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


Open Treasure: A Labour of Love

Open Treasure is one of the biggest things to happen to Durham Cathedral in hundreds of years! From the Monks’ Dormitory to the Great Kitchen, days and months of labour and planning have gone into transforming the Cathedral’s historic Claustral buildings into world-class exhibition spaces.

As Project and Facilities manager here at Durham Cathedral, I am heavily involved with the planning and building of Open Treasure. From Holograms and electronic glass doors to the stone arches and original 14th-century bookcases, Open Treasure will be the perfect balance of old and modern working together to provide a functional and working exhibition space.

Every room within Open Treasure has its merits. The fourteenth-century Monks’ Dormitory is the second best example of a medieval oak-beamed roof in the country, second only to Westminster Hall, whilst the Great Kitchen is one of only two surviving monastic kitchens in the UK.

The state-of-the-art Collections Gallery will also play a central role in Open Treasure, allowing us to present a dynamic rolling exhibition programme of exhibits loaned from different institutions alongside our own treasures from stunning textiles to exquisite metalwork. So each time you visit Open Treasure you’ll be able to see something new!

We have been challenged by many things throughout the completion of Open Treasure. However the most difficult thing has been coordinating the mechanical and electrical components to work in such a historic building.

But it makes everything worthwhile when you see the progress we have made so far, especially when we uncover hidden gems. A small set of stairs, which were only recently discovered, have been dated back to the 11th century! It is quite exciting trying to figure out who will have last climbed these steps and why they were covered in the first place.

In the section under the Refectory Library, visitors will see the combination of new stone alongside old stone, showing the whole purpose of Open Treasure in this one section where the new and old are working together to support the building above.

It has been a privilege to work on this fantastic project for the last four years with some highly talented companies, and in some ways it will be sad to see the project come to an end. We have been pushed to the limits of imagination, but it has been highly rewarding and we can’t wait to see the finished result!

Open Treasure will open in summer 2016 with over 120,000 visitors expected each year.

As Open Treasure develops, there will be many opportunities to get involved. Keep up-to-date with our progress at www.durhamcathedral.co.uk

Tom Billington, Property and Facilities Manager, Durham Cathedral.

What’s happening in the Cloister?

When looking through the arches of Durham Cathedral’s Cloister, have you ever found yourself wondering what is happening behind the hoarding and scaffolding?

As one of the stonemasons at Durham Cathedral, I am one of the lucky few able to access this area of the Cathedral and witness the extraordinary transformation taking place.

A major stone conservation project is currently underway as part of the Cathedral’s Open Treasure project, preserving the façade of the Cathedral for generations to come. At the moment, the stone conservation work is focused on the exterior of the Monks’ Dormitory, which will mark the start of the new exhibition route opening in 2016.

Here at Durham Cathedral we have our own Works Department, with masonry and a stone-carving workshop that employs around 8 stonemasons including myself. Together, we have been working hard to remove the old cement based pointing and clean out all of the joints.

We are now repointing with a traditional technique and an eco-friendly hot lime mortar mix. Whilst achieving the highest temperatures possible, this process will allow the medieval stone to breathe and prolong its life.

When working with a 1,000 year-old building, the decay of stonework is inevitable and along the parapets we will be conserving as much original stone work as possible, stones which cannot be saved are to be removed and replaced. These stones will be exact replicas worked to the lines of the original masonry, all hand-carved and worked with mallets and chisel here at Durham Cathedral.

All of this traditional work takes time and money and we rely on the generous donations of visitors to help to keep this magnificent building in good structural order for many generations to come.

If you’re interested in learning more about the work of the stonemasons at Durham Cathedral, please visit www.durhamcathedral.co.uk/heritage 

Scott Richardson, Stonemason

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 www.durhamcathedral.co.uk/learning for information about sessions for schools.

See www.durhamcathedral.co.uk/whatson for information about public family events.

Behind the Scenes

On your visits to Durham Cathedral, have you ever ambled through the historic Cloister and wondered just what lies beyond those locked doors? As an archaeologist (and the fact that I’m just plain nosey) I certainly have, and last month I had the opportunity to get closer to the action and see the spectacular spaces hidden behind those doors.

As a member of Durham Cathedral’s 995 Club, I was invited on a guided tour of the work being undertaken for Phase 2 of Open Treasure, a major development project which is transforming a number of buildings adjacent to the Cloister into state-of-the-art exhibition spaces. These ‘upgraded’ 14th-century rooms will hold invaluable collections and host artefacts that will tell the story of the Cathedral’s history, from Roman stone to Anglo-Saxon fabric, medieval sculpture and much more besides.

The tour began in the vast Monks’ Dormitory, the last remaining intact late 14th-century monastic dormitory in England. The hall itself is a real treasure, with original oak-beamed roof structure and elaborately carved and presented bookshelves, original stonework and elegant windows. The enthusiasm of the Durham Cathedral team was obvious, and they made it so easy to visualize the new exhibition space, which will house interactive displays and the Cathedral’s stone sculpture collection as well as the Cathedral library.

After a discussion about fireplaces hidden by the mid-19th century library refit, the group moved through to the old library search room, where we were told that the medieval monastic library had to be moved for the first time in over 300 years before the current project could begin! From there, we moved into the new Collections Gallery which will house some of the most secure display cabinets ever made, including custom-made prototypes, to protect objects from the Cathedral’s internationally renowned collections as well as artefacts on loan from other museums and learned institutions.

For me though, the visit to the Great Kitchen was the highlight of the tour. The kitchen is one of only two surviving monastic kitchens in England, with the most fantastic ribbed ceiling that instantly provoked awe when the group entered. The walls contain rows of arched doors and huge fireplaces, and when we entered the kitchen we could see that the floor had been excavated: the kitchen was the focus of archaeological investigations by Durham University’s Archaeological Services in 2014 and found a huge collection of fish and animal bones that represented the monks’ diet. The processing of this material is currently still ongoing.

Joining the 995 Club and supporting Open Treasure was a ‘no brainer’ for me. The behind the scenes tour of the exhibition spaces was a fantastic opportunity and with the money raised from the 995 Club funding the Open Treasure project directly, small businesses can make a real difference through their support.  If you’re interested in our region’s history, or simply wish to associate your business with landmark Durham Cathedral, then I cannot recommend the Durham Cathedral 995 Club highly enough.

Tony Liddell, Archaeologist for Vindomora Solutions and 995 Club Member.

Ten things you didn’t know about Durham Cathedral

Some of the most spectacular spaces inside Durham Cathedral are being transformed by a multi-million pound development project Open Treasure. These world-class exhibition galleries will open in 2016, providing access to the Cathedral’s internationally renowned collection of manuscripts and other priceless artefacts.

To whet your appetite, here are ten things about Durham Cathedral, its collections and the new exhibition spaces that you probably don’t know:

  1. Over 65,000 tons of sandstone were used to build Durham Cathedral, making it one of the top 100 geo-sites in the UK!
  2. Durham Cathedral marks a turning point in the history of architecture; it boasts the world’s first structural pointed arch.
  3. The ceiling and walls of Durham Cathedral were originally painted in vibrant colours, including blues, reds and gold. Traces of paint still remain on the walls and ceiling.
  4. The Monks’ Dormitory is the only intact monastic dormitory in England and the spectacular oak-beamed roof is rivalled only by Westminster Hall. This incredible space will mark the start of the new exhibition route due to open in 2016.
  5. The Great Kitchen is one of only two intact surviving monastic kitchens in England. It will eventually house the Relics of St Cuthbert as part of Open Treasure.
  6. Durham Cathedral boasts the best-preserved and documented medieval Benedictine Library in the British Isles, with manuscripts dating from the 6th-century onwards.
  7. Durham Cathedral holds three issues of Magna Carta in its collections, dating from 1216, 1225 and 1300. The 1216 Magna Carta is the only surviving copy of this issue.
  8. St Cuthbert’s wooden coffin held in the Cathedral’s collections is one of the oldest surviving examples of Anglo-Saxon wood-carving in the British Isles.
  9. Durham Cathedral holds the only surviving pieces of Anglo-Saxon embroidery in England; the stole and maniple offered in honour of St Cuthbert by King Athelstan in 934.
  10. In 1986, Durham Cathedral became the first English Cathedral to be inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. Almost thirty years later, it remains one of Britain’s best-loved buildings.

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

The Shrine of St Cuthbert; A living place of worship, welcome and hospitality at the heart of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.