It was an overcast and cold day, and I'm sure everything is more beautiful once the trees have leafed out and the flowers are in bloom, but we feel so privileged to have visited this town and cathedral.
Durham Cathedral, north side
The foundation stone of the current cathedral was laid in 1093.
I read 'It's well worth a visit if you're in Durham...' on TripAdvisor. Really? If you just happen to be in Durham?? Actually, it's well worth traveling by train from London to see this stunning cathedral, a glorious testament to the message of Christ, and to reflect upon the fact that there has been a Christian presence on this spot since A.D. 997.
Durham Cathedral, exterior, east
Durham Cathedral, northeast
After we got home, I picked up my Kindle with it's copy of Bell's Cathedrals - Durham, to read aloud to Mr. C. as we were traveling to Minneapolis to visit our granddaughter. Voila! There it was, The Dun Cow.
So here's the story, because I know you're dying to find out. St. Cuthbert was a monk, bishop and hermit* of Lindisfarne who lived in Anglo-Saxon Northumbria. Anyway, leaving out a lot of important information, we'll get on to the part about him dying. It just so happened that we were there on the weekend of the March 20 St. Cuthbert Festival. He died on March 20, A.D. 687, and I still don't know why they memorialize the date of someone's death. My guess is that they don't know a lot about his birth day.
*Some Christians thought that leading a solitary life would make them more spiritual. It didn't work out so well for a lot of people; rather, it made some of them pretty strange, and actually isn't in line with Christ's teaching, but who am I to argue with St. Cuthbert.
Excerpts from Bell's Cathedrals: The Cathedral Church of Durham A Description of Its Fabric and A Brief History of the Episcopal See. (You can get the Kindle edition FREE from Amazon!)
'Obediently to his own request, his body was wrapped in a linen cloth...and placed in a stone coffin...[and] was interred in the church at Lindisfarne...In A.D. 698 the monks disinterred his remains in order to place them in a specially-prepared wooden coffin.'
More than 150 years went by, and I'm embarrassed to say that my uncouth ancestors, the Danes, repeatedly brought trouble to their shores. The monks feared for their lives and the safety of the holy relics, so they fled from there in A.D. 875, taking the remains of St. Cuthbert, sacred vessels, and books. (I totally get that.) They wandered throughout northern England and Ireland, carrying their saint, etc. with them (reminds me of a Brother Cadfael episode, which, by the way, was based on history).
Bear with me. I am getting to the point, however circuitous a route I may be taking.
While they were on the east side of [Durham], 'they could not with all their Force remove his body further, for it seemed fastened to the Ground.' The monks fasted and prayed for guidance as to where they could settle with their saint.
'...it being revealed to Eadmer, a virtuous Man, that he should be carried to Dunholme, where he was to be received to a Place of Rest.'
Much to our relief, the natives were friendly
Unfortunately, they didn't know where Dunholme was, and evidently, like most men, didn't like asking directions, but...
'...as they proceeded, a Woman wanting her Cow, called aloud to her Companion, to know if she had seen her? Who answered, She was in Dunholme.'
You can imagine how relieved the monks must have been to hear this news. They arrived at Dunholme in the Year 997. For nearly three hundred years, generations of monks had been carrying that coffin from place to place. What an example of devotion and perseverance!
The Dun Cow
Image from DurhamWorldHeritageSite.com
'The Dun Cow: Arrived at Dunholm they raised a "little Church of Wands and Branches" to protect the sacred relics until a building more worthy of such a charge could be erected. This was the beginning of the Cathedral and City of Durham.'
Bell's Cathedrals is full of fascinating, detailed information about the Cathedral, and it is so much fun to read, having been there and able to picture the parts of the cathedral and architectural detail it describes. I'm learning new definitions for words, e.g. that 'lozenge' doesn't only refer to a tablet to soothe a sore throat.
BTW, George Gently fans might be surprised, as I was, to learn that the filming of the shoot-out in Gently in the Cathedral actually was shot in the nave of Durham Cathedral, (educational purposes, I'm sure) but I learned that from The Guardian, not from Bell's Cathedrals.
Durham Castle (left) and Cathedral
MUCH more to follow.
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