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The story of Durham could be said to start with the Monks travelling from Ripon carrying St Cuthbert’s body. Their intention was to return to Chester le street, but at one stage of the journey the body became immoveable. The legend states this place was called 'Wrdelau'. One of the Monks, Eadmer, had a vision of the wishes of St Cuthbert, that they were to move onto Dunholme. (Dun Holm translated means 'Hillock on the peninsula [3]). They found it by asking a woman who was looking for her cow. When asked for directions towards Dunholme, she replied that her cow was also there, and so directed the Monks there. The point where the Monks first saw Durham was called Munt Joy.

However, it is unlikely that the Monks who resided at Chester le Street for a number of years did not know the whereabouts of an easily defensible position such as Durham, especially as it was only 5 miles away.

The Monks settled and Bishop Aldhun (1st Bishop 994-1018) built a White Church whilst the Cathedral was being built. (This is the first Saxon built Cathedral) This took 3 years, and the Saint was buried again 309 years after his death on 4th September 998. The church of St Mary Le Bow is said to stand on the site of this White Church. This White church was probably named because it was built from whitewashed timber. The stone “Cathedral” was built using labour impressed from the Tees to the Coquet by his Son-in-law Uhtred, Earl of Northumberland. As Martin Carver has noted, this was “a commitment which indicates that the development of the Durham site was scarcely the devotional exercise of a beleaguered (besieged) convent, but a central political event”.

At the Old Fulling Mill was the single stone traceable from that first Cathedral. The stone was built into the wall and was seen from the interior of the old mill room [1].

William the Conqueror entered Durham unopposed and he conceded to the people many valuable privileges, but the inhabitants still distrusted and disliked the Normans. To enforce obedience Robert Cumyn (created Earl of Northumberland) was sent in 1069. The usual cruelties and excesses were committed, but conspiracies were still committed by the local. This caused the Normans to retaliate by putting to death some local landowners. The peasantry armed themselves and attacked the city, killing all the people and burned the Governor’s house to the ground. A westerly wind blew the fire towards the Cathedral and nearly set fire to that as well. Thus, we can assume that this house must have been in the Baileys. One man is said to have escaped to inform the Norman rulers. William I came to Durham to enforce order, but by this time the inhabitants had all fled, taking St Cuthbert’s body with them. The city was plundered by the Normans at this time.

Cathedral and Castle: About
Cathedral and Castle: Image
Cathedral and Castle: Image

The Curfew originated from the times of these uprisings [3]. The curfew bell is still rung from the central tower ever night at 9pm except Saturday.

On William's visit to the city in 1072, after receiving homage from King Malcolm of Scotland, he ordered the Castle built to protect the city and the then Cathedral [6]].

William also desired to view Cuthbert's body to check on the incorruptibility claim. If this claim was found to be incorrect, orders were given that all those of a 'superior rank' were to be put to death. On opening the tomb William was “smitten all of a sudden with a burning fever, which so distracted him that he rushed out of the church”, mounted his horse and fled the city, not drawing reign until he crossed the Tees. It is stated that he left the city across the Kingsgate site. The Lord Lieutenant still ceremonially meets the new Bishop on this first crossing of the River Tees [3].

The Monastery was formed in 1093, but the Suppression ended it in 1540. It was a great influence on the city, as the Prior and Convent were Lords of the Manor of the Borough and Barony of Elvet. The Manor used to include not only Elvet, but the western suburb of Crossgate or about half of the city. The Bishop also controlled the central part of St. Nicholas' parish, part of Framwellgate, a toll booth in the Market Place, and a prison in Saddler street. The Prior also had Gilesgate, a Tollbooth at the north end of Crossgate, and a prison in South Street [3]. (NB Elvet was granted to the Prior by the Bishop in 1091).

Revolts were still occurring, which necessitated William then William Rufus to squash them. These revolts caused the Bishop William De Calais (1080-1096), to flee and the Crown took over the See. The Bishop was not restored until 1091, at which date the present Cathedral was commenced. Bishop William De Calais was the second of the Norman Bishops [10].

One other reference [28] state that the Bishop fled following a dispute when William Rufus acceded to the Crown. On 2 November 1088. the bishop of Durham was tried before the king's court at Salisbury. The Bishop refused to acknowledge its jurisdiction and appealed to Rome; the king compelled him to give up Durham castle, and let him follow the Bishop of Bayeux, Odo oversea to Normandy. The King’s army was sent to Durham who laid siege and reduced the place, so the Crown took over the See. The Bishop was restored in 1093. It was shortly afterwards that he 'gave' Elvet to the Monks.

St Cuthbert's body was again moved on August 1104. It is said that until the shrine of St Thomas was built in Canterbury, no other shrine could match Cuthbert's for jewels or the numbers of pilgrims [6].

In the Cloister garth was a monument to St Cuthbert marking where his coffin had rested before the translation of his remains to the new shrine in 1104. It stood before the entry to the cemetery but within the area formerly occupied by the earlier church. The shrine to which the saint was moved to was probably a fairly simple one, but as time went by fittings became increasingly elaborate, particularly in the 14th century. St Cuthbert was not alone in his coffin, for even in 1104 the Saint was in a third, innermost coffin, laying on his side to give room to: Venerable Bede, the head of St Oswald, and parts of the bones of Aidan, Eadfrith and Ethelwold (all Bishops of Lindisfarne).

There were several inspections of the contents before the translation in 1104. The first was carried out by Prior Turbot and nine chosen Monks. The next night Bishop Ranulf Flambard (1099-1128) was present when the contents were examined. So that the Monks could not be accused of falsifying the evidence another disturbance was arranged. Present were the Abbot of St Albans, the Abbot of St Mary's, York, and Hugh, Abbot of St Germain. In addition, Alexander, brother of the King of 5cotland, and William, the Bishop's clerk (who later became the Archbishop of Canterbury). Only the Abbot of Seez was allowed to touch the remains, and he declared the remains incorrupt.

Many of the relics had been collected by a Monk called Elfred, a member of the secular community in the early 11th century. He mostly obtained the relics by stealth, such as Bede’s relics which were removed from Jarrow under the cover of darkness. Henry III “borrowed” a considerable number of treasures from the shrine of St Cuthbert which he never returned [22].

Pilgrims coming to see St Cuthbert's shrine provided a steady income for many years, but this started to diminish in the 15th century, and appears to have ceased altogether in the 16th century. The bones of Venerable Bede seem to have been a source of income for the Convent as they were sold to such an extent that by 1830 very few bones remained.

When the Galilee chapel was built it blocked the former main entrance, thus the north door with the Knocker became the new main entrance [19]. Just westwards of the north-south door is a blue marble inlay let into the flooring. No woman was to cross this as St Cuthbert was supposed to dislike women. This is more probably a rumour spread by the Monks. The women’s chapel was in the Galilee Chapel at our Lady of Pity alter [7].

If the Galilee Chapel was the great addition of the 12th century, then the Chapel of the Nine Alters could be said to be that of the 13th century. The Chapel of the Nine Alters was built in 1242-1280, just after a similar structure had been constructed at Fountains Abbey. This was during the Priorate of Thomas De Melsanby, from the plans of Bishop Richard le Poore of Salisbury in 1228. Thus, this structure can be compared to similar ones at Salisbury and Fountains Abbey. This chapel superseded a Norman apsidal ending, (on the echelon principle as formerly at Westminster) exhibiting Continental influence. This was built during Bishop William De Calais’s time. The turrets and the great rose window were rebuilt by Wyatt. The profits from the Old Fulling Mill financed the Jesus (nave) alter, sometimes known as the Jesus Mill [19, 35]. In the Choir area, high up above the 13th century wall arcading on either side of the presbytery, are two figures known among students of medieval figure sculpture as “The Angels of the Sanctuary”. They are exquisitely carved and apparently their inaccessibility alone spared them to us. They serve to indicate the former splendour of this part of the Cathedral as remodelled in the late 13th century.

The actual word 'Palatinus' was first applied to the Bishop of Durham in 1293 and was used on the analogy of somewhat similar jurisdictions in the Rhine Country and Champagne [6]. Bishop Bek (1283-1311) was at one time also the King of the Isle of Man. He built Durham Place (or Durham Palace) as a London residence on the site where the Adeiphi stood.

The City walls being in a ruinous condition were restored and put into a state of defence by Bishop Beaumont (1317-1333). The Bishop received in 1323 22, a severe censure from King Edward II for his negligence in a manner so important to his Palatinate following a series of attacked from Robert the Bruce [3].

 The completion of the Convent and its church coincided with the eruption of a dispute about conventual independence and Bishop's right. It flared up in the 13th century, but an agreement known as 'Le Convenit' settled the argument. This time the Bishop and Prior were more obstinate and it re-started when Bishop Bek exerted his right of visitation over the Monastery, insisting on a small retinue, the Priory objecting to its size. The argument led to the Bishop actually blockading the convent. This dispute lasted from 1300-1310.

The outstanding feature of the Choir area is the magnificent High Alter Screen known as the Neville Screen. It was erected in 1380 at the cost of some 700 marks or over £400 (a large sum in those days and equal to twenty times its present value in 1935 at £8000).

The Deans Kitchen dates from 1368-9 and is a unique structure of unusual interest with its fine groined cellar, old smoke jacks and spits, charcoal oven and fish kettle. The power of the Bishop's gradually declined after the War of the Roses [3].

Bede’s bones were removed from St Cuthbert’s coffin by Bishop Pudsey and probably transferred to the Galilee in 1370, at the expense of Richard of Barnard Castle. Divinity House was where Cardinal Langley founded Durham School on Palace Green in the 15th century. Cardinal Langley resigned the office of Lord Chancellor of England on accepting the Bishopric of Durham in 1414.

On the 27th May 1429 the central tower was struck by lightning and set on fire. It was repaired over the next 8 years but by 1456 it threatened to fall. The Prior and Convent appealed to the Bishop for help and advice, but in 1459 the tower was again struck, this time setting it on fire, totally destroying the tower and burning the church roof. The repairs took from the mid 1460’s to the late 1480’s. The last piece of important building work to take place before the Dissolution was the rebuilding of the Abbey Gateway, with the chapel of St Helen above (picture in 1824 says the chapel is called St Katherines) The gateway was rebuilt by Prior Richard Castall (1494-1519) the ancient gateway having fallen into disrepair. In a room above the gateway was a chamber for the priest, who, twice a day performed Mass for the benefit of the Laity.

The Central tower is in the perpendicular style and was rebuilt during the episcopacy of Laurence Booth in 1470, subsequent to the destruction of its predecessor by lightening.

Set in the south wall, opposite to the alter of St Saviour was the Grate, a room where people claiming sanctuary were housed and fed for 37 days. The first records of sanctuary being granted was when the community was still at Chester le Street. Although the Sanctuary Ring was fixed to the north door, it is likely that there was a sanctuary zone around the Priory, which was defined by a series of crosses placed at all the major roads leading to Durham: Charley's Cross, Nevilles Cross, etc. The Knocker on the Cathedral door was watched over by two janitors. The window of their chambers, although bricked up, are still visible. The Knocker was last used on the 10th September 1524, 16 years before the dissolution of the Monasteries. Criminals were allowed to stay in the Cathedral for a maximum of 37 days when they would probably be escorted out of the county, usually to one of the seaports.

The town of Durham disposed of its rubbish wherever there was a convenient spot close by, and this usually meant over a wall or in a dip in the ground. Hence a softening of the profile of the peninsula has taken place. The Cathedral of course is on the same level but about 2 to 4 metres has been added by deposits at various parts of the old town. The only level piece of the town could be said to be the portion next to the Castle.

The status of the Bishop is reflected that when Richard I left for France and the Crusades in 1190, he appointed the Bishops of Ely and Durham to govern the country [3]. This permission may have been partly due to the sale of offices and roles that the King undertook to finance his crusade. Bishop Hugh de Puiset (1153-1195) bought for a large sum the Wapentake of Sadberge from King Richard. This rounded off the patrimony of St Cuthbert. Henceforth until 1836 the Bishops of Durham were summoned to the Houses of Lords as “Earls of Sadberge”. At this stage “says Dr Gee” we may freely call the Bishop's dominions the Palatinate of Durham 6.

Henry VIII removed the Bishop's palatine powers in 1536 and the peace was then the Kings not the Bishop's. Henry's commissioners also ransacked the shrine. On 31st December 1539, the Prior surrendered the Abbey to the King, and in 1541 Durham was reformed as a Cathedral with a Dean and 12 Chapters [6].

The Dissolution of the Monastery saw the dismantling of the shrine in November 1541. On New Years’ Day 1542, George Skeles was paid 15d for 2 days work for making a grave for St Cuthbert. The Sacrist's Exchequer was demolished in 1637.

During the English Civil War, the Scottish army was in Durham in 1640 and remained until September 1641. The English Parliament having to pay for their maintenance. The Marquis of Newcastle held Durham for the King in 1643, but the Scots held it again in 1644. It was in 1650 that the Cathedral was used as a gaol to keep 3000 Scottish prisoners [6]. Oliver Cromwell entered Durham after his victory at the Battle of Dunbar (1650) with a great number of Scottish prisoners. They were confined to the Cathedral and defaced many of the finest tombs, used the decorative wood for fires, and left only the clock undamaged possibly as this has a thistle motive in its carvings. As most of the woodwork was torn down by these prisoners, most of the present work, notably the Choir Stalls and the Font Cover is of the later part of the 17th century as Bishop's Cosins work [12].

The cost of the University to be established by Cromwell was to be provided by the confiscation of Church property. He managed to get a Writ of Privy Seal to create a University at Durham. This was not carried out because of opposition by Oxford and Cambridge, and by the death of Cromwell.

There was a quaint custom that was observed annually in memory of the Nevilles Cross battle on 17 October 1346 and the Restoration of the monarchy on 29 May 1660. There was a procession of clergy and choir which mounted the tower and gave thanksgiving anthems [7]. Until 1678 the Bishop had veto's right over the Parliamentary elections. Cosins took this attitude, as he said the Bishop looked after the interests of the citizens.

During the extensive destruction in the 18th century in the 'name of progress', the Chapter House was demolished in 1792 (other reference course states 1796 [6]). It was one of the finest Norman structures of its kind in the country and was converted into a cosy living room. The Chapter House was rebuilt in 1895-6 after the original plans, fortunately kept. Proposals were made to replace the Galilee with a sweeping carriage way to the west of the Norman west entrance. These were fortunately stopped but not before the lead was taken off the roof. It was also proposed to remove the Neville screen, but this also never came about. James Wyatt was responsible for this 'restoration', thus he was sometimes referred to as “the Destroyer”. He pared off up to 4” off the walls thus no carved details were left on the stone [7]. The North Doorway was also considerably altered by Wyatt. Originally it was of a magnificent design, but Wyatt effected several considerable improvements, including the demolition of the outer porch and buttresses. The outer two flanking crocketed spirelets, which once formed a familiar feature of this doorway, have in recent years been removed.

Dr Raine considered that Bishop Aldhun placed th[e cow and the milkmaid upon the church to typify its rich endowments [25]. As Surtees says the sculpture could have after all have given rise to the legend as the legend to the sculpture [21]. It is known that the story of a woman guiding the Monks did not exist before the 16th century. The present carving shows a Durham Shorthorn, its predecessor showed a quadruped of uncertain species [12]. Bishop Flambard is said to have carved upon the Cathedral a cow or similar to commemorate the story. It was replaced in 1775 by James Purdy, a mason from South Street at 5/- a day [9].

Cathedral and Castle: About

Dun Cow legend in stone

Cathedral and Castle: Image

The former Diocesan registry beside Windy Gap was erected in 1820 after the removal of the Assize Courts built by Bishop Cosins in 1664. The Dean and Chapter Grammar School was once down here (built in 1661) but is now the University Music department [19]. The new Almshouses on the green was named after Bishop Cosins in 1838. The large 17th century house with the door head was the Archdeacon's Inn. Bishop Cosins’ original Almshouses building of 1666 was to accommodate 4 men and 4 women [19]. Abbey House with the Queen Anne front has an ancient, blocked doorway and is close to the site of another gate in the inner Bailey wall at the head Lygate (renamed Dun Cow Lane after the 18th century renewal of the carving of the cow) [19]. The University Union Rooms were built on the site of the site of the Law Courts of the Prince Bishops.

Dean Sudbury converted the Frater House or Monks Hall into an elegant library for the Dean and Chapter about the year 1680 [27].

It was not until 17th May 1827 that St Cuthbert was disturbed again. This was a scientific exhumation under the direction of Rev James Baine. It established that the 1542 grave was covered with a large slab sealed by eighteen inches of earth and a marble slab presently visible in the floor. Three nesting coffins were found, the innermost being the original coffin, finely carved. Inside were the bones of St Cuthbert dressed in Vestments and wrapped in fine linen. Various items surrounded the Saint, and these are now in the Cathedral Treasury. At the exhumation in 1827, Baine concluded that the community had deliberately falsified the evidence for the incorruption from as early as 698. However, a subsequent exhumation allowed a more detailed examination of the remains. It was concluded that parts of the body had indeed been incorrupt since portions of the skin, ligaments and other parts of the body were still intact. It seems that St Cuthbert was first interred in such a dry part of the ground that his body was desiccated.

From the founding of Durham until the 16th century the following were responsible for the various parts of the city, Kepler Hospital administered Gilesgate, the Priory through its bailiffs controlled the Old Borough, Elvethaugh and Elvet. In the 16th century the ownership of Gilesgate passed on to the secular owners of Kepler Hospital, the Bishop retained control of the city and Framwellgate, while the Dean and Chapter administered Elvet and Crossgate. This only changed in 1835 when an Act of Parliament created the Municipal Borough.

in 1831 there was a major complaint against the Clergy in Durham that they had more revenue than that necessary for their work. Bishop Van Mildert (1826-1836) and Canon Thorp proposed that the extra revenue be used to endow a northern college. Within two months the idea of a college had grown into that of a university, and, more important, the Dean and other members of the Chapter had been persuaded to support the proposal. On 4th July 1832 the University of Durham Act became law, and the first undergraduates were admitted for the Michaelmas term. University life started at the Archdeacons Inn (later to be Cosin's Hall) and was totally controlled by the Dean and Chapter. At first the broad curriculum in the Arts was supplemented by one in Engineering in 1838, the first in the country.

By 1862 the University only had 42 students reading only theology. A measure of reform resulted and by the University Act of 1908, the Dean and Chapter no longer had control of the University. The original college, University College, initially housed in Archdeacons Inn, later moved to the Castle (the Keep). Hatfield College became established in 1846 for those who could not afford the high life of University College (which had a beagle pack amongst its assets).

The “Lyngehouse'” is situated on the west side of the Cathedral overlooking the Fulling Mill and occupying part of the site of the Infirmary [36]. This building was only rediscovered in the l8th century when Canon Wellesley's horse fell through the floor of the stables. Canon Greenwell deducted that this building was the Lyngehouse or Monastery Prison, which was recorded in the Rites of Durham. Located underneath were the Master of the Infirmary chamber. If any of the monks had committed some serious offence, then they were chained and imprisoned alone for a year. However, there is no record to substantiate Greenwell’s claim [36]. It also could be St Andrews Mortuary Chapel or, a grain storage for either the Castle or Mill below.

The arrow at the north east corner of the Cathedral is said to have come from the Battle of Nevilles Cross, but it was an iron bar driven in Masons. Also, the distance to the battlefield was twice that of a bowshot, and a wooden arrow is not likely to survive the time span. Also, that pinnacle was not erected until 1800. The bar rusted through and snapped off during World War II

To the east of the Cathedral is the other great sight of Durham, the Castle. The Castle was ordered to be built to protect the early Cathedral and town by William I. This order was on his return from a Scottish expedition in 1072. The building took place over the reigns of various Bishop's with early work by Bishop's Walcher (1071-1080) and William De Calais. However little remains of the first part of the Castle apart from the Crypt chapel, said to be a little gem of architecture the capitals of whose columns exhibit Lombardic influence.

Cathedral and Castle: About
Cathedral and Castle: Image

Bishop Hugh de Puiset (1153-1195) was responsible for the Norman archway and the north side of the Castle. Other parts of the Castle have been built at various times, such as the Chapel in 1075, or as replacements for original items such as the Abbey gateway erected when the Norman gateway fell into disrepair.

Cathedral and Castle: Text
Cathedral and Castle: Welcome

A fire in Silver Street damaged the Castle in the 12th century. Bishop Hugh de Puiset built opposite the gateway a lower hall for dining and an upper hall for the Constable [19]. The Castle was the main residence of the Bishop's until the 14th century when it shared being the Bishop's residence with Auckland Castle and other Manor Houses such as Bishop Middleham [11]. During the reign of King Stephen, the Castle stood a siege for 2 years. After the invention of gunpowder and its common usage in England, combined with the increasing precision of the artillery, the Castle lost much of its importance [11]. However, saying this the Castle was never taken only sold. This was when the Bishopric was abolished during the English Civil War, when the Castle was sold to the Parliament for £1269 0s 10d by the Lord Mayor of London in 1649.

Cathedral and Castle: Text
Cathedral and Castle: Image

The triangular enclosure of the Castle held the Keep on its high earthen mound in one corner. From a description from the mid-12th century, the Keep was a timber structure with an octagonal stone skin, connected to the walls of both the inner and outer enclosures. One of the northern faces formed part of the northern wall. The Keep we see now was built on the site of the 'old keep' in 1840. The “venerable and picturesque ruin” was allowed to fall into disrepair during the 17th century (mid). During the building work a whale’s skeleton was found in the foundations. The whale was stranded near Hartlepool in the 17th century and must have been given to the Bishop as he had a right to any valuables found within the county [12].

The Castles west wall was built without foundation. Only an extremely complicated system of grouting, under pinning and shoring stopped any westward movement towards the river. (This work was carried out in 1940 and provided improved foundations at a cost of £200,000)

On the Palace Green is the site of the Bishop's mint. Coins were minted in Durham for 400 years from 1135 [3]. The coins were not allowed to have the Bishop's image on them. The privilege of the Mint was several times withdrawn and later renewed [6].

The Gaol in Old Elvet replaced a comparatively small building, now non-existent, which stood upon the site of the Durham Ecclesiastical registry on the Palace Green.

At the south side of the Cathedral Close is the 18th century storage tower [19] rebuilt in 1751, which probably marks the site of the water conduit of monastic times, fed from a spring on the east side of South Road [44].

Cathedral and Castle: Text
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