As the North Door is approached, there is an excellent opportunity
to take in the whole of the Cathedral building. The present structure
was built on the site of the earlier Saxon 'White Church', to be both
a magnificent shrine for the body of St Cuthbert and also home for
a community of Benedictine monks. Planned and begun by Bishop Carileph
(1081-1096), the Cathedral was largely constructed out of Low Main
Post sandstone which was quarried locally. It was completed in five
main stages: |
The Nave, Transepts and the Choir built: 1093-1133
The Galilee Chapel at the west end built: 1173-1189
The Western Towers built: 1217-1226
The Chapel of the Nine Altars at the east end built: 1242-1274
The Central Tower largely rebuilt: 1465-1490.
The North Door dates back to 1140. It is surrounded by a carved stone
doorway made up of a series of five orders of arches and pillars.
One of the most striking features of the North Door itself is the
bronze, lion-like Sanctuary Knocker attached to the outside. Throughout
the Middle Ages, Durham Cathedral was a place of sanctuary. A fugitive
from the law wishing to claim protection used the knocker to attract
the attention of two watchmen in a chamber over the North Door. He
was then admitted to the Monastery and given sanctuary for a maximum
of thirty seven days during which time he had to choose between trial
and voluntary exile. If he chose the latter, he was escorted to a
port - usually the Bishop's port at Hartlepool - wearing a badge in
the shape of the cross of St Cuthbert stitched to his shoulder and
carrying a rough wooden cross tied together with rope. Once at the
port, he was required to embark on the next ship that was due to set
sail regardless of its destination.
The Sanctuary Knocker attached to the front of the North Door today
is, in fact, an exact copy of the original and was placed there
in 1980. The original itself is on display in the Cathedral's museum.
"Perched high above the River Wear, the cathedral represents
one of the most powerful and moving architectural images in Britain.
Although nearly 1,000 years old, its interior seems strikingly modern
and sculptural, and immensely rich in meaning" .(BBC