I am fascinated by cathedrals. These structures are particularly amazing given the period of history in which they were constructed, the resources consumed in their construction, and their ability to withstand all that nature and man has thrown against them. Each one impresses upon me the vision and tenacity that the architects and patrons must have held to prosecute such a grand undertaking. Some of best known cathedrals around the world include:
While these structures are visually and artistically stunning my favorite is Durham Cathedral. Durham Cathedral was originally built by the Normans in, as you have doubtlessly deciphered, County Durham UK. The original construction began in 1093 and finishing 40 years later. The Cathedral has a crucifix layout and is nestled in a finger of land forcing the river Wear into a loop. It is a functioning Christian Church of the Anglican Communion and is the seat of the (As a side note, tea with the Bishop each afternoon that I stayed in Durham was quite intriguing but that is topic for another blog). Upon entering the building it is obvious it houses great history and demands reverence but it lacks the pretense you find in Westminster Abbey or St. Peter’s and in comparison is almost humble and practical. It feels as if it was built for the common man of 1093 and of today instead of monarchs and bishops. While clearly it would be difficult to describe me as a common man, I also found it quite impressive. Stand back and look down the of Durhamnave and you will understand what I mean.
To the extent you ever have the grand pleasure of visiting Durham Cathedral there are few experiences you should attempt to have while there.
1. Climb the tower. The climb to the top is taxing and you must work your way through a number of winding staircases that managed to expose my closet claustrophobia at certain points. Nonetheless I clambered on and was well rewarded by the view of the surrounding county that is quite beautiful.
2. Attend a service. I attended a Sunday morning service and found it was quite enjoyable, albeit different than what I typically experience at Christ Church in Atlanta. I found myself sitting on the third row of the choir which provides an excellent vantage point that is particularly useful for those of slightly smaller stature. I was immediately struck by how intimate the experience was even though held inside the massive structure. The organ rumbles and growls through the hymns and provides vibrations that rival any BrookStone massage chair. Services are held every day of the week so there is very little excuse to be unable to attend.
3. Tour the Treasures of St. Cutherbert, Durham Cathedral’s patron saint. Durham Cathedral contains St. Cuthbert’s shrine and has many relics including his coffin and cross. If you find historical and religious artifacts interesting do not pass up the opportunity to explore this exhibit.
4. Visit the Galilee Chapel which is largely considered one of the most beautiful parts of Durham Cathedral. It is covered in wall paintings and murals, certain of which date from the 1200’s.
5. Walk amongst the cloisters and see if you can not find the plaque commemorating John Washington “Whose family has won an everlasting name in lands to him unknown”.
6. Take a photo from the Prebends Bridge and you will have a fantastic photo of your self, or someone else if you find you are not particularly photogenic, with Durham Cathedral towering in the background.
7. Follow Durham Cathedral on Twitter.
8. For more local information contact @TheFerebee
Afterward you should have brunch a Leonard’s Coffee Shop. Fantastic food.
Do not attempt to have lunch at The Fighting Cocks. The name alone should provide you with sufficient reservations. However, if you press on I will warn you that unless you are a local you will find yourself in a brawl.