Restoration of Durham Cathedral

I have just come across a very interesting article on the restoration of Durham Cathedral which is considered one of the great buildings of Europe and certainly one of the finest examples of Romanesque architecture in the world – the article can be read at:  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3798537/Durham-Cathedral-s-1-7million-restoration-continues.html

Durham Cathedral was started in 1093 and finished it seems within 40 years which considering the sheer scale of the building I find quite remarkable for the time period.  It seems it was originally built to house the shrine of St Cuthbert and has now been a place of pilgrimage for almost a 1000 years.

Apparently the cathedral was originally built as a monastic building for Benedictine monks and even now has some of the most intact monastic buildings in England according to the Durham Cathedral website.  During the course of the year the Cathedral holds a Benedictine week which gives the community and visitors the chance to discover the traditions surrounding St Benedict both historical and currently which is of personal interest as one of my favourite artists, Alberto Pisa, painted the Benedictine monastery at Subiaco near Rome.

The restoration of the Cathedral is needed due to the beautiful golden sandstone being subject to corrosion very easily and the Cathedral Tower is now weathering – it dates back to 1484.  The work began in February this year and already 9 of the 12 tonnes of stone have been delivered – it is expected to be completed in 2017.

The stonemasons who are lucky enough to be working on this project are having to remove any damaged stone and replace it and this includes carving exact copies of the originals plus in addition they are removing any cement from between the stones and replacing it with molten lead joints which will give much needed additional strength to the tower which stands at some 66 metres (216 feet approximately).    There is of course other work involved in the project – repairing rainwater systems, roof coverings and roof decking.

From the photographs in the newspaper article the work looks both detailed and exciting – to be working on such an incredible example of Romanesque architecture must truly be a privilege particularly as I wonder whether the stonemasons must be considering their ancestors in their chosen profession as they work.

The Durham Cathedral website speaks of the history of the building and there can be no argument it has withstood many events including the dissolution of the monastery during The Reformation when it was handed over to the Crown in 1539 and promptly re-founded as a Cathedral just 2 years later.  During the Civil War the Cathedral was closed to worship and apparently it was used to hold 3000 Scottish soldiers many of whom died and it was only in 2013 that their mass graves were discovered at Durham University’s Palace Green Library during building works.

In the late 18th Century 2-3 inches of stone were carved off the exterior and part of the North Chapter House was demolished but rebuilt in 1895 to the original design.  If I was able to visit Durham without knowing this history I question whether I would immediately spot the fact that the Chapter House is a later addition albeit a re-built version of the early original.

What I find surprising is the stained glass windows were not added until the 19th Century – I say surprising I would have expected them to be much earlier due to examples in other churches but I also should not be surprised when I think of St Mary’s Church in Derby which was built during the 19th Century and the Gothic Revival style.  I question if the windows were added in order to ‘speak’ to the local population at a time when churches were trying to entice the people in and warn of the evils outside – the Church was a major part of the lives of the people at the time and as many of the poor were illiterate the windows were able to tell of the biblical stories.

The history of the Cathedral can be seen in its very fabric and by the photographs in the newspaper article plus those on the website I can fully appreciate the fact that it is considered such a fine example of Romanesque architecture and I will be doing a new blog on one of the finest Norman parish churches in England which is St Michael with St Mary in Melbourne in Derbyshire which we have been luckily enough to discover whilst visiting an arts festival!

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Enoch, N. 20 September 2016.  A chisel, a chip … and 12 tonnes of golden sandstone:  How stonemasons are hard at work on £1.7 million restoration of Durham Cathedral [online]. [Date accessed:  20 September 2016].  Available from: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3798537/Durham-Cathedral-s-1-7million-restoration-continues.html

The Chapter of Durham. 2016.  Built in 1093 to house the shrine of St Cuthbert, Durham Cathedral has been a place of pilgrimage, worship and welcome for almost a millenium [online]. [Date accessed:  20 September 2016].  Available from: https://www.durhamcathedral.co.uk/heritage/history-of-durham-cathedral

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