Tag Archives: medieval buildings

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!

Advertisements

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

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.

Through the Keyhole – A Joiner’s Experience of Open Treasure

The Open Treasure project at Durham Cathedral is opening up a new exhibition route through some of the Cathedral’s remarkable historic spaces.

A major part of the project is the transformation of the fourteenth-century Monks’ Dormitory. Many visitors will be familiar with the room, which has been used as a library since the 1840s. It has a spectacular oak-beamed ceiling and is lined with wooden bookcases built from English oak.

One of the big jobs for me and the Cathedral’s other two joiners has been the creation of doors for the bookcases. These will keep the books safe and allow us to continue using the room as a working library once it is opened as an exhibition space.

We had to make over eighty doors in total and because the bookcases were originally handmade, no two doors are the same. Each bookcase is slightly different from the next in shape and size, and even within each case the left and right doors are not perfectly symmetrical. This meant that for every door we had to carefully measure the case and create a plywood template. Then we used the template to cut the door from European oak before attaching a metal grill and a lock mechanism. We started this daunting task in February and it is impossible to say exactly how many hours it has taken us, but it has definitely been an extremely time-consuming job!

At the moment we are busy hanging the doors so that the polisher can come and varnish them. Each of the bookcases is a subtly different colour thanks to the way the sunlight has faded them over the centuries, so he can’t pick the right shade until they are in position.

The beauty of our job as joiners at the Cathedral is that we do such a variety of tasks – and these doors definitely provided us with a new challenge. I must confess that by door number fifty we were sick of the sight of them, but now we can’t wait to have them all hung and polished. It will definitely feel good to get the job done and to see people enjoying the new exhibition space.

Tony Swallow, Joiner

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.

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