Durham Cathedral makes an excellent destination to any northern England itinerary, situated 74 miles northwest of York. The grand structure offers some of the best-preserved examples of Norman architecture. Its position on a peninsula high above River Wear offers incredible vistas, especially from the top of the church’s 217-foot tall tower. The cathedral’s library is also home to several historic relics, including three copies of the Magna Carta.
In the 10th century, the White Church was built on this strategic piece of land, surrounded by the River Wear on three sides. It served as a monastic foundation and home to the shrine of Saint Cuthbert of Lindisfarne. In 1093 AD, the present cathedral was founded on the same spot, during a time when the bishop had authority in the military as well as religion. Nearby Durham Castle was constructed as the bishop’s home. During this time, the cathedral also established a Benedictine Monastery.
The cathedral grew and thrived until the Reformation. Durham Cathedral’s monastery was surrendered to the monarchy in 1540. The cathedral reopened in 1541 as part of the new Church of England, with many of the former Priors and monks restored as Deans and Canons. Unfortunately, many historic artifacts were destroyed as a result.
Over the next several centuries, Durham Cathedral endured a great deal of abuse. In 1650, Cromwell used Durham Cathedral as a prison. Throughout the eighteenth century, several inches of the exterior stone was chiseled off the entire structure, and part of the Chapter House was deliberately demolished. Since then, a great focus has been on restoring the cathedral to its original design and former glory. In 1832, the bishop founded Durham University. The Chapter House was rebuilt in 1895, and stained glass was mounted in the windows in the 19th century. Today, the cathedral is sensitive to conservation of this historic structure, as well as the maintenance of its grounds.
While Durham Cathedral is considered Romanesque (also called Norman) overall, it is also one of England’s best examples of Gothic architecture, as well. The church’s nave, quire, transepts, and The Galilee Chapel are all prominently Norman, while the western towers, the central tower, and the Chapel of the Nine Altars at the east end are strongly Gothic. The nave roof is a ribbed vault supported by flying buttresses. While these pointed features are typically associated with the Gothic style, these innovations were used centuries before the Gothic period, making Durham Cathedral an architectural precursor of construction advancement.
Durham Cathedral is not the only UNESCO heritage site in Durham. The adjacent Durham Castle, originally built as a home for the bishop of the cathedral, is also protected. It has been occupied by University College, Durham, since 1840. While it is home to over 100 students, the castle offers guided tours to the public. Nearby Raby Castle also welcomes visitors. This 14th century structure, built by the noble Nevill family, is rumored to have a history stretching back to Viking king Canute II the Great. Visitors to Durham can also take in Bowes Museum, a nationally recognized collection of art, including ceramics, textiles, and glassware.
Harry Potter Film Location
Harry Potter Film Location
Film enthusiasts might recognize Durham Cathedral as the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, as the cathedral and grounds were used extensively in the first two films of the Harry Potter series. Most easily recognized is the lawn and the Chapter House. The spire in the film was digitally added, however. There are several local travel companies that provide Harry Potter themed tours of Durham Cathedral. This has helped increase visitors to one of England's most beautiful cathedrals.