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Built in the 1300s, the Great Kitchen is one of the best surviving buildings of its type in Europe.

Originally built to feed the monks of Durham Priory, their guests and pilgrims; today this stunning building is part of Durham Cathedral Museum and houses the treasures of Saint Cuthbert.

Where is this space?

The Great Kitchen is behind the Cloister, next to the Refectory Library.

How is it used today?

Today the Great Kitchen is part of Durham Cathedral Museum, and is home to the treasures of Saint Cuthbert.


Building the Great Kitchen

Before the Reformation, Durham Cathedral was home to a community of around 60 monks who needed to be fed each day. The Great Kitchen was built to provide cooking facilities for the monks, their guests and pilgrims.

Work began on the Prior’s Kitchen, as it was called then, on 11th November 1366. It replaced an earlier kitchen that was part of the south cloister. John Lewyn (died 1398) was appointed as architect. His previous work included the cathedral cloister, the throne above the Hatfield tomb and parts of Durham Castle and Bamburgh Castle. The building was completed in 1370, and had cost £180 17s 7d (around £90,000 today).

The Kitchen is square on the outside and octagonal (eight-sided) on the inside. Its most impressive feature is its vaulted ceiling. This was inspired by designs in Spanish and Persian architecture, including the Great Mosque of Cordoba in Spain. Each of the fireplaces around the walls has its own chimney built in, to allow smoke to escape. In the centre of the roof was also a ‘louvre’: a structure with slatted vents in the sides to allow smoke out and light in. Today, it is one of the best surviving examples of a medieval monastic kitchen in Europe.

Changing purposes

The Great Kitchen remained a working kitchen until the 1940s, when a new kitchen was installed closer to the Deanery. The Kitchen was renovated to store the Cathedral Archive, under the care of the Durham University Palaeography and Diplomatic Department. This arrangement lasted from 1951 until 1992, when the archive was moved to more modern storage facilities.

From 1997 to 2012, the Great Kitchen housed the cathedral bookshop, until it moved to its current location in the undercroft. Work then began to transform the kitchen into part of Durham Cathedral Museum, and the new home of the treasures of Saint Cuthbert.


Wheelchair users and visitors with limited mobility

The Great Kitchen is fully accessible. There is ramped or level access throughout Durham Cathedral Museum and access platforms link the ground and first floors.

There is seating for visitors throughout the museum.

There is an accessible toilet with baby-changing facilities on the ground floor of the museum, next to the Great Kitchen.

Visitors with a hearing impairment

Information within the Great Kitchen is provided by printed labels and booklets.

Neurodiverse visitors

The lighting levels in the Great Kitchen are very low. This helps to protect the fragile items on display.

The Great Kitchen is an enclosed space with no windows. At busy times it can get very crowded and noisy.

Blind and partially sighted visitors

The lighting levels in the Great Kitchen are very low. This helps to protect the fragile items on display.

Large-print label booklets are available. Museum staff and volunteers are also able to read out printed interpretation for visitors.