Sacred Spaces: Durham Cathedral

Photo by mattbuck . Via Wikimedia Commons.

Located on a bend in the River Wear is Durham Cathedral, a Norman building designed in the Romanesque style. The Cathedral was built between 1093 and 1133 in order to house the relics of St. Cuthbert and the Venerable Bede.  It is said that St. Cuthbert posthumously chose the location.  His coffin was rendered immovable in that very bend of the River Wear and there, the Shrine of St. Cuthbert was built and later, to house the Shrine, the Durham Cathedral was erected.

Cuthbert, the bishop of Lindisfarne, England, was dedicated to a life of gold Anglican crossprayer and missionary work.  Towards the end of his life, he retired to a hermitage on Farne Island.  It was after his death in the in A.D 687 that his legacy truly flourished.  Our St. Cuthbert Cross, based on the saint’s original 6th century pectoral cross, celebrates the saint and his legacy.

Many miracles have been attributed to St. Cuthbert after his death.  St. Cuthbert was sought out for his posthumous healing abilities. Many people made pilgrimages to the shrine at Durham Cathedral to be cured of sickness and ailments while others reported being miraculously healed after praying at one of the many churches dedicated to the saint throughout Great Britain.

Unfortunately, the original, elaborate shrine of St. Cuthbert no longer exists.  The marble, bejeweled shrine was destroyed in the Reformation and “[…] replaced in 1542 by the simple marble slab marked ‘Cuthbertus’.”

Photo via

Durham Cathedral is considered to be England’s finest example of Norman architecture.  Unlike other Norman buildings, which over the years were heavily modified, Durham Cathedral remains relatively untouched and unchanged, save the addition of two chapels and a central tower.  It is “[…] the oldest surviving building with a stone vaulted ceiling of such a large scale.”  This was a great innovation at the time, when such large ceilings and roofs were chiefly made of wood.

Today, Durham Cathedral holds over 1,700 services a year. “The Cathedral has been in continuous use since its original construction 900 years ago. It remains a place of worship and pilgrimage, and is also an important visitor attraction.”  Many people visit the shrine to “[…] seek the saint’s blessing and healing powers.” Durham Cathedral is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site; a testament to the Cathedral’s architectural and historical significance.

Tour Durham Cathedral

The video below offers a wonderful insight into the history of Durham Cathedral as well as its relics and treasures. (Click here to view directly on YouTube).

Sacred Spaces Blog Series

Want to learn more about the world’s most unique and fascinating sacred spaces? Follow the links below to other pieces from our Sacred Spaces blog series!

Basilica di San Marco (Venice) | St. Issac’s Cathedral (St. Petersburg) | Monastery of the Kiev Caves (Kiev) | St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral (St. Petersburg) | The Duomo (Florence) | The Hagia Sophia (Istanbul) | Cathedral of St. Sophia (Novgorod) | Church of Our Savior on  Spilled Blood (St. Petersburg) | The Church of the Ascension (Kolomenskoye) | St. Basil’s Cathedral (Moscow) |The Churches of Kizhi Pogost | Monastery of Panagia Elona | Smolny Cathedral (St. Petersburg) | Agios Stefanos (Syros Island) | Church of the Intercession on the Nerl | The Rock Churches of Matera | The Monastery of St. John the Theologian (Patmos)

Main image via
Durham Cathedral – An Overview –
Durham Castle and Cathedral –
Behind the High Altar lies the shrine of St Cuthbert –
The Treasures of St. Cuthbert are some of the most significant surviving Anglo-Saxon artefacts in the UK –
Miracles and Ducks: Who Was St. Cuthbert –
The Keeper of the Shrine –
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