Keys to the Past

Durham Cathedral (Durham City)

Durham Cathedral from the west. 1998
Durham Cathedral from the west. 1998

Durham Cathedral © DCC 2007
Durham Cathedral © DCC 2007

Durham Cathedral © DCC 2007
Durham Cathedral © DCC 2007

In 1093, on 11th August, the foundations of the present cathedral were laid by Bishop William St Calais. The bishop had arranged with the monks that he would supply the money for the church and they would provide the monastic buildings, but when the bishop died in 1096 the monks unselfishly decided to make the church their first charge. By 1096 the east bays of the choir aisles, with their stone vaulting, which is the earliest known example of this kind of work, had been finished. When the new bishop, Ranulph Flambard, arrived in 1099 he found the choir and the crossing already completed. In 1104, the south and north transepts were finished. The north transept was covered with the present-day stone vaulting; the choir was also roofed in the same way, but its vaulting was changed later. Two bays of the nave and aisles were completed and one bay of the triforium. After Flambard's death in 1128 the monks continued to build the nave and complete the aisles and finished the stone vaulting over them. All this was done by 1133. In forty years and under two bishops the cathedral which William de St Calais had planned was completed. The interior was, at least in part, decorated in red and black. The chapter house was erected by Geoffrey Rufus (1113-40). Hugh de Puiset, about 1175 erected the present Galilee Chapel. The stone columns were added by Thomas Langley (1406-37). He also built the great buttresses on the outside of the west walls, which prevent the building from slipping into the river, for de Puiset's architect could not be bothered with foundations and sank the base of his pillars hardly more than a foot or two below the ground. Cardinal Langley completed his work on the Galilee Chapel. In 1228 Richard le Poore, had essential repair work on the choir enabled the eastern end of it to be embellished in such a way as to blend with the style of the new building. Bishop le Poore died before much could be done, the work went on under Prior Melsonby (1233-44). Great periods of building alternated with periods of neglect. The worst destruction of the cathedral came after the Reformation, Robert Horne and William Whittingham completely devestated the interior In 1620 the Laudian reaction had set in and the Cathedral began to be beautified again. In 1650 what remained of the medieval interior suffered more. After the battle of Dunbar, Cromwell took 10,000 scots prisoner and shut them up in the Cathedral. The prisoners broke up all the woodwork and used it for their fires. By the 18th century work on restoring the Cathedral was underway and in this time more harm was done than good, in 1777, 2 ins of stone was chipped away from the exterior to remove the eroded surface, the porch was rebuilt without its upper chamber. In the 19th century the aim seems to have been to remove all later additions to the Norman cathedral. The 20th century renovations and additions have been more discreet. It was made part of a UNESCO world heritage site in 1986.

Reference number:D5561
Historical period: Medieval (1066 to 1540)
Legal status:World Heritage Site
  • National Heritage List for England Entry Number: 1000089
Event(s):Dendrochronological Survey, Refectory and Librarian's loft, Durham Cathedral 2007
Dendrochronological Survey at the North Transept of Durham Cathedral, Durham City 1990; Nottingham University Tree-Ring Dating Laboratory
Refurbishment Works at Durham Cathedral 2014; Archaeological Services Durham University

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See also:
Source of Reference
Local History of Durham City


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Please note that this information has been compiled from a number of different sources. Durham County Council and Northumberland County Council can accept no responsibility for any inaccuracy contained therein. If you wish to use/copy any of the images, please ensure that you read the Copyright information provided.