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“The best cathedral on Planet Earth.”
- Author Bill Bryson

Built in the awe-inspiring Norman style, Durham Cathedral contains the remains of two saints.

The Nave

The longest rectangular space is known as the nave – which comes from the latin for ‘ship’ navis – comparing the nave of a church to an upturned ship. There were no seats here until the late 1800s. It continues today as a space where crowds gather for large services and events.

The stonemasons who built Durham Cathedral and its nave are believed to have invented the world’s first structural pointed arch. This was to solve the engineering problem of safely building a stone vaulted ceiling across such a large space.

The Norman pillars

The huge carved pillars are 6.6 metres round and 6.6 metres high, making their circumference the same as their height. They help support the wonderful stone vaulted ceiling. They are very distinctive and are a good way to spot us in TV and films.

If walls could talk…

During the monastic period (1093 – 1539) the walls of the church would have been painted and the windows filled with stained glass.

After the Reformation around 1560 the walls were whitewashed and the windows broken. The glass in them today is mainly Victorian.

Father Smith’s great organ case

Part of the organ case built in the 1680s by Bernard ‘Father Smith’ Schmidt stands near our Visitor Desk.

From lions to pelicans

The decorations of the pulpit reflects the great pillar. Don’t miss the carved lion cubs underneath. The famous Victorian architect George Gilbert Scott designed this, the lectern, chancel screen and floor which extends through the Quire all the way to the High Altar. The lectern, with a pelican feeding its young, is a 19th century copy of a monastic version.

Coal mining remembered

There is a memorial from 1947 to the miners of County Durham, who were crucial to the industry of the region. The last Durham pit closed in 1993, but the Miners’ Memorial Service continues to be held here every year on the day of the Miners’ Gala.

A view of above and below

At the top of the nave lies the black and white marble pavement. Above is the ribbed stone vault of the central tower, rebuilt 1465 – 1490. Above that is the bell-ringer’s chamber and then the belfry with its ten bells.

The changing face of fashion

The Cathedral has had a clock since at least 1360. The present one is from 1632 but the Victorians disliked it. In 1845 they removed its case, mounting the face on the wall. They didn’t destroy the case but stored it the upper levels of the Cathedral.

It was restored in 1938 by the Friends of Durham Cathedral with the original wooden case.  

Did you know?

Originally the clock only had an hour hand which is why there are 48 quarter-hour divisions on the face.


The heart of the Cathedral

In daily use for 900 years

The Quire is the heart of the Cathedral, where worship has been offered to God every day for more than 900 years.

The finely carved wooden stalls date from the 1660s and are carved in the style of Bishop Cosin, whose name is associated with a local Durham style of carving that uses designs based on fruit.

The Cathedra

The Bishop’s Throne is known as the Cathedra. A Cathedral is so named because it houses a bishop’s throne.

When a priest is made a bishop there is a special ceremony where the bishop sits on the Cathedra. The Bishop of Durham also has a stall in the Quire, close to the chancel screen, which is used for other services.  

The highest throne in Christendom?

The Cathedra at Durham was built by Bishop Thomas Hatfield (1345 – 1381) with his tomb below it. At the time the Cathedra was claimed to be the highest in Christendom, a claim which continues to this day. The figure on this tomb was the only one in the cathedral to escape destruction during the Reformation.

The High Altar

This is the focal point in the holiest place within the Cathedral. Only ordained clergy are allowed here. It lies in front of the Neville screen.

Hidden treasures still undiscovered...

The screen in the sanctuary and high altar was a gift from the Neville family and designed by the 14th century’s finest mason and architect Henry Yvelli.  It is the only part of the Cathedral that uses non-local stone which was imported from Normandy. 

It was carved by King Edward III's masons in London and assembled on site in Durham.

The 107 alabaster and gilded statues were removed and hidden to prevent their destruction during the Reformation. They have never been found.

The Neville tomb in the Nave of the Cathedral

Who were the Nevilles?

The Nevilles were one of the most influential local families in the Middle Ages. In 1346 Ralph Neville fought in the Battle of Neville’s Cross, defeating the invading Scots. He and his wife Alice were the first lay people, as in those who had not been ordained, to be buried inside the Cathedral.