Northward bound: More inland cruising

Durham

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

One of the towns close by was Durham, the site of another famous cathedral. Discovering it offered evensong everyday except Monday, I wanted to hear it. The first and last time was in Canterbury with my friends Carol and Katie, and it left all three of us in awe. I’m not religious but I do love music; and, now, here was another opportunity to share a similar experience with Max. We discovered we could easily get there via the local bus. So, on a rainy Tuesday we made our way to the bus stop and joined a few other folk taking the local route.

Once there the sun began to peek out as we climbed the winding cobble-stone lane to the top of a hill where both a castle (now a university) and the cathedral perched. The rocky peninsula is surrounded on three sides by the River Wear and overlooks the medieval town. The cathedral sits boldly beside the castle, the latter we couldn’t really enter due to school still being in session (some lucky kids actually get to sleep in a dorm in this castle begun in 1072 under William the Conqueror); but, we were able to enter the cathedral.

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Unlike most of the cathedrals we’ve toured, Durham is free. No photos were allowed so we wandered around following a small pamphlet’s instructions on what’s what.

What I found truly amazing is why I hadn’t heard of this place before considering the folk buried here:  Bede (at least some of his bones) and St. Cuthbert, the guy who figured prominently during St. Hilda’s time. Bede (672-735 c.e.) was enshrined here in 1370; and, St. Cuthbert (634-687 c.e.), the famous monk, bishop, and hermit who helped spread Christianity, ended up here in 995 after his body was moved twice (the first time in 875) to escape Danish plundering. The second time his remains (supposedly) telegraphed that Durham should be his final resting place. I’m sure no politics influenced THAT decision.

Anyhow, St Cuthbert’s tomb became a shrine to which oh so many pilgrimages poured their thanks into the open palms of Durham’s oh so reverent leaders. Nothing like a saint to earn some dough. First a church (998) and, later, a cathedral was built (1081-96) to house this shrine with many additions occurring into the subsequent centuries.

Staring up at the imposing stone walls and stained glass while wandering down the center aisle we ran into John Adams, a volunteer who happily and helpfully provided us with information about his church. I say his church because there have been services held here daily for over 900 years, which even for someone like unchurchy me is impressive.

After an hour or so, we left but not before snapping a pic of the Sanctuary Knocker.

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In the Middle Ages fugitives from justice could seek sanctuary by knocking on the north door (where this knocker, a replica, was, although, it must have been lower or the fugitive brought a ladder because it was pretty high up). The fugitive had 37 days to decide whether to stand trial or put himself/herself into exile. If the latter, they had three days to reach the closest port (Hartlepool) and wait for a ship, any ship. As long as they were in the water (waiting for that ship) they were still considered outside the long arm of the law.

When we asked John why such odd day counts, he smiled and said everything was based on the bible’s 40 days. That rang a slight bell in my head, enough for me to say “Ahh”.

We finished our tour and exited to walk around until 5:15, when evensong was occurring.

The town was small, filled with students as well as some other tourists, and we just strolled around enjoying the ambiance and the not-too cold temps.

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At 5:00p we were back at the cathedral and sat with twenty or so other listeners as the service began. The voices were angelic with a range of ages participating, from little girls to older men. The sound was lovely. To be able to witness such an event knowing something akin to it had occurred over 900 years earlier was a bit like time traveling; and, both Max and I soaked it up as the notes literally soared to the sky. All in all a nice way to spend a Tuesday.

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2 thoughts on “Northward bound: More inland cruising

  1. Colleen

    This is where my Scottish forebear and the other Scottish prisoners of war ( with Oliver Cromwell’s army) who survived the forced march from the Battle of Dunbar were housed for the winter, before being marched to the west coast and sold into indentured servitude. They are not fondly remembered by the keepers of Durham Cathedral b/c they burned everything they could reach to stay warm, but for a plaque depicting a thistle, the symbol of Scotland.

    Reply

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