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Durham

M
OST striking to the eye and the imagination is the ancient city of Durham. "It is," says Howitt, "boldly and beautifully situated. A cloud of historical associations hovers over it like a perpetual canopy. Legend, ballad, song, and faithful story of mighty events surround it. A twilight of antiquity seems to linger there." There has been, in comparison with other towns, very little change in this old city. By whichever road we approach it we see the great central tower of the cathedral rising above the hills that encircle it - a watcher of the centuries as they have glided past; and when we advance near enough to see the city, we are indeed struck by the bold beauty of its situation. In the centre of a wide open valley stands a mound crowned with the red roofs of a city.

The turrets and battlements of its old, but restored castle rise above them; and above those again, soaring high into the air, are the noble towers and pinnacles of its ancient minster. The old town runs along the ridges of the lower hills, and the higher ones break into knolls and dells, with their green meadows and clumps and lines of trees.

The river Wear, which is wont to make magnificent turns and sweeps, here exhibits one of its grandest curves, and flows round the hill on which Durham stands, snaking it almost a little island. It runs between high sloping banks, said to be at least forty feet high, clothed with the tallest and grandest trees; mostly sycamore and ash. On these banks, extending round the city, walks have been cut, like terraces, at various heights, with seats at the best points of view: sometimes near a cascade, sometimes opposite to cliffs overhung by foliage; or we may ascend and go into green fields above. Below, the river rushes along, making pleasant music, and across it one sees the opposite bank with picturesque dwellings above it. These walks, free to all, are perhaps the finest possessed by any English City.

Durham from the river

Picturesque mills are seated at the water's edge, and from Framwell Gate Bridge we see the city on the left hand, with its ramparts, battlements and cathedral towers, and on the right the hills stretching away to Neville's Cross and the Newcastle Road; seen from thence we conclude there can scarcely be found a more picturesque city.

And Durhain has also a wealth of historical memories appertaining to it. It owes everything - its very existence - to St. Cuthbert, one of the most remarkable men of his age. He lived in the seventh century, and was a shepherd boy upon the moorlands of Northumberland; no doubt a dreamy imaginative lad. Oswald, king of Northumbria, became a Christian, and anxious for the conversion of his people, requested the holy monk Aidan, to come from Iona, and preach Christ to the Northurnbrians. Aidan obeyed the summons, and Northumbria received the gospel. No doubt the boy shepherd heard the preacher and was baptized, and amid the lonely moorlands his thoughts and imagination dwelt constantly upon the sublime truths he had learned.

Oswald gave Aidan leave to choose a site for a monastery wherever he pleased; and Aidan chose Lindisfarne; probably partly because it was near Bamborough, then the chief city of Oswald's kingdom, and partly because it in some respects resembled Iona. But though he placed his monastery on the wild coast of Lindisfarne, he constantly preached on the mainland, and did much to civilize the turbulent natives of Northumbria.

No doubt Aldan's reputation as a saint, which had spread far and wide over the north, had been eagerly received by Cuthbert; for he had a vision, as he was tending his sheep upon the banks of the Leder, in which he beheld Aidan ascending into heaven, attended by rejoicing angels, singing divinely, as he was enveloped in clouds of glory.

The spectacle of his dream made a profound impression on the boy. He, too, would be a saint, and he, too, would win, by toil and self-renunciation, an ascent as glorious as this was; and the first step to become a saint, in his siniple thought, was to become a morik. He therefore joined the community of Melrose, where for fourteen years he led a life of great sanctity and austerity. After several changes, Cuthbert at last accompanied his friend Eata (who had been appointed abbot of Aidan's monastery) to Lindisfarne.

From thence he proceeded from time to time inland, and preached in the moorlands and wild hills to the half-savage people who had never before heard the gospel story; or amongst whom it had once been known and was fallen into neglect. He was a most successful missionary, and in recognition of his great services to the Church, he was made prior when his friend Eata was created Bishop of Lindisfarne. Here, in his new position, he established firm discipline among his monks, and exercised both them and himself in missions to the Northumbrians, but after fourteen years of toil as prior, he began to wish for a more solitary life, that he might give himself to meditation and prayer.

A few miles distant from Lindisfarne are the stern basaltic rocks called the Farne Islands, situated in a dangerous sea, which renders them inaccessible for days and weeks. To the largest of these he retreated, and lived in two rooms he had built on it; fasting, praying, and watching, till at last, at the earnest entreaties of the king, clergy, and nobles, he was persuaded to return as Bishop to Lindisfarne, but soon after he returned to his desolate island, where two months afterwards he died. His emaciated body was borne back to Lindisfarne and buried near the high altar. Miracles were said to be wrought at his tomb; but the Danes invaded the north, and in obedience to commands delivered by him on his deathbed, the monks fled from their monastery, bearing with them in a stone coffin the remains of St. Cuthbert. Every one knows how that coffin floated on the rivers that lent their aid to bear it on its way, for Walter Scott has told us-

'How, when the rude Danes burned their pile,
The monks fled forth from Holy Isle;
O'er northern mountain, marsh, and moor,
From sea to sea, from shore to shore,
Seven years St. Cuthbert's corpse they bore.

In his stone coffin forth he rides
(A ponderous bark for river tides),
Yet light as gossamer it glides
Downward to Tillmouth cell."

The monks meant to take the coffin and saint to Ireland, but storms and difficulties continually opposed the fulfilment of their intention, and they finally settled with it it Chester-le-Street, where it remained for a hundred and thirteen years. Again an invasion of the Danes drove the monks and their saint away, and caused them to seek a temporary retreat at Ripon. After the departure of the Danes, the monks again started with the coffin to return to Chester-le-Street, but when they had put it down on the top of Wardon-Law it could not be moved again, but remained fast fixed to the ground. The monks were sorely puzzled to know what to do; but a vision was vouchsafed them, directing them to bear St. Cuthbert to Dunhelme, where he would remain. The monks did not know where Dunhelme was, but, fortunately, they overheard one woman tell another, that she had seen her lost cow (for which the former was inquiring) at Dunhelme.

The cow's owner at once went in search of her lost property, and the monks followed her; and thus they found Dunhelme, or Durham. From that hour began the city's prosperity. A stately minster was raised by several pious founders to enshrine St. Cuthbert's remains, and pilgrimages to his shrine became frequent, and offerings costly and many. The whole country between the Tees and the Tyne was given to the bishopric by Guthred the Dane, with Alfred's full approval. Many nobles gave or left great estates to the See Canute the king came to it as a lowly pilgrim, walking barefoot for five miles. from Trimdon to the city; and, there divested of every emblem of royalty, he knelt humbly before the shrine, and made the church a gift of the manor of Staindrop, with its twelve towns and numerous estates.

Soon after, the bones of the venerable Bede were brought from Jarrow hither and just before the Norman Conquest Harold's brother Tosti, and Judith, his wife, presented to the cathedral the great crucifix, rich with gold and jewels.

But the Norman Conquest came, and William, whose jealousy had been excited by the boldness and independence of the North; and who desired (it has been thought) to make a belt of waste land between England and Scotland, carried fire and sword northwards and devastated the country. "From York to Durham," says Surtees, "a tract of sixty miles, the march of the Norman was traced in characters of blood; the inhabitants were devoted to indiscriminate slaughter; the villages were left smoking in ashes; and even the convents and monasteries were involved, undistinguished in the common destruction."

The monks of Durham saved their lives by flight to Lindisfarne, but their property was plundered and profaned. The beautiful crucifix was stolen.

As soon as the Normans were gone, however, the monks returned to Durham. But Malcolm, king of Scots, immediately afterwards invaded England, and carried desolation down the course of the Tees, burning Hartlepool and Wearmouth. It was at this time that Malcolm discovered Edgar Atheling and his beautiful sister Margaret hidden in some small vessels in the harbour at the mouth of the Wear, and taking them back with him to Scotland, married the Princess.

Williain the Conqueror raised Durham soon after to a Palatinate, and conferred on Walcher, the bishop, all the powers of an independent prince; but the favour of the savage Norman rendered the bishop hateful to his people, and when his officers assassinated the great Saxon Liulph (though the bishop was his friend), they rose and murdered him (Walcher) at Gateshead. William, infuriated by this crime, again swept over the province with fire and sword, and built Durham Castle to hold the fierce populace in check.

Durham had many distinguished bishops: Of these, Hugh Pudsey was one of the greatest. He built the Galilee of the cathedral, and "in it," says Surtees, "he erected a sumptuous shrine for the reliques of the Venerable Bede, and contributed to the ornaments of the church a cross and chalice of pure gold. . . He added the keep to Norham, and liberally endowed the hospitals of Sherburn and St. James' near North Allerton." He did many other generous deeds for his bishopric, which we have not space to record. Anthony Bek was another great bishop - a soldier of immense courage and capacity. "He led, at the battle of Falkirk, the second line of the English army, with twenty-nine banners," and in the reign of Edward II. he added to his other titles those of King of Man and Patriarch of Jerusalem.

The battle of Neville's Cross - the greatest event in which the clergy of Durham were ever engaged - was fought on the hills west of Durham, where the remains of Neville's Cross - on a broken shaft - still stand.

England was invaded by David Bruce, king of Scotland, during the absence of the king of England, but the nobles and clergy of the North were quite able to defend themselves. They called all their vassals to arms, and David had scarcely arrived at Beaure-repaire, or Bear Park, about three miles west of Durham, ere the Archbishop of York, the Bishops of Durham, Lincoln and Carlisle, with the Percies and Nevilles, encamped in Auckland Park with an army of 16,000 men. On October 17th they marched forward to attack David in his camp, but falling in with a foraging party, that they put to flight, the news of their approach was given to the Scots, who at once marched out to meet them, and encountered them on the moor near Neville's Cross.

The battle was furiously contested, and all the time it lasted the Prior of Durham (in compliance with a dream), and a body of his monks, were kneeling round the sacred banner of St. Cuthbert, which they had hoisted on a hillock in the depth of Shaw's Wood, called the Maiden's Bower; praying for victory in the sight of both armies, while from the top of the campanile, or belltower of the cathedral, other brethren sang hymns of praise and triumph, which were heard by their brethren in the field, who were greatly encouraged by them. The superior clergy were in the thickest of the fight. The Bishop of Durham (Hatfield) led the first division with Lord Percy; the Archbishop, with Lord Neville, led the second; the Bishop of Lincoln, with Lord Mowbray, led the third. Baliol brought up the reserve. The Bishop of Durham fought hike the good soldier he had been in his youth, in the hottest part of the field. For a time victory seemed to be about to declare for the Scots, whose king fought gallantly; but Baliol, by a skilful flanking attack of cavalry on the High Steward of Scotland's division, turned the fortune of the day, and following up this charge by another on the king's division, the whole Scottish army gave way. The third division of the Scots, under the Earl of Moray, was cut to pieces on the field; and David, refusing to yield, stood surrounded by his nobles, who fought furiously, determined to perish in his defence. Only eighty of them were heft alive, when after many vain attempts to seize the king, he was taken by John Copeland, a Northum - berland esquire, a giant in height and strength; but he did not secure his captive before the king had knocked out two of his front teeth with a blow from his steel gauntlet. With the king the Earls of Fife and Menteith and Sir William Douglas surrendered. The Earls of Moray and Strathearn, John and Allan Steward, and a long list of Scottish nobles, fell on the field. Of the English leaders only Lord Hastings was slain.

The joy of Durham at this victory may be imagined; the people had been saved from massacre, and their city from destruction. The miraculous Black Rood of Scotland, studded with jewels, was offered at St. Cuthbert's shrine, with the banners of the defeated Scottish nobles. A cross was erected to mark the site of the battle, and was called Neville's Cross, as it was built at the sole expense of Lord Ralph Neville, one of the chief leaders of the battle.

Copeland very reluctantly gave up his royal captive to Queen Philippa; he was made a banneret, had 500 a year given him, till an estate of that value could be purchased, and was made Governor of Berwick and Sheriff of Northumberland.

Bishop Ruthall had to send the forces of the Palatinate to Flodden Field, where they were again victorious.

We have not space to tell of all the Bishops of Durham. One of them, Tonstall, the uncle of Bernard Gilpin, ended his days in an easy imprisonment in Lambeth Palace in the reign of Elizabeth.

Then came the fatal "Rising of the North," on which followed executions and confiscations, and the princely house of Neville fell for ever.

The Puritans were the next great enemies of Durham, or rather of the Church of England, which they very effectively disestablished for a time; and the excellent Bishop Morton was driven from his see. He had been the best of bishops, a true shepherd of his flock, taking food to the sick and starving during a visitation of the plague, and comforting and instructing them when no one else would venture near the stricken district. Yet he was dispossessed of his see by the Puritans, and left to struggle in his old age with poverty.

But meeting Sir Christopher Yelverton as he was riding to London (then the possessor of only 60), he entered into a conversation with him, that ended in the bishop going home with him to his house at Easton Mauduit, and becoming tutor to his son. The good old man lived there till his death, much beloved and reverenced by his pupil, afterwards the learned Sir Henry Yelverton. Bishop Morton was ninety-two years of age when he died.

Durham Cathedral is a magnificent and stately building, sternly majestic rather than elegant. It occupies a sort of tableland in the summit of the hill on which the city is built, its west front advancing to the very brow of the steeps above the river.

The round arched windows, which almost entirely mark the whole body of the cathedral (with the exception of its eastern end), as high as the roof, show it to be a building of the Norman period; but the two beautiful western towers seem to have been erected at the Transition period, when the pointed arch was contending with the round.

"The great campanile or central belltower is evidently more modern even than the western towers; the tall, pointed windows with perpendicular tracery and elegant spandrels belong to another day, and still more recent are the five large windows and lantern towers (with their exquisite niche work) of the eastern transept. The beauty and variety of the whole are great. The lofty and massive majesty of the great central tower, the stately richness of the two western towers, the light grace of the niched turrets of the northern transept, one of which is square and the other octagon, and the varied form and embellishment of the towers of the east end, though attesting the hands of different architects, blend by the unity of their spirit into one noble whole." 1

Each of the towers of the eastern transept is differently ornamented; and on the north-western one, in a large niche, is a sculpture representing the two women and the cow of the Durham legend. Above it, in a smaller niche, is a statue of the Virgin or some saint. A small building, with a battlemented roof, is built out of the western front; it is a chapel called the Galilee, which, as we have said, Bishop Pudsey built. It blocks up the place of the portal and extends to the brow of the river banks; the great western window is above it.

Over the north door were chambers for the perpetual watchers, who waited all night to admit those who fled to Sanctuary, and on the floor beneath the western tower was the place of Sanctuary, "where murderers and rogues and vagabonds from every part of the kingdom met with protection until they obtained a pardon from the Crown or quitted the kingdom. The culprit, upon knocking at the north door, was admitted without delay, and after confessing the crime, with every minute circumstance connected with it, - the whole of which was committed to writing in the presence of witnesses (a bell in the Jubilee tower ringing all the while to give notice to the town that some one had taken refuge in the church) - there was put upon him a black gown with a yellow cross upon its left shoulder, as the badge of St. Cuthbert whose girth or peace he had claimed. When thirty-seven days had elapsed, if no pardon could be obtained, the malefactor, after certain ceremonies before the shrine, solemnly abjured his native land for ever, and was straightway, by the agency of the intervening parish constables, conveyed to the coast, bearing in his hand a white wooden cross, and was sent out of the kingdom in the first ship which sailed after his arrival." 2

The Galilee is a beautiful oratory of Richard I.'s time; its clustered shafts bear round arches richly fretted. with the Norman zigzag, and still showing here and there the tints of vermillion and pure white with which they were once painted. On the walls, above the places where once were altars, are the figures of Hugh Pudsey and of Coeur de Lion. And there is a tomb in this quiet chapel that all must look upon with reverence; it bears this inscription: "HAC sunt in fossa - Bredae venerabilis ossa."

The precious shrine raised by Bishop Pudsey to Bede's honour has long vanished, but the tomb of our great Church historian, and translator of St. John's Gospel, will ever be reverenced. Here lie also Richard of Barnard Castle, and Bishop Langley, who completed this lovely chapel.

Choir of Durham Cathedral

The Choir is the part of the cathedral we next visit. It is a noble one; its altar screen, of pure Gothic work, is light and elegant. It was given by John, Lord Neville, in 1380, and is decorated with statues of alabaster in its niches; the three upper ones being of the Virgin, St. Cuthbert, and King Oswald.

Bishops Beaumont, Pilkington, and James are buried in the choir.

And now we must visit the shrine of St. Cuthbert, which is reached by descending a few steps from one of the aisles of the choir. It is in the eastern transept, or Chapel of the Nine Altars, and was begun by Bishop Poor, and completed in forty years. The altars, painted glass and rich armorial bearings, are now gone, but it still retains all its architectural beauties. It is 130 feet long, and very lofty, with light shafts and arches whose capitals are finely sculptured with flowers and leaves. There are fifteen grand windows on its eastern range, and a large one to the north; formerly there was an altar under nine of the windows; each had its separate screen, and was dedicated to two saints. Nine cressets lighted these altars all night, and bread and wine were supplied to the officiating monks by the Sacrist from a closet. In front of these altars Richard Bury and that brave bishop Anthony Bek were buried.

The shrine of St. Cuthbert abuts at the eastern end of the choir, at the back of the high altar, and projects into the centre of where the Nine Altars stood. It is separated from it only by openwork and a crock eted screen. We enter it by a side door, ascending; a few steps to it, and see in the centre of the pavement a plain slab, that marks both where the shrine stood and where the saint is buried; but let superstitious damsels beware of treading that pavement, for St. Cuthbert had such an antipathy to women, that he is said to shake himself in his grave, and make the building totter, if a female footstep disturbs his repose. No woman might enter his cathedral except at the western portion of the nave, where a blue mark on the pavement still shows the boundary no woman might pass.

Queen Philippa had gone with her husband, Edward III., to spend the night in the abbot's house, when the monks hearing of it, roused her from her slumbers, and entreated her to depart, lest she should rouse the anger of the saint. The queen obediently rose, and hastened to find shelter in the castle.

There is a fine library attached to the cathedral, full of rare and valuable books. But of these treasures we have not space to speak.

The Castle of Durham is also very interesting, standing opposite to the cathedral, and raising high in air its lofty keep and battlements. Dating from the reign of the Conqueror, as we have already seen, it has been the residence of the bishops till about seventy or eighty years ago. There is a Norman chapel, which is now appropriated to the use of the college, and there are some splendidly ornamented doorways. The dining hall of Bishop Pudsey is now used by the college; the keep has been admirably restored, and is fitted up with college chambers.

* * * * * * * *

1. Howitt.
2. Mr. Raine.

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Picturesque England - Matthew Spong 2004