Category Archives: Education

April’s Treasure of the Month from Durham Cathedral’s Archives: Mercator’s Map.

Durham Cathedral has acquired an internationally renowned collection of manuscripts and historic artefacts over the centuries. Each month we feature one of these objects as ‘Treasure of the Month’.

Some items from the Cathedral’s collections are on display in Open Treasure, a new world-class visitor experience at the heart of the Cathedral’s medieval monastic buildings.

Continue reading April’s Treasure of the Month from Durham Cathedral’s Archives: Mercator’s Map.

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.

Open Treasure – How I See It!

For this month’s blog post, we’ve asked our Young Curators to share their thoughts and experiences of Durham Cathedral and Open Treasure.

Young Curators provides unique opportunities for young people aged 11 to 16 to engage with the Cathedral and its collections. Over the last few months, our Young Curators have enjoyed a Show-and-Tell session in the Cathedral Library as well as workshops with local artists including Mick Stevenson, who created Litre of Light for Lumiere 2015, and Northern Print, who are helping the Young Curators produce lino prints inspired by the architecture of Durham Cathedral.

The Young Curators have also been developing a new guide book for younger visitors to Open Treasure, the Cathedral’s new world-class exhibition experience due to open in summer 2016.  So this blog post is not about how we see Durham Cathedral and Open Treasure – it’s about how our Young Curators see it!

What does Durham Cathedral mean to you?

  • Durham Cathedral is more than just a church. It’s rare that I walk in and don’t just stare in awe or learn something new. Most importantly, one feels at home here (James, age 13)
  • Durham Cathedral is a place of remembrance and infinite possibilities (Caitlin, age 14)
  • It’s all about peace for me. I come to get peace and happiness. I’m not religious but I love to sit and think (Abigail, age 13)

 What is your favourite fact about Durham Cathedral?

  •  It may not be a fact but a myth, however the story that the Cathedral was going to be bombed in WWII but clouds covered it (Harry, age 13)
  • Possibly the different stories behind the stained glass windows… there are too many to list! (Daniel, age 15)

What is your favourite thing about being a Young Curator?

  • Being able to make a lasting imprint on the history of Durham Cathedral (Harry, age 13)
  • Being a Young Curator, you are able to contribute to the Cathedral and learn new things every session (Declan, age 15)
  • Getting to see precious objects and explore the most wonderful building in the world (possibly the universe: still pending discussion) (Daniel, age 15)

 Why did you want to become a Young Curator?

  • It was suggested by my history teacher whilst I was on holiday with my school and I thought it could be fun. I love being involved in different projects (Abigail, age 13)
  • To discover more about the Cathedral and to broaden my horizon of knowledge (Harry, age 13)

What skills have you learnt since becoming a Young Curator?

  • How to develop ideas from an early stage into a polished and finished piece of work (Harry, age 13)
  • I have learnt how to take prints and learnt how to store artefacts (Lauren, age 13)
  • Handling artefacts, art skills, everything really! (James, age 13)

What did you enjoy most about the ‘Show-and-Tell’ session?

  • I loved seeing the old books which had hand-drawings of unicorns and griffons among real creatures like lions and whales. It was nice to think how strange and un-explored the world was back then (Daniel, age 15)
  • Being able to see the beautiful books and the images inside them (Declan, age 15)
  • Looking at a nineteenth-century geological survey (Mackenzie, age 12)

 What did you learn from your session with artist Mick Stevenson?

  • How awesome recycled things can be and what you can make from them (Lauren, age 13)
  • I learn that anything can become a master piece (Abigail, age 13)
  • That art can be made from anything and nothing is a waste (Caitlin, age 14)

What did you learn from your session with Northern Print?

  • To experiment and try new things which may be outside your comfort zone. To take your time with a project in order to develop your skills (Harry, age 13)
  • I learnt how different inks can produce very different results and that you can use more than just one type of ink. There are no rules! (Daniel, age 15)

 What have you enjoyed most about creating a new guide book?

  • To be able to learn and then teach others what I’ve learnt (Abigail, age 13)
  • Being able to have my own ideas for it (Lauren, age 13)
  • Looking at other guides and taking ideas from them (Declan, age 15)

What aspects of Open Treasure are you most looking forward to?

  • Being able to say ‘I did that’ (Harry, age 13)
  • All the artefacts being more accessible (James, age 13)
  • I am looking forward to being able to add my own labels and descriptions to items (Caitlin, age 14)

 How have you been inspired by Young Curators? Has it changed your attitude towards Durham Cathedral and its collections?

  • Yes it has because the Cathedral didn’t interest me before but now I am anxiously anticipating my next visit! (Caitlin, age 14)
  • My attitude towards Durham Cathedral and its collections have remained the same as I knew they were fantastic. However the Young Curators has made me want to take part in more projects (Harry, age 13)

Where do you see yourself in ten years’ time?

  • I see myself in University studying archaeology, forensics, history or geography (Abigail, age 13)
  • Academic work in the humanities (James, age 13)
  • Being a policeman or a detective (Nathan, age 13)

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

Opening Doors, Opening Minds: Learning and Outreach

Open Treasure is not only transforming the physical spaces inside Durham Cathedral. It is also transforming the way we engage with visitors of all ages, both on-site and off-site, through a dynamic learning and outreach programme.

As Head of Education, I lead a team responsible for co-ordinating the learning and outreach programme. We already engage with almost 20,000 school children each year and during term-time we welcome up to 15 school visits per week. Tours and hands-on activities are designed to encourage children to interpret the meaning of this wonderful building and its collections.

Open Treasure is an opportunity to increase our engagement with schools. In the autumn we will be launching Cathedral Explorers, a new afterschool club for children aged 7-11, as well as Treasure Boxes, resource boxes for schools which include replica artefacts, source materials and lesson plans. Treasure Stories will also be developed, with special outreach sessions inspired by the Cathedral’s collections which will be delivered in local schools and colleges.

In addition to our work with schools and colleges, we continue to develop new ways of engaging with families and young visitors to Durham Cathedral with an exciting programme of family events, activities and self-guided trails.

Drawing upon the Cathedral’s history and heritage, a new monastic herb garden is being developed. Special events throughout the summer will enable families and visitors of all ages to get a real taste of life in a medieval monastery.

Young Curators, an exciting new group for young people aged 11-16, has also been launched. Young Curators will have unique opportunities to explore the new exhibition areas of Durham Cathedral. They’ll learn how to handle and display objects, interpret the collections and help develop a new children’s book about the collections.

Free taster days throughout the summer have been organised for young people who are interested in Young Curators. From September 2015, the group will meet on the second Saturday morning of every month, in the Education Centre, from 10.30am – 12.30pm.

In August we are holding a Magna Carta Medieval Weekend where everyone can meet medieval townsfolk and craftspeople as they take up residence within the Cathedral grounds.  There will be demonstrations of pastimes and skills that filled their daily life and you can even try your hand at skills such as rope making, candle dipping, butter churning and striking your own coin.  It promises to be a fun filled, fantastic occasion.

With so much going on, my role is a challenging one and the Education Team has expanded in recent months to cope with demand.  We now employ three Learning Officers, one Learning and Outreach Officer and an Education Assistant and the Team is supported by a dedicated team of over 35 Education Volunteers.  As the project develops we will be launching new initiatives for adult learners.  Watch this space!

With the invaluable input from all of the Education Team we have successfully shaped a vibrant learning and outreach programme, enabling visitors of all ages to enjoy and engage with this incredible building.

Charlotte Rowbotham, Head of Education, Durham Cathedral

See for information about sessions for schools.

See for information about public family events.