Durham Cathedral’s history & why you should visit
Built in 1093 to house the shrine of St Cuthbert, Durham Cathedral has been a place of pilgrimage, worship and welcome for almost a millennium. Renowned for its magnificent Romanesque architecture and spectacular location at the heart of the Durham UNESCO World Heritage Site, visitors from around the world come to admire its architecture and history.
Charlie Allen has been the Canon Chancellor at Durham Cathedral for just over a year now. She describes her move back to the region as something of a homecoming, given that she was born in Sunderland and studied in Durham.
She says: “Durham Cathedral is a spectacular landmark, well known throughout the world, and is close to the hearts of many across the region of the North East. As an Anglican Church, the Cathedral is a place of worship and prayer, a focus of pilgrimage, mission and spirituality for the North East of England. It is also a place of hospitality and welcome, where visitors come in droves, and where local people find a home.“
Here she shares with us her top tips for a visit to Durham Cathedral.
How long should visitors leave to visit the Cathedral?
You could easily spend an entire day exploring the wonder of the Cathedral, the ancient monastic buildings associated with it, and taking in the beauty of the river banks. You might choose to pause for lunch in our Undercroft Restaurant, to take a tour of the Cathedral itself, to visit our award-winning museum experience, Open Treasure, or perhaps to climb the tower and marvel at the spectacular views that are revealed at the top! You may choose to sit for a while in the quiet of such a holy place, to join us for worship, to light a candle to symbolise a prayer… the possibilities are endless! Allow as much time as you can but come nevertheless if time is short – the team at the Visitor Desk is very skilled in helping you decide what to fit in to a quick visit.
What’s your favourite part of the Cathedral?
My favourite part of the Cathedral is the Cloister. I love to imagine how it used to be in monastic days with people pausing to chat as they went about their daily business. It’s rather similar now, with a sense of energy about it as people come and go. I also love the famous Sanctuary Knocker on the North Door, and the wonderful message it signifies of hospitality and welcome – values that are at the heart of Cathedral life.
What’s your favourite treasure at the Open Treasure Exhibition?
There are so many it is difficult to choose! We are currently preparing for a Year of Pilgrimage in 2020, and so I have been particularly excited to be able to see ancient pilgrim tokens that will be on display during the summer of that year. As contemporary pilgrims arrive at the Cathedral, it is fascinating to learn how our ancestors journeyed here and what the experience meant in their lives of faith.
Are there any parts of the Cathedral that visitors often miss?
I’d encourage you to explore the Galilee Chapel which is a spectacular space, housing the tomb of the Venerable Bede and some beautiful works of art. If you are a Harry Potter fan, it is great fun to visit some of the aspects of the Cathedral that appear in the films, especially the Cloister (where Quidditch was played) and the Chapter House (Professor McGonagall’s classroom)!
Do you have a favourite story/ bit of history about the Cathedral to share?
The Cathedral was founded to house the body and relics of Saint Cuthbert which arrived here in the year 995, and I love the story of how the monks fled the Holy Island of Lindisfarne following the Viking invasion of that place. They carried Cuthbert’s coffin all the way here and it’s astounding to think that you can view the remains of that coffin today in our Open Treasure exhibition, and that you can pause to pray at the Shrine of St Cuthbert himself. Children love to learn more about Saints Cuthbert and Bede when they come to visit – we have plenty of fun resources and activities for them to engage with.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about the Cathedral?
Durham Cathedral houses a community of pipistrelle bats. If you’re able to visit at dusk from late July to early October you will be able to see them circling the Cloister. We organise regular bat events, during which you can see a bat close to hand, learn something about their lives, and watch them as they fly. It’s an unexpected aspect of Cathedral life and fascinating to experience if you can!
What’s your favourite café/ restaurant near the Cathedral?
My dog will not let me walk past Cafedral or The Riverview Kitchen without popping in to visit. She is a very good judge of refreshment venues and I always follow her lead!
What else would you say you couldn’t visit Durham without seeing?
Once you’ve explored the beauty of the riverbanks and its bridges, it’s worth venturing beyond the peninsular to visit the Oriental Museum or the Botanical Garden – these are part of Durham University and are excellent additions to a Durham city visit.
Key Information for visitors to Durham Cathedral
Monday-Saturday: Until 6pm
Sunday: until 5.30pm
Open Treasure Exhibition:
Monday-Saturday 10am-5pm (last admission 4pm)
Sunday: 12:30-5pm (last admission 4pm)
*Please note the winter opening hours for Open Treasure, from 1 December 2019 to 18 January 2020:
Monday – Saturday 11am to 4pm (last admission 3pm)
Sundays 12.30pm – 4pm (last admission 3pm)
Open Monday – Saturday 10am-4pm (last entry 3pm)
Sundays: 1pm-3pm (last entry 2.30pm)
*Please note that on occasion the Central Tower may be closed due to bad weather.
Tours are usually available Monday-Sunday at 10:30am, 11am & 2pm.
Price to enter:
Cathedral: Suggested donation £3
Open Treasure Exhibition: Adults - £7.50, Children - £2.50, Family Ticket - £17.50
Guided Tour: Adults - £5, Children - £2.50, Concessions - £4.50
Combination Ticket (Open Treasure & Guided Tour) - £10
Central Tower: Adults- £5, Children - £2.50 (8-17 years)
Getting there from the station:
Durham Cathedral is a 15-minute walk from the station, alternatively you could take the number 40 bus from the station.