Tag Archives: Collections

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.

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10 Fantastic Facts about BEASTS!

Did you think beasts only existed on film or in fairy tales? Think again! The new BEASTS! exhibition in our Open Treasure Collections Gallery showcases some of the the weird and wonderful beasts and monsters which have fascinated people from earliest times through the Cathedral’s Collections and objects on loan from other institutions.

Here are some fantastic facts about some of the objects you can see on display…

  1. Conrad Gesner’s Historiae Animalium (History of the Animals) is said to mark the beginning of the modern science of zoology. Swiss naturalist Conrad Gesner’s published Historiae Annimalium between 1551 and 1558 in a five volume compendium, and tried to collect everything that had ever been written about animals including everything from crocodiles to unicorns! On display are two copies of the Historiae Animalium from 1617-1621.
  2. Johannes Jonstonus’s Historiae Naturalis (1657) became one of the most successful and influential natural history books of the 17th and 18th centuries. Perhaps the last great zoological encyclopedia of the Renaissance, one of the reasons for its popularity was the quality and range of its illustrations. Myth and reality are still combined, however: the pages displayed in Open Treasure feature a phoenix, pelican, harpy and griffin.
  3. Thomas Bewick published A General History of Quadrupeds in 1790. Bewick was unhappy with previously existing illustrated books and wanted to create a more accurate book by using illustrations drawn from life. Visitors to BEASTS! can see Bewick’s exquisite illustrations on display in the Collections Gallery.
  4. Also on display are several pieces of ‘evidence’ for the existence of various beasts, including a unicorn’s horn on loan from Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens. Nowadays we know this horn is a narwhal’s tooth, but in medieval western Europe people really believed in unicorns. The spiral horn of these graceful creatures was believed to have powers of healing and neutralising any poison.
  5. People today know that elephants are real, but in medieval England elephants were creatures of legend. On display in the exhibition is an elephant’s tooth from Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens. It was said that elephants would stamp on the head of a serpent or crocodile as they were believed to be mortal enemies.
  6. Griffins were a fierce mythical creature with the body, tail and back legs of a lion, the head and wings of an eagle and eagle’s talons on its front of feet. Like many other beasts they were believed to have special powers. Only a very holy person could obtain the claw of a griffin, and it is believed that the griffin claw currently on display in BEASTS! may have been gifted to St Cuthbert’s Shrine.
  7. Along with the griffin’s claw on loan from The British Museum, visitors can see griffin’s eggs on loan from Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens. The Griffin’s Claw is really the horn of an Ibex (Alpine wild goat), whilst the griffin’s eggs are probably ostrich eggs.
  8. Many manuscripts from the Cathedral’s Collection are richly decorated with beasts and other decorations of various kinds. One of the manuscripts on display is Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica (Theological Summary) part 1, a great work of instruction for theology students in the 13th and 14th centuries. The students set to study this volume were perhaps easily and frequently distracted, as many of its pages feature sketches and doodles, including some highly imaginative beasts. The page displayed features a dragon with an arrow-shaped tongue, and a bird eating a snake or eel.
  9. Beasts and fantastic creatures were seen also in the night sky among the stars. On display are pages from the Medicine, the Calendar, and Astronomy, a 12th-century a compendium of scientific procedures which covers everything from medicinal procedures to tables on astronomy.
  10. Visitors to BEASTS! can also see the inkwell used by Professor McGonagall in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s stone. Durham Cathedral was used one of the sites used to bring Hogwarts to life in the Harry Potter movies. This inkwell from the Cathedral’s Collections once belonged to Bishop Lightfoot, Bishop of Durham during the nineteenth-century.

BEASTS! will be on display in Open Treasure until Saturday 10 June.

Open Treasure is open Monday to Saturday from 10.00am – 5.00pm (last entry 4.00pm) and Sundays from 12.30pm – 5.00pm (last entry 4.00pm).

Tickets: £2.50 – £7.50 (under 5s free) available from www.durhamcathedral.co.uk/open-treasure and from the Visitor Desk in the Cathedral.

Open Treasure annual passes are also available so you’ll never have to miss an Open Treasure exhibition!

Ten things you didn’t know about ‘Textiles: Painting with the Needle’

So you think textiles are dull? Think again! The new textiles exhibition at the heart of Durham Cathedral’s world-class exhibition experience Open Treasure showcases some of the finest examples of church needlework from the last 1,100 years, and there are some intriguing stories hidden behind the glimmering threads and exquisite embroidery.

  1. The oldest textiles in the exhibition are the 8th-century Anglo-Saxon Dalmatic and the 12th-century Peacock Silk from the Shrine of St Cuthbert. When St Cuthbert’s tomb was first opened in 698, 11 years after his death, the monks of Lindisfarne found his body to be incorrupt or undecayed. The silks on display were added to St Cuthbert’s coffin following subsequent openings, and were removed in 1827.
  2. Also on display is a rare fragment of silk from the tomb of Bishop William of St Calais, nominated by King William I of England as Bishop of Durham in 1080. Bishop William of St Calais ordered the construction of Durham Cathedral in 1093 to replace the earlier Anglo-Saxon White Church, but he died in 1096 and did not live to see the finished result.
  3. The Arabella Stuart Bible is an exquisite embroidered bible, once owned by Lady Arabella Stuart, great great granddaughter of King Henry VII and potential heiress to the English throne. Imprisoned in the Tower of London by her cousin King James I in 1610, Arabella eventually died in the Tower on 25 September 1615 after refusing to eat.
  4. The first cope on display in the Collections Gallery dates from the fifteenth century. Probably made in Italy, this cope depicts an exquisite cycle of images. The hood, showing Christ seated on a rainbow, might have been added later, perhaps in the seventeenth century when the robe was sent to London for repairs and alterations.
  5. The Charles I Cope is a rare example of 17th-century needlework, commissioned for the visit of King Charles I in 1633. The embroidered image of David holding the head of Goliath on the hood of the cope is an eerily prophetic image of Charles I’s ultimate fate in 1649 following the English Civil War.
  6. The Bishop of Durham’s Coronation Cope has been worn at the coronations of the last four British monarchs, including the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. Traditionally the Bishop of Durham stands on the monarch’s right hand side to show support for the new ruler. Occasionally this has meant more than just symbolic support; Queen Anne could barely stand during her coronation as she suffered from gout so the Bishops of Durham and Exeter had to physically hold her up!
  7. Modern textiles are explored through the work of Durham Cathedral’s Broderers, a team of volunteer embroiderers who work tirelessly to produce textiles for everyday use in the Cathedral from altar cloths to cushion covers. Samples from the Lenten Altar Set are on display, embroidered with silks and pure gold metal thread.
  8. ‘Death of a Working Hero’, a tapestry by world-renowned artist Grayson Perry, is on display in the Monks’ Dormitory to complement the exhibition. Created for his recent Channel 4 documentary, Grayson Perry: All Man, the piece explores the concept of masculinity and its place in the modern world.
  9. As well as hosting world-class temporary and permanent exhibitions, Open Treasure is located in the most intact surviving medieval monastic buildings in the UK. Visitors can admire the breath-taking architecture of these historic spaces, including the 14th-century Monks’ Dormitory and the spectacular monastic Great Kitchen.
  10. Textiles: Painting with the Needle is part of a rolling programme of exhibitions in the Collections Gallery. Look out for more exciting exhibitions in 2017 including Beasts! from 20 February – 10 June, and Magna Carta and the Forest Charters from 19 June – 9 September.

Open Treasure is open Monday to Saturday from 10.00am – 5.00pm (last entry 4.00pm) and Sundays from 12.30pm – 5.00pm (last entry 4.00pm).

Tickets: £2.50 – £7.50 (under 5s free) available from www.durhamcathedral.co.uk/open-treasure and from the Visitor Desk in the Cathedral.

Open Treasure annual passes are also available so you’ll never have to miss an Open Treasure exhibition!

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 www.durhamcathedral.co.uk/open-treasure

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 education@durhamcathedral.co.uk or call 0191 374 4070.

Leaving no stone unturned…

Most visitors to Durham Cathedral are not aware that stored in the west end of the late-eleventh century undercroft of the old refectory, on the south side of the cloister, are several hundred carved stones.  These represent some 800 years of construction at the cathedral church and priory buildings.

For me, it was a great privilege to be offered the opportunity to photograph nearly 150 carved stones from the eleventh and twelfth centuries.  As a fieldworker and board member of the Corpus of Romanesque Sculpture in Britain and Ireland, I spent a week in Durham examining the standing architecture, as well as the loose stones at first hand.  Most of the loose fragments had never been photographed before, so there was much to discover!

In October 2014, along with Dr Jane Cunningham (fellow fieldworker) and Jon Turnock (post-graduate student), we spent several long days in the undercroft, where I photographed the individual stones and they measured and took notes. I re-visited the undercroft in 2015 for a few days to complete the photographic survey and have since been uploading the numerous photographs and measurements onto the Corpus site, ready for the descriptions and background information to be written up.  It will still be some months before the completed work for the Corpus is made available to the public at large, but this will result in a permanent and complete record of the carved stones at Durham from this period.

How these stones came to be preserved in the undercroft is a long story, but repairs, excavations, and changes to the buildings over many centuries provide the main explanations. Their preservation is crucial for understanding how certain parts of the cathedral looked at various stages, and how these parts should be correctly repaired and maintained in the future. It is, for example, only through these stones that the east end of the Chapter House was accurately rebuilt in the late nineteenth century.

But the stones also allow a glimpse into what buildings (or parts of buildings) looked like initially.  Durham was one of the most important ecclesiastical sites in medieval northern England and it’s effect on architectural developments elsewhere was enormous. The intricately carved stones affirm a keen interest towards elaborate and high-quality decoration on the part of various bishops and their desire for ever more ornate and refined work.

The carved stones confirm, as well, an awareness of the latest developments taking place elsewhere.  Durham’s bishops were determined to have the best sculptors and architects and have left us a legacy to enjoy and appreciate for centuries to come. Researchers from around the world will also in future be able to carry out fuller and more detailed investigations into the nature and development of architecture and design of this period, and this should help to enhance a better understanding of the past. It is my hope that many more people, as a result, will be able to experience a thrill of the past through these fascinating stones.

James King

Corpus of Romanesque Sculpture in Britain and Ireland

A spring clean with a difference!

Some people are passionate about people, some people are passionate about places, but I’m immensely passionate about stones. There’s nothing more rewarding than conserving beautiful stones and sculptures that have stood the test of time, and preserving them for future generations.

Over the years, I have been privileged to work on projects at many prestigious institutions from Hampton Court Palace to the National Galleries of Scotland. And now my sculpture conservation company has been employed by Durham Cathedral, to conserve their extraordinary collection of Roman and Anglo-Saxon stones, ready for display in the Cathedral’s new Open Treasure exhibition, opening in spring 2016.

The collection of stones at Durham Cathedral is truly remarkable. There are over 80 ancient stones, including eight Roman pieces, and the majority date from the Anglo-Saxon period, including inscribed stones, cross shafts, and hogbacks. The historic and cultural importance of this collection is outstanding, and being able to work closely with such incredible artefacts is a real honour.

Together with six other conservators, I have been responsible for cleaning and stabilising the stones. The cleaning process is done with great care and sensitivity, leaving in place any past painted archival markings and surface patina that reflect the history of the stones. We have also been consolidating and filling any fine cracks with a special inert fill and removing any cement filler used in years gone by, which can actually damage the stones.

Although we’ll never know who created these beautiful carvings, I can’t help but feel a spiritual connection with those who originally carved the stones many hundreds of years ago. Their tools would have been somewhat similar to those still used today, but without our modern tungsten tipped chisels, and their passion for stone carving is unmistakable. One can see what may be remains of drill holes in some of the carvings. This creates a bond across the centuries between us as conservators and the Anglo-Saxon stone carvers, making the process of conserving stones an incredibly moving and often spiritual journey.

Working in the magnificent Monks’ Dormitory has also been an honour. This stunning fourteenth-century space is one of the most remarkable rooms I’ve worked in, and the height of the stones draws your attention to the medieval oak-beamed ceiling overhead. As the stones are so heavy, they have remained in-situ whilst the Monks’ Dormitory has been restored to its former glory, protected by special coverings. But when the Open Treasure exhibition opens they will finally be unveiled in all their glory to be admired by thousands of visitors each year.

If we’ve done our job properly, then people won’t even be able to notice that the stones have been conserved! But when we see the stones in their rightful place at the heart of the Open Treasure exhibition, we will certainly feel immensely proud of our role in this wonderful project.

Graciela Ainsworth

Graciela Ainsworth Sculpture Conservation, Leith, Edinburgh

The stones will be exhibited at the start of Open Treasure, close to the entrance to the Monks’ Dormitory, providing a breathtaking introduction to the exhibitions. Their re-display and interpretation has been funded by a £130,000 grant from The Monument Trust, one of the Sainsbury Family Charitable Trusts.