Durham Castle and Cathedral
Durham Castle And Cathedral
Cultural United Kingdom Of Great Britain And Northern Ireland Europe And North America County Of Durham, England

Located on a rocky butte overlooking a bend in the Wear River, the monumental array constituted by the cathedral and its outbuildings to the south, and by the castle which inhibits the main access to the peninsula, to the north, makes up one of the best-known cityscapes of medieval Europe.

The history of Durham is linked to that of the transfer of the body of St Cuthbert, the evangelist of Northumbria, who died in 687. In 998 the Saxon community of monks in Durham dedicated a stone 'White Church' of which there are no remains. Thus, Durham became a privileged cathedral in which the northern Christian traditions were revived thanks to a monastic community which grew out of the Benedict Biscop foundation around the relics of Cuthbert and Bede.

The present cathedral (1093-11331) constitutes one of the high points in the history of medieval architecture. The elevation of the nave, with the diminishing proportion of the ground arcades, galleries and clerestories, remains close to the Norman models and the system of decoration is revealing of traditional Romanesque aesthetics, which also marks the sober masses of the harmonious facade flanked by two towers that project slightly and were partially rebuilt during the 13th and 14th centuries.

The lantern tower was reconstructed in the 15th century and the crossing of the transept was revaulted on this occasion. The monastic buildings, grouped together to the south of the cathedral, comprise few of their pristine elements but make up a diversified and yet coherent ensemble of medieval architecture which 19th-century restoration, substantial in the cloister and the chapter house, did not denature.

The architectural evolution of the castle, taking place over eight centuries, is even more complex. Of the original Norman foundation, there remains essentially the typical layout comprising a motte to the east and a large bailey to the west. The construction was begun in 1072 by Waltheof, Earl of Northumberland. It was an effective fortress which regularly faced the onslaught of Scottish troops;in the 17th century the military role of the castle gave way to a more residential character which was further accentuated when the castle became part of Durham University in the 19th century.

The present castle is a veritable labyrinth of halls and galleries of different periods, and in its north wing it houses various vestiges of the Romanesque epoch, include the castral chapel, built in 1080.

Durham Cathedral, owing to the innovative audacity of its vaulting, constitutes a type of experimental model which was far ahead of its time. It is the largest and most perfect monument of 'Norman' style architecture in England. The small castral chapel for its part marks a turning point in the evolution of 11th-century Romanesque sculpture. Around the relics of Cuthbert and Bede, Durham crystallized the memory of the evangelizing of Northumbria and of primitive Benedictine monastic life.