Monday, June 11, 2012

Oddities of Durham Cathedral

In one sense cathedrals are the bane of American travelers to the Old World.  They are big, impressive, historic buildings.  You are expected to visit them.  But they so often are underwhelming.

Yes, I said underwhelming.  This despite being massive things, wonders of medieval construction, contemplative places to ponder the nature of God.

Most of them seem to be a hodge podge of different eras, with arches and apses that fascinate architecture geeks only.  And although there are usually active congregations they do not seem like going concerns regards being houses of worship.  A few hundred seats in a building the size of a zeppelin hanger.

But there are some that I find interesting nonetheless, and on a side trip to Durham I visited the cathedral there.  Most of my pictures are external shots as they do not allow photography.  If you want their official web page it is here.  If you prefer the wikipedia version, here it is.  So a few meandering pictures and thoughts:

This is the "Sanctuary Knocker".  Apparently in the middle ages those fleeing the authorities could turn up at the door of the church, bang on the door with this thing-also called a hagoday-and be admitted.  They were safe inside for 37 days, at the end of which time they had to decide whether they would face trial or leave the country by the nearest port.

A couple of thoughts.  First, this is a replica.  The original was in an exhibit at the cathedral which was closed for renovations.  Second, although the brass ring is worn smooth from those grasping at it you will note that there is a metal peg keeping anyone from trying this intriguing legal strategy in the modern era.  And finally, the accompanying plaque made no mention of how the fugitive from justice was supposed to safely get from the cathedral to the port! I wonder if the Ecclesiatical Authorities exercized a little discretion in deciding how much help they would provide in this respect.  Actually those spoil sports in Parliament eliminated the right of sanctuary in 1623, so bolting the thing down is mostly just to keep yobs from making noise.

Some time back I was pondering a "possible" reused Roman building stone and concluded it was a medieval sun dial.  Here is a near perfect match in situ at Durham cathedral.  Case closed.

As I have mentioned before in a post on Durham, the legend of its founding involves a milk maid seeking a lost "Dun Cow" which involved her leading a band of monks to the spot.  At which point they decided it was just the spot where St.Cuthbert, whose bones they were carrying, wanted them to build a cathedral.

Dun Cow Lane still exists and is said to trace the path of the lost cow.  Here it is in its entire modern length!
Note the edge of the cathedral on the left.  Clearly old bossy was in the home stretch here.  There are only a few doors opening onto Dun Cow Lane. 

Here is more information on Dun Cow Cottage which seems to get its name and address from the road running in back of it.

This is another doorway opening onto Dun Cow Lane.  I can't help it, I am just a serious fan-boy of enigmatic, bricked over doorways!

As I mentioned, Durham cathedral does not allow photographs inside the church proper.  So the image below is from their website.

Its the tomb of The Venerable Bede, an early churchman who wrote an infuriatingly incomplete history of Dark Ages England.  Oh, I had my hat off as I always do in a place of worship, and I wished the old boy Requiesit in Pace.  But my goodness Bedester, the things you knew and did not bother to write down!

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