidden treasures. It proved to be a very good decision!

‘English Passengers’ is an ambitious novel spanning 40 years of colonial history, told in the first person by 20 narrators. The action takes place in England, on the high seas and in Tasmania, taken over by the British as a penal settlement.

In Tasmania, British actions completely wiped out the indigenous people, through disease and murder, with the last person dying in 1879. Surprisingly against this background there is hilarity in the book as well as absolute horror.

Overall, ‘English Passengers’ is a satisfying read which races along and subjects us to the full range of emotions, and we would happily recommend the book to other readers.

After reading the book, we were invited to the Cathedral’s Refectory Library for a fascinating ‘Show and Tell’ session. We were shown books which predated the 19th century and others contemporary with it. Books of hand-coloured maps used by travellers in the 18th and 19th centuries were especially beautiful.

We also saw etchings made from drawings done during Captain Cook’s voyage to New Zealand and could imagine the wonder felt by those who saw the people, plants and animals shown, for the first time. The library staff were both enthusiastic and knowledgeable and happy to share their passion for the books with us. We felt privileged to be there surrounded by the many treasures and would love to be involved in further outreach projects.

This experience has made us more aware of Open Treasure and we look forward to visiting the exhibition space when it opens in July.

Maria Mekins, Cathedral Volunteer and Member of Sedgefield U3A Book Group

*Behind the Pages is a new and exciting project, which aims to transform access to the Cathedral’s collections and previously hidden wonders including never before seen objects and artefacts.

For more information, please contact or call 0191 374 4070.

Durham Priory Library Recreated

Durham Cathedral has countless treasures waiting to be explored, and many will be on display when Open Treasure opens next year. But if you can’t wait that long, you might be interested in another exciting project which is transforming public access to over 300 beautiful manuscripts from our collection.

In collaboration with Durham University, we hope to create an online, digital version of Durham Cathedral’s Priory Library, one of Britain’s best preserved medieval and Renaissance Monastic libraries in the UK.

The resulting digital resource will include high resolution images of the historic manuscripts, detailed bibliographic records, and spectroscopic research undertaken by Durham University academics into the ink pigments used to create these documents.

Durham Priory Library Recreated will enable users to search the collections, discuss the content, leave feedback, and make online annotations of the manuscripts and printed books to support collaborative research.

The surviving volumes of Durham Priory Library include masterpieces of calligraphy and illumination, spanning a millennium of European culture, supported by an extensive series of library catalogues dating from the eleventh to the fifteenth century.

Together, the collections and catalogues provide evidence of how the medieval library was used by the priory and show the transition between handwritten manuscripts and early printed books.

By the end of the project around 350 volumes will have been digitised and it is hoped that the project will be able to extend to include about 200 further volumes originally part of the Priory Library but scattered across the UK since the dissolution in 1539.

We’re delighted to be able to share our incredible collections with a wider audience and look forward to sharing our most precious artefacts with even more people when Open Treasure opens next year.

Lisa Di Tommaso, Head of Collections