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The walls of medieval church buildings were often decorated inside with brightly painted murals telling religious stories.

Today you can still find examples of medieval wall paintings in the Galilee Chapel. These date back to the 12th, 13th and early 14th century.


  • Many of these murals were lost during the Reformation when the cathedral walls were whitewashed. Then when the white paint was removed by the Victorians, most of the paintings underneath were scrubbed away along with it.

  • The faded images show the apostles sacrificing themselves for their faith. Peter and Andrew are crucified, with Peter upside down; James and Paul are beheaded, and John the Evangelist is boiled in oil. According to legend, John survived this ordeal.

  • In the centre Jesus Christ’s crucifixion is shown, with Adam at the foot of the cross holding the chalice of Christ’s blood. There is also a small group of Benedictine monks looking East.

Things to look for

A Bishop and a King

  • There are two 12th century painted figures, on either side of the alcove, above the Cruikshank altar. One is dressed as a King and the other as a Bishop. The use of bold reds, blues, and greens makes them striking. The blue paint is believed to be made from lapis lazuli found in Afghanistan.
  • The Bishop is wearing 12th century robes and could be either the medieval Bishop Hugh de Puiset, or possibly Saint Cuthbert. On the opposite side, the figure dressed as a King could be the 12th century Richard I but it is more often thought to be saint and King Oswald of Northumbria from the 7th century. Oswald’s head was buried with Cuthbert and so it was not unusual to show the two of them together.
  • If the Bishop is meant to be St Cuthbert, it is likely that showing him in the clothes of the day was a way of making him seem more relatable to 12th century visitors. At that time the murder of Thomas à Becket was making him a cult figure and taking the pilgrim tourist trade away from Cuthbert’s shrine in Durham.

Did you know?

Bright lights

During a renovation project in 2020 the cathedral fitted new LED lighting in the Galilee Chapel. These bright lights illuminate the paintings sensitively, without damaging them and help to highlight their special details more clearly.

Follow the guided tour

You’re in: The Galilee Chapel You’re at: Wall Paintings Next stop: The Annunciation

  • Head towards the wooden statue in the middle of the room
  • This is the Annunciation