21. August 2016 - 25. August 2016
While we did not spend long in Durham, we had a lovely time. It is a really nice town with a beautiful Cathedral. I had a hideous cold in Durham so spent a lot of time sleeping. We did manage to see the Cathedral and the Castle, and do a bit of shopping I got a lovely turquoise ring and Ross got some new jeans. Fairs, fair.
Images of Durham
Durham Castle is magnificent. The best view of it is from the river walk. We were told by an old guy. We did the walk but I think the trees have grown considerably since the old guy last walked this way.
The construction took place under the supervision of the Earl of Northumberland, Waltheof, until he rebelled against William and was executed in 1076.
The castle then came under the control of the Bishop of Durham, Walcher, who purchased the earldom and thus became the first of the Prince-Bishops of Durham, a title that was to remain until the 19th century, and was to give Durham a unique status in England.
It was under Walcher that many of the Castle’s first buildings were constructed. As was typical of Norman castles, it consisted of a motte (mound) and an inner and outer bailey (fenced or walled area). Whether the motte and inner bailey were built first is unknown.
There is also debate about whether or not Durham Castle was originally a stone or a wooden structure. Historic sources mention that its keep (fortified tower) was built of wood, but there is enough archaeological evidence to indicate that even in the late 11th century when it was first built, it had numerous stone buildings.
Archaeological evidence suggests that an Anglo-Saxon defensive structure predated the Norman Castle. This was not unusual, and in fact was the case in Dover, London, Exeter, Hastings, Winchester, and Pevensey, where castles were constructed after the Norman Conquest.
In defensive terms, Durham Castle was of strategic importance both to defend the troublesome border with Scotland and to control local English rebellions, which were common in the years immediately following the Norman Conquest, and led to the so-called Harrying of the North by William the Conqueror in 1069.
The Historia Regum, a literary work about the history of the English kings written in 1136, mentions that the Castle was constructed “to keep the bishop and his household safe from the attacks of assailants”. This makes sense – Robert de Comines (or Cumin), the first earl of Northumberland appointed by William the Conqueror, was brutally murdered along with his entourage in 1069.
The threat to Durham was not simply from locals who resented the Normans presence – there was also the looming threat of invasions from the Scots and the Danes.
Durham Cathedral is a Norman building constructed between 1093 and 1133 in the Romanesque style. It was founded as a monastic cathedral built to house the shrine of St Cuthbert, replacing an earlier church constructed in his honour.
Durham’s architectural value lies in the fact that it is the oldest surviving building with a stone vaulted ceiling of such a large scale. This may not seem remarkable today, but developing the know-how to roof large buildings with stone rather than wood shaped the course of European architecture from then on.
Durham Cathedral is also valuable because its Norman architecture has survived largely intact – the addition of two chapels and a later central tower notwithstanding. Most other important Norman buildings in Britain were substantially modified, often beyond recognition. As such, it is recognised both as an exemplar of the Romanesque architecture, and as one of the world’s greatest cathedrals
Durham cathedral is known by me for its front door knob. If you hung onto it you were granted sanctuary by the cathedral.
The knocker on the Cathedral’s northern door, known as the Sanctuary Knocker, played an important part in the Cathedral’s history. Those who ‘had committed a great offence,’ such as murder in self-defence or breaking out of prison, could rap the knocker, and would be given 37 days of sanctuary within which they could try to reconcile with their enemies or plan their escape.
The Cathedral entrance has now been modified, but it originally had two small chambers above the doorway with windows where monks would be seated keeping a watch out for sanctuary seekers, to let them in promptly, at any time of the day or night.
When somebody did seek sanctuary in the Cathedral, the Galilee bell would be rung to announce it. The sanctuary seeker would be given a black robe to wear, with St Cuthbert’s Cross sewn on the left shoulder to distinguish them as one who had been granted sanctuary by God and his saint.
The person offered sanctuary was kept in an enclosure separated from the rest of the church, and was provided food, drink, bedding and other necessities at the abbey’s expense, until the person’s safe departure from the diocese could be arranged.