Vol 1 – No.6 – August, 1887 – Durham Cathedral (part 1)

Durham Cathedral - From the South-WestDurham Cathedral - From College GreenFor picturesqueness of situation and for massive grandeur of effect there are few Cathedrals, if any, which can compare with that of Durham. An old writer (Hegge: “Legend of St. Cuthbert” Reprint of 1826, p.43) says of it : “This reverend aged Abby, advanced upon the shoulders of a mountainous Atlas, is so envyroned again with hilles, that he that hath seen the situation of this city hath seen the map of Sion, and may save a journey to the Holy Land.” A later writer (Billings, 1843) says : “It is no easy matter to give a term conveying an adequate idea of the proportions or apparent size of the Cathedral; for, though less in height and width than others, its nave in particular has a grandeur of effect, derived from the simplicity and size of its various members, not surpassed, if equalled, by any; and King James was not far from giving a proper description when he offered to wrestle it against any other in the kingdom. If we except the addition of the Galilee and Chapel of the Nine Altars, its plan differs in nothing from the Norman design; and of that style of architecture it presents the most perfect and gigantic specimen in existence.”

There are few who are unacquainted with the story of the wanderings of the monks of Lindisfarne with the body of St. Cuthbert, and of how at length they found a final resting-place for it on the lofty wooded peninsula of Dunholme, almost encircled by the waters of the winding Wear. The first shelter for the saintly remains was “an arbour rather than a church,” made by the monks, “with extemporarie devotion, “of boughs and branches of trees. It has been conjectured that the site of this erection was that now occupied by the church of St. Mary-le Bow, in the Bailey, at the east end of the Cathedral; but Hegge rejects this as fabulous. The Church of Boughs was soon after replaced by one of timber, which lasted for three years, when, in 990, Aldwinus, the last Bishop of Chester-le-Street and the first of Durham, “raised up no small building of stone work for his Cathedral!, when all the people between Coqued and Teese were at work three yeares; and were paid for their pains with expectation of treasure in heaven: a very cheap way to pay workmen for their wages.” (Hegge, p. 27.). For a hundred years this building stood. Then (1093) Bishop Carilef, “who thought that the church that Aldwin built was too little for so great a saint, “having plucked it down, laid the foundation of a more ample building. Malcolm, King of Scotland, the Bishop, and Prior Turgot laid the three first stones, August llth, 1093. The work thus commenced was carried on by the Bishop and his successors. By the year 1128, Bishop Flambard (the builder of Framwellgate Bridge) had finished the nave to the vaulting, also the walls to the aisles. About 1154 Bishop Pudsey built the Galilee Chapel. It was built especially for the use of women, who, owing to St. Cuthbert’s well-known aversion to the sex, were debarred from entering the Cathedral itself. Bishop Pudsey it was who built Elvet Bridge, and who, by clearing away the buildings between the Cathedral and the Castle, formed the beautiful open space now called Castle Green. The Chapel of the Nine Altars, at the east end of the Cathedral, was built about 1275. In our illustration, which shows the south side of the Cathedral as seen from College Green, the south gable of this chapel, with its two great pinnacles, appears on the right hand side. The pinnacles of the north gable, the tops of which can be seen in our drawing, are much plainer and heavier than the southern two, and have a top-heavy and crushing effect on the delicate work they cap, being examples of injudicious modern restoration.

Here we must take our leave of this masterpiece of architecture, which is equally beautiful, whether examined in detail or seen from a distance as one grand harmonious mass. It is said that Robert de Rhodes the worthy lawyer who gave to us the world-famous steeple of St. Nicholas in Newcastle, contemplated, and even commenced, a similar crown for the great centre tower of Durham, but died almost in its conception. It is hard to say whether it would have been an improvement, or the reverse, upon the massive four-square majesty it now presents.

R. J. 0.

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