Digging Deep into the Past

As many of you will know, Durham Cathedral is going through a period of great change at the moment as our Open Treasure project develops.

This project will transform the Cathedral’s future; a new exhibition route will be opened and the Treasures of St Cuthbert will be on display. But for me it is also a chance to look back into the Cathedral’s past and discover what has gone on here in the hundreds of years before us.

Ours is not the first generation to bring about change. Work in the Great Kitchen has revealed much more about John Lewin’s design as well as the monastic kitchen that preceded it, through archways and steps that we are exposing.

And it isn’t just the building itself that we are learning about. Layers of kitchen waste have been deposited over hundreds of years revealing a monastic diet rich in sea fish and oysters, as well showing us some of the butchering techniques used on livestock, visible through tool marks on the bones.

Excitement levels rose earlier in the year when we unearthed a small piece of Roman samian ware, which had been worked into a spindle whorl as well as a piece of 13th-century stained glass.

But not all of the archaeology work is about digging in dirt and I have also been working closely with the Cathedral’s joiners and stonemasons, particularly in the Monk’s Dormitory. Here we made our latest discovery; a set of folded newspapers hidden in a sealed void under a bookcase that we were dismantling. The papers date back to 1880, which has thrown up new questions, as the Cathedral’s records show that the library opened in 1856, after which it would have been impossible to get under the bookcases. The discovery suggests that perhaps the original library was smaller than the current one and was extended at a later date.

The discoveries we have made so far are all being documented, processed and analysed and we hope that some of our findings may make it into a future exhibition in the newly transformed spaces once the Open Treasure project is complete.

Norman Emery – Durham Cathedral Archaeologist


Opening the Door on Open Treasure

Durham Cathedral is being transformed. As our major development project Open Treasure unfolds, we are approaching a new era in the life of Durham Cathedral, an era which will focus on the interpretation of this ancient building and its preservation for future generations.

As the title suggests, ‘Open Treasure’ is about openness.  The current phase of the project will open doors to previously hidden spaces within the Cathedral, resulting in greater access to medieval buildings and the outstanding collections that Durham Cathedral has acquired over the centuries.

In a more symbolic sense, ‘Open Treasure’ will open hearts and minds to the wonders of this magnificent Cathedral and the wonderful community of Durham in which it lies.

We aspire to welcome people of all ages and faiths to learn about the Cathedral, to enjoy it and to be inspired by this fabulous place.

We want all our visitors not simply to appreciate our treasures but to glimpse the ‘treasure’ of this Cathedral in its deepest sense: its community of faith down the ages and in the present, and the gospel to which this place has borne witness for more than a millennium.

As I write, contractors are on site and the hugely complex task of transforming breathtaking medieval buildings into exhibition spaces has begun. Life around the Cathedral will not be normal for some time, but at the end of it, we shall have facilities to be truly proud of, and second to none among cathedrals.

Thank you for your generous support for this great project. We are still fundraising! Please continue to help, and encourage others to do the same at www.durhamcathedral.co.uk/donate

Michael Sadgrove, Dean of Durham

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