On our first full day in Durham City we walked to the center of town and took the bus up to the cathedral and castle.
Durham City (if you just say Durham you mean the county) occupies a narrow peninsula of land formed by a loop in the River Wear. High bridges link the shops on the peninsula with the residences across the river, and a nearly free bus circles between the railroad station, bus station, car park, market square, and cathedral green.
In the market square is the flashiest larger-than-life-size statue of a man on horseback we've seen yet; it's "Charles William Vane Stewart, 3rd Marquis of Londonderry, 1st Earl Vane and Baron Stewart of Stewarts Court KCCCCB, Lord Lieutenant County of Durham and Founder of Seaham Harbor, General in Charles Stewart, etc. the Army, Born May 8th 1778, Died March 6th 1854." The horse has one foot up. On Saturday the square was full of green and white striped tents and shoppers; on Sunday there were mostly families pushing strollers, along with a goodly sprinkling of tourists.
At the cathedral green bus station a list of Ph.D. theses was posted for the University of Durham. There were degrees in science and mathematics (knot theory), literature and feminist studies being awarded; the students had passed their exams, but the announcements ominously stated that if their fees weren't paid up they wouldn't be getting the degrees. Some things never change.
What a wonderful site for a university! High on the hilltop is a tremendous cluster of buildings constructed starting in 1083 with a Benedictine monastery. The cathedral belongs to the Diocese, and the rest of the buildings to the University. These buildings are in a marvelous state of preservation, with (in some cases) the original ceilings still in place. The interiors were pretty well stripped of finery and some of the more accessible statues during the Reformation, but since then they've been relatively unharmed. And the monks hid some of the most valuable statues so well they've never been found. Since these are all active centers of worship and scholarship, there's not much archaeological digging on top of the hill.
Durham Cathedral more than made up for our disappointment at the huge and unbeautiful York Minster. It (this cathedral) is breathtaking, inside and out. Indeed it's one of the finest old buildings we've seen in Europe, and should be a must on any traveler's itinerary. The nave is supported by immense pillars, 6.6 meters high and 6.6 meters round. Alternating pillars have a unique design in the stone; four are fluted, four carved with a herringbone pattern, and four with a diamond pattern. The vaulted stone arch is high and gorgeous, and the central tower above the crossing contains the belfry with ten bells.
In the Galilee Chapel, at the foot of the cross, stands the tomb of the Venerable Bede, who died in 735, and wrote The History of the English Church Durham Cathedral cloisters and People. Behind the altar are twelfth-century frescoes, probably of St. Cuthbert and St. Oswald.
St. Cuthbert, born about 633, was a missionary to the Northumbrians, gentle and full of love, who worked miracles among the people. Almost immediately after his death his remains were worshipped and he continued to work miracles after his death.
Oswald was a powerful English King of Northumbria, an early Christian who died in battle in 642. St. Oswald's head soon joined St. Cuthbert's remains and became an object of veneration on Lindisfarne Island. In 995, in fear that the shrine would be pillaged by Viking raiders, the remains were brought to Durham, where they were enshrined in a white church until the construction of the cathedral was complete. The bones of the Venerable Bede were added to the shrine in the 11th Century, but later removed and placed in a separate tomb.
Some of the memorable features of the cathedral are the baptismal font with an enormous black wooden cover, carved about 1670; a huge gilded clock built by Prior Thomas Castell around 1519, which was the only wooden article in the cathedral to survive the Reformation; the marble pulpit, lectern, chancel screen and pulpit designed by architect George Gilbert Scott; the high bishop's throne (which is still used), the incredible lacy-looking carved stone screen behind the high altar, a gift of the immensely rich and powerful Neville family in the fourteenth century; and the thirteenth century Chapel of the Nine Altars, built so that all the monks could celebrate mass daily.
To one side of the cathedral are the cloisters, library, restaurant and store. Although the stonework of the cloisters was rebuilt in 1828, the fourteenth-century wooden ceilings were preserved.
The Durham cathedral and castle define the city; placed on top of the hill, immensely old and still in very active use, the pulse of this center of learning has throbbed for ten centuries. The buildings can be seen from every part of the hilly city. The surrounding countryside is hilly and forested, covered these days with beautiful spring greenery. We were enchanted by the cathedral, and plan to return again to appreciate its overpowering loveliness.