Tag Archives: discovery

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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Ten Reasons to Vote for Durham Cathedral as Heritage Site of the Year

Bill Bryson has nominated Durham Cathedral as Heritage Site of the Year in the BBC Countryfile Magazine Awards 2017 and we need your votes!

In nominating Durham Cathedral for this award, Bill Bryson described it as ‘one of the supreme achievements of the architectural world‘ and a wonder to behold from every possible vantage point, inside and out’. He also famously once described Durham Cathedral as ‘the best Cathedral on planet earth’!

But if you still need convincing, here are ten reasons why you should vote for Durham Cathedral as Heritage Site of the Year:

  1. #SpiritualHeritage – Durham Cathedral has been a place of worship for almost one thousand years. It is the resting place of two of the North’s best-loved saints, St Cuthbert and St Bede, and is still a living place of worship with at least three services daily.
  2. #MusicalHeritage – Durham Cathedral’s musical heritage dates back to the 11th century and since 1416 the Cathedral Choir has been accompanied by a team of choristers. You can hear them singing Evensong in the Cathedral most days and there’s nothing more uplifting than hearing this incredible building filled with the sound of music!
  3. #NaturalHeritage – Durham Cathedral is surrounded by woodlands and riverbanks. This beautiful space at the heart of Durham City was created as part of a planned 18th-century landscape but is now open for everyone to enjoy, a haven for wildlife offering spectacular views of the Durham UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  4. #LiteraryHeritage – Durham Cathedral Library dates back to the library of the monastery founded by St Aidan on Lindisfarne in 635AD. It is now the largest in-situ medieval library in the UK with manuscripts dating from the 6th century onwards and 30,000 early printed books!
  5. #ArchitecturalHeritage – Durham Cathedral is renowned as one of the finest examples of Romanesque architecture in Europe and boasts the world’s first known example of a structural pointed arch, which paved the way for the development of Gothic architecture in Europe.
  6. #MonasticHeritage – One of few places to survive the Reformation intact, Durham Cathedral now boasts the most intact surviving set of medieval monastic buildings in the UK. These incredible spaces are now part of Open Treasure, including the UK’S best-preserved monastic dormitory with its fourteenth-century oak-beamed ceiling and the stunning Great Kitchen, one of only two surviving monastic kitchens in the UK.
  7. #ArtisticHeritage – Durham Cathedral is home to many pieces of modern artwork by artists including Paula Rego, Fenwick Lawson, Colin Wilbourn and Kirill Sokolov. The Cathedral continues to exhibit the work of local artists including Judy Hurst and the late Norman Wade.
  8. #GlobalHeritage – Durham Cathedral is part of the Durham UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of the first World Heritage Sites to be inscribed by UNESCO in 1986 and one of only two World Heritage Sites in the UK to include a Cathedral!
  9. #LivingHeritage – The heritage of Durham Cathedral is not confined to the past. Durham Cathedral is a place of living heritage that many of us call home, with annual events celebrating the vibrant culture of the region of Durham from the Miners’ Festival Service to Durham BRASS Festival.
  10. #YourHeritage – Most importantly, the heritage of Durham Cathedral is #yourheritage and we’d love to hear what makes Durham Cathedral special to you! Please share your stories with us on Facebook and Twitter before 28 February using the hashtag #yourcathedral to celebrate your heritage.

To vote for Durham Cathedral in the BBC Countryfile Magazine Awards, please visit www.countryfile.com/article/heritage-site-year before 28 February and cast your vote!

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!

10 things you should know before visiting Open Treasure

Planning a trip to Open Treasure when it opens next weekend? Here are 10 things you should know before you visit, from practical information about tickets to fascinating facts about the incredible spaces along the exhibition route!

  1. Open Treasure is a permanent new exhibition experience located at the heart of Durham Cathedral’s medieval monastic buildings. There is a modest charge to enter Open Treasure, but entry to the Cathedral Church remains free for all.
  2. Open Treasure tickets cost £7.50 for adults, £6 for concessions and £2.50 for children aged 5-18. Open Treasure is free for under 5s, and annual passes are also available to take advantage of the rolling programme of exhibitions in the Collections Gallery
  3. Tickets are available online and from the Visitor Desk in the Cathedral. Tickets are available in advance or on the day of your visit. Visitors will be able to choose an hourly time slot to make the most of their visit to Open Treasure. To book tickets online, please click here.
  4. Open Treasure will be open 7 days a week, from 10.00am – 5.00pm Monday to Saturday (last entry 4.00pm) and from 12.30pm – 5.00pm on Sundays (last entry 4.00pm).
  5. Open Treasure is an interactive visitor experience for visitors of all ages. Exhibits in the Monks’ Dormitory evoke the sights, sounds and smells of life in a medieval monastery, and there is even the chance for children to dress up as a monk!
  6. Durham Cathedral has made Open Treasure as accessible as possible, no easy feat in a medieval building! There is lift access throughout and an accessible toilet half-way through the exhibition route. Seating is also available in the Monks’ Dormitory and Great Kitchen so you can take time out to admire the incredible architecture.
  7. Open Treasure will transform public access to the Cathedral’s collections, which have been hidden away for many years. Don’t miss the stunning church plate and metalwork exhibition in the Great Kitchen, which will eventually house the Treasures of St Cuthbert following a period of environmental monitoring.
  8. Highlights of Open Treasure include the Monks’ Dormitory, the UK’s only intact surviving monastic dormitory with an original fourteenth-century oak ceiling, and the Great Kitchen, one of only two surviving monastic kitchens in the UK.
  9. Open Treasure staff and volunteers will be on hand throughout the exhibition route to answer any questions you might have and provide a friendly welcome to all visitors.
  10. And last but certainly not least, the spaces along the Open Treasure exhibition route, along with Durham Cathedral’s Cloister, represent the most intact surviving set of medieval monastic buildings in the UK! Nowhere else can you feel such a palpable sense of history and imagine the scale of the medieval monasteries which were once found all over the UK until the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Durham survived relatively unscathed, and the buildings that remain provide a unique insight into life in a medieval monastery, whilst revealing the story of Durham Cathedral and its incredible collections.

We look forward to welcoming you to Open Treasure at Durham Cathedral, open to the public from Saturday 23 July 2016. To book tickets online, please click here.

The Heritage Lottery Fund has supported Open Treasure with a grant of £3.9 million.

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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

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)

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