3. The Intangible Value of the Site

3.1 Introduction

In a time of global concern about cultural distinctiveness, the conservation of intangible heritage is increasingly important. To conserve intangible heritage is to conserve the vulnerable indicators of culture; the cultural stories through which our global diversity is transferred from generation to generation.

Durham WHS is rich in intangible historical values, which, though some are no longer practised, have not only moulded the physical form of the Site but are globally significant in their own right. These include the medieval role of the Cathedral as a Chartered Sanctuary; the medieval practice of pilgrimage and the concept of sainthood and cult. Christian worship,  

education and music, and the practice of traditional skills such as masonry and joinery in the conservation of the buildings remain a vital part of the heritage at Durham, and the WHS also remains an important social centre, providing a gathering space for local, national and international communities.


The intangible qualities of Durham WHS are as significant as the tangible in making it what it has been in the past and is today. This intangible heritage is to continue to be valued and held in trust by all who inhabit and have responsibility for the WHS, and will be actively conserved, enhanced and passed on to future generations.

Figure 3.1 Joseph Mallord William Turner, Durham Cathedral from Prebends Bridge

Figure 3. 2: Transfiguration Window by Tom Denny, installed 2010

Figure 3. 3: Formal Hall at Castle, Jeff Veitch

3.2 key intangible values identified

  • The importance of the Northern Saints, the presence of the two shrines, and the tradition of pilgrimage to Durham;
  • The Site’s origins and continued use as a place of Christian spirituality and sacredness, including not just the Cathedral, but other spaces such as the two Castle chapels and the Church of St Mary the Less;
  • The tradition of community outreach, and the notion that Durham Cathedral has always been a place of welcome as expressed in the Rule of St Benedict;
  • The site’s historic associations with sanctuary, and the modern day role of the Cathedral as a place of spiritual refuge, reconciliation, and remembrance;
  • The English Christian musical tradition of the site;
  • The long tradition of education, and its manifestation in the existence of Durham University, the Chorister School, Durham School (formerly located within the WHS and now still within sight of it), and the educational outreach offered by Durham University and Durham Cathedral;
  • The social traditions associated with the University and its colleges which are specifically linked to the site, its buildings, and their history, for example, congregation and matriculation, Castle formals;
  • The civic functions of the Castle, and its role as a symbol of political power, for example use of the building by the monarch and the judiciary;
  • The site’s collections and their importance as records of the site’s history, and its values across the ages;
  • Skills and trades related to the history of the site, kept alive by the continued maintenance of its buildings, furnishings, and collections;
  • The creative opportunities the site has always offered in terms of the commissioning and creation of new works of art, crafts, literature and music;
  • The value of the site as a cornerstone of community identity;
  • The site’s tradition of innovation and the drive to excel;
  • The meanings the site carries for people as a place of memory-making, for students, visitors, miners, the DLI, and others.

3.3 Christian Spirituality and Sacredness

Durham owes its origin and identity to Christian worship and, above all else, the Cathedral is primarily a place of worship. However, it is also a major visitor attraction which still follows Benedict’s instruction to welcome all visitors as though they are Christ. The creative tension between these two facets of the Cathedral’s life can be summarised by saying that the Cathedral is a place of worship that welcomes visitors. Visitors comment positively on the atmosphere created by the on-going daily round of worship and, although very occasionally visitor access has to be restricted temporarily because of a major service or event, a place for private prayer is always maintained.

Christians have worshipped on the Cathedral site for over 1,000 years. Today’s regular worshipping congregation is joined by visitors from around the world for over 1,300 regular services each year: at least three every day. Thousands of votive candles are lit and prayer requests left by people who pray at other times. In addition to the Cathedral’s steady underpinning life of prayer and mission, it hosts approximately 150 special services each year ranging from quiet, reflective prayer to the more boisterous worship of the School Leavers’ Services, as well as civic services and the Miners’ Festival service.

3.3.1 Community Outreach

The Christian spirituality of the Cathedral includes reaching out to people who are in need, whether people who need immediate help with food or someone to talk to, being a collecting point for the Durham Foodbank, hosting events during Prisons’ Week and student-led sleep-overs to raise awareness of the needs of homeless. Chaplains are on duty during the day for anyone who wants someone to talk to or pray with. Stories abound of how the atmosphere of prayer is tangible to many people, from a Communist Commissar during the Cold War who was found weeping in the Cathedral because ‘this place has done something to me’, to a visitor who, years later, still remembered feeling the centuries of prayer; two visitors from Nigeria spoke of how strongly they felt the presence of God in the Cathedral and a child, when asked what he would remember about his visit said ‘being with Cuthbert’, while another described the building as ‘wrapping its arms around you.’ The power of the space itself is significant – people are continually inspired simply by being in the building and being within such a very large space. Durham is the only large, historic cathedral in England which does not charge admission. This undoubtedly affects people’s experience of being in the Cathedral, and the Cathedral Chapter wishes to avoid having to introduce an admission charge to the church.

Figure 3. 4: Durham Cathedral Values

The Cathedral describes itself as follows:

“Durham Cathedral is a Christian Church of the Anglican Communion, the shrine of St Cuthbert, the seat of the Bishop of Durham and a focus of pilgrimage and spirituality in North East England.

We inhabit a treasured sacred space set in the natural and human landscape of the World Heritage Site.

Our purpose is to worship God, share the gospel of Jesus Christ, welcome all who come, celebrate and pass on our rich Christian heritage and discover our place in God’s creation.”

Figure 3. 5: Durham Cathedral Shop and Restaurant


Figure 3. 6: Tunstall Chapel, Castle

Figure 3. 7: Church of St. Mary the Less

To enable it to do this, other visitor facilities are provided or are being developed for which payment is made. This approach is an integral part of the commitment to maintain the atmosphere of prayer and welcome in the Cathedral which is an intrinsic part of the character of the World Heritage Site. It underlies the commitment of the communities who live and work in the WHS to the Christian gospel, pastoral care, hospitality and academic excellence which give the WHS its continuing and distinctive identity.

There are other places of Christian worship within the WHS. The Chapel of St John’s College (the Church of St Mary the Less), has been re-ordered internally and is used for worship by a number of Christian groups of different denominations, organ practice, choir rehearsals, concerts, performances, and as a teaching space for Cranmer Hall, an Anglican theological college associated with the University of Durham. The two chapels of Durham Castle, The Norman Chapel and the Tunstall Chapel, which were originally the Bishop’s private chapels and date from the 11th and the 16th centuries respectively, are now the two chapels of University College, Durham, and are used on a regular basis for services and concerts.


The Cathedral and College Chapels are and will continue to remain primarily places of Christian worship to which visitors of all faiths and none are welcome.


Figure 3. 8: St. Cuthbert’s Day Procession

3.3.2 The Northern Saints and Pilgrimage

The Cathedral is the burial place of St Cuthbert (d687), for whose shrine the Cathedral was built (unlike other churches where relics were interred in existing churches) and the Venerable Bede (d735), the greatest scholar of his day and the father of English learning, whose body was moved to the Cathedral from the monastery at Jarrow around 1020. St Oswald’s head is buried with St Cuthbert.

Over the centuries, pilgrimage to the shrines of St Cuthbert and the Venerable Bede have been a defining feature of the history of the Cathedral, the City of Durham and the wider area, reaching its zenith in the 12th century. Although the shrines are now very simple tombs befitting the simplicity of Cuthbert and Bede’s lifestyles, in the Middle Ages, Cuthbert’s shrine, in particular, was a riot of colour and decoration and attracted large numbers of pilgrims to Durham at a time when pilgrimage was a competitive arena. It has been argued that Hugh de Puiset, Bishop of Durham from 1153-1195, embarked on several ambitious building projects in an attempt to revitalize the cult of St Cuthbert in the face of the rise of the cult of St Thomas Becket at Canterbury.

There is a fine balance to be struck between encouraging tourism and destroying or  commercialising the thing that people come to see. As the Cathedral is a place of pilgrimage and prayer, many visitors come seeking God and not just to see a historic building, however wonderful that is. Meeting that aspiration is central to the Cathedral’s mission and shapes the Cathedral’s ministry to visitors. Throughout the centuries, pilgrimage has been an important social and economic stimulus and was the historic origin of tourism and this remains significant today, given the demise of mining and other industries which formed the economic base of the region.

Durham Cathedral remains a place of pilgrimage and pilgrims from around the world continue to be welcomed there. Other northern saints are  commemorated in Durham and, in recent years, there has been a move to recognise female saints by dedicating altars to Hild and to Margaret, Queen of Scotland. Their altars, like those dedicated to other saints, are adorned with beautiful altar frontals and kneelers made by the Cathedral Broderers representing the story of the particular saints. The dedication in 2012 of St Cuthbert’s banner, based on the description of the medieval banner, added to the creative beauty in honour of the faithful saints.


The origins of the World Heritage Site lie in the saints who are buried or commemorated here. The continued honouring of these saints is integral to the ethos of the World Heritage Site, and pilgrims are welcomed.

Figure 3. 9: Sanctuary Doorknocker, Cathedral

Figure 3. 10: Durham Cathedral Listeners

3.3.3 Sanctuary

A 12th century account of St Cuthbert placed sanctuary at the core of the monastic Cathedral. This was expressed through the role of prayer in troubled times and through the Cathedral’s designation (until it was abolished by King James I in 1624) as a Chartered Sanctuary.

247 people sought sanctuary between 1464 and 1524 using a special doorknocker for claimants before they were taken to a railed off sanctuary area in the Cathedral, close to the monks' night stair.

Sanctuary today takes a different form. Many people come simply to be quiet in the Cathedral. Chaplains and Listeners are on duty daily for those seeking help and there is liaison with other local churches and agencies in the provision of food and emergency supplies. Members of the Cathedral community and University students are active in volunteering to support people in need.


To serve the Cathedral’s continued role as a place of sanctuary, pastoral and practical help will be provided for people who come seeking help.

Figure 3.11 : DLI Colours Service in the Cathedral

Figure 3.12: War Memorial at Durham Cathedral

3.3.4 Conflict and Reconciliation

Conflict and reconciliation have been part of the history of the Cathedral and Castle, beginning with the community of St Cuthbert who brought Cuthbert’s body to Dunelm because of conflict with the Vikings. Hild was Abbess of Whitby in 664 when the Council of Whitby addressed conflicting practices in the Saxon and Roman churches; she offers a model for the ministry of reconciliation today and in 1999 an altar in the Cathedral was dedicated to her.

Both the Cathedral and Castle were built at a time of tension between the indigenous people of the region and the new Norman conquerors. They acted as a visible expression of Norman power. Their skyline powerfully symbolises the unification of political, physical and military strength with the religious power of the church. Designed as a defensive complex, the WHS has experienced violent warfare several times during its history, including the recurring battles between the English and the Scots as well as conflicts within the ecclesial community and between the church and the monarch. The enforced closure of the monastery at the Reformation was followed, a century later, by the conflict between the Puritan and Laudian wings of the Church of England, before Oliver Cromwell terminated worship and turned the Cathedral into stables and a prison. A plaque in memory of the Scottish prisoners who died after becoming ill on the forced march to Durham was dedicated in 2011.

Today the Cathedral is a place of remembrance and reconciliation. The Durham Light Infantry (DLI) Chapel in the Cathedral was dedicated in 1923 as a place of remembrance, prayer and worship commemorating the thirty seven battalions of the DLI and, since 1968, the successor Light Infantry Regiment and, since 2007, the Third Battalion, the Rifles. The cross from the First World War battle of the Somme remains a focus for remembrance today, as do the DLI memorial garden and the other memorials including windows. The annual DLI and Battle of Britain services continue to play an important role in the life and identity of the area, helping to keep alive the memory of the DLI. Prayers peace and justice are offered weekly in the Cathedral, and the daily intercessions include prayers for places in the world where there is conflict and for those who work to build peace in the world.

Within Durham Castle, in the Norman Chapel, the space is dedicated to the RAF victims of the Second World War. The RAF had used the Chapel as an Observation Post and it was then that the beauty and spirituality of the space was once more recognised and supported the reconsecration of the Chapel. In the Tunstall Gallery, the organ, originally from the Cathedral, was rebuild in 1925 as a memorial to students and staff who fell in the First World War.

3.4 The Christian musical tradition of the World Heritage Site

Since St Augustine founded the country's first formal song school in Kent in 597 AD, music has been a central part of the English Christian tradition, especially in worship. Cathedrals are custodians of the tradition of English Church music which has developed its own unique national character, actively conserving the skills and sounds of the English Church Music tradition. Durham WHS is particularly well placed to develop and hand on this tradition to future generations, given the presence of the Cathedral and the University Music Departments within the WHS. The Cathedral’s Father Willis organ is one of the finest organs in the north of England and the Cathedral possesses two other organs. Several  composers of English Church Music and authors of hymns have lived or studied in Durham WHS, a tradition that continues in the WHS today.

3.4.1 The evolution of the musical tradition in Durham

Durham’s monastic records comment on the presence of a Cantor in 1382, the absence in 1384 of clerks who had previously sung and that by 1416 boys were being instructed in singing. Since then, with the exception of the Commonwealth period, there has been an unbroken tradition of church music and of the education of the singing boys at Durham. Today, Durham Cathedral is recognised as one of the leading cathedrals in the country for its musical excellence and regularly broadcasts and makes recordings.

The choir is led by the Master of the Choristers and Organist, a position held by just 25 people since 1540. For centuries the choral foundation comprised Lay Clerks and Boy Choristers, the latter being educated at the Chorister School. In the 1960s Choral scholarships were introduced and now six Choral Scholars sing alongside the Lay Clerks and study at the University. On All Saints Day 2009, a second top line was created as girl choristers were admitted to the Cathedral Choir.

Figure 3.13: Durham Cathedral Choristers at practice

Figure 3.14: Durham University Music School

3.4.2 The University Music Department

The University Music Department offers taught courses in church music and this continued academic and skill-based underpinning of this living musical tradition of the WHS is vital. To that end, every encouragement will be given to ensure that church music continues to a part of the academic curriculum and, through academic timetabling, to enabling the availability of six University students who are appointed Cathedral Choral Scholars and one who is appointed Organ Scholar. A potential threat to this historical part of the WHS’s tradition comes from the impact of higher tuition fees at Universities; the situation will be monitored lest this discourage suitable candidates from applying to the University and thus for a Choral or Organ Scholarship.

3.4.3 Music and the WHS

The WHS makes a significant contribution to the musical opportunities in the wider area, thus  contributing to the well-being of the region. It hosts a wide variety of musical events which provide opportunities for amateur musicians of all ages to make music in wonderful surroundings, whether through College Chapel choirs, concerts or recitals. In addition to the Cathedral Choir, the Cathedral Consort of Singers (an adult choir of men and women) and Junior Consort of Singers (recent choristers), sing some services as do some College choirs. Durham Cathedral Young Singers and the Cathedral Music Outreach Programme enable children across the region to experience the thrill of singing in the Cathedral. A one thousand strong community choir was formed in 2012 to welcome the Lindisfarne Gospels to Durham.

There are smaller spaces within the existing and proposed WHS with good acoustics which are used for worship and concerts. In addition to the Cathedral and College Chapels, the Cathedral’s Chapter House is also used occasionally for concerts and the University Music School provides teaching and performance space.


  • The continued use of all these spaces to make music will be promoted by partners in the WHS.
  • This musical tradition is costly to maintain and the Cathedral will continue, through its Development Programme, to raise major funding to secure the future of the Cathedral’s music.
  • The partners in the WHS are committed to encouraging the making and study of music within the WHS. In setting policy and practice and in allocating resources, they will continue to emphasise the Church Music tradition without which the World Heritage Site would lose a significant, living part of its history.

3.5 Knowledge and Education

Durham peninsula has been a centre of learning for the past millennium. The monks of Lindisfarne were famed for their standard of scholarship and continued their tradition, expressed in their illuminated texts including the internationally-significant Lindisfarne Gospels, when they settled at Durham. The Benedictine monks who replaced the Community of St Cuthbert in 1083 were similarly renowned for their learning and for the provision of education for their novices and children associated with the monastery. Remains of the monastic scriptorium can be seen in the Cathedral Cloister and the Cathedral Library contains the largest monastic collection still in its original location in the British Isles. This provides the primary source material and historical documentation not just about the buildings but about the way they have been inhabited for nine centuries.


Figure 3.14: Durham College, Oxford (now Trinity), as drawn by John Bereblock in 1566. (Courtesy of Trinity College)

3.5.1 University Education

Education has always played a significant part in the life of the community living on the peninsula.

Trinity College at the University of Oxford, formerly called Durham College, was founded by the Durham Cathedral Priory in the 14th century. Monks from Durham travelled to Oxford to be educated there and returned to Durham to a life of scholarship and worship. In the seventeenth century, Oliver Cromwell intended to establish a new college at Durham and it was only his death that delayed its foundation until 1832 when the Dean and Chapter, with the Bishop of Durham, founded the University of Durham. The bishop gave the Castle and the buildings on Palace Green to the University to be the founding college and the first academic departments of the university. These continue to provide accommodation for students, and university departments located on the WHS include music, theology, history, classics, and English, historic library collections and the Institute of Advanced Studies.

Durham is one of only two universities in England that can offer students the opportunity to live and study in a WHS and their presence is a significant part of the character of the WHS. (Over 1000 students live in the WHS).

The location of the University within the WHS offers unique opportunities for a continued academic research and teaching focus on aspects of the World Heritage Site, drawing on the vast resources of primary source material held in the WHS. While this is perhaps most obvious in the work of the Theology Department which embodies the long association of the WHS with the study of theology and biblical studies, the Music Department has opportunities to continue the research, teaching and performance of Church music while the History, Archaeology, Chemistry, Physics, Museum Studies and Geography Departments continue the research and study of the WHS itself and new opportunities are opening for some science departments to contribute to the study of the WHS.


  • There is more work to be done to raise the awareness and engagement of the Colleges and Departments of the University that are not located within the WHS and are less conscious of the fact that the University is part of the WHS;
  • It is essential to retain and promote academic appointments that sustain the historic academic traditions of the WHS, stimulate continued research into its history, heritage and on-going life and encourage students to take the numerous opportunities for student dissertations and doctoral research based on the resources of the WHS. A research framework for the WHS has been developed and the greater integration of research with and into the WHS will be promoted by the Cathedral and the University.

Figure 3. 15:    Cathedral’s Chorister School

3.5.2 The Chorister School and Durham School

Apart from the University, the Cathedral’s Chorister School also occupies the World Heritage Site, and is Durham’s oldest surviving educational establishment. The Chorister School was established sometime between 1390 and 1416 to educate the boys who sang in the Cathedral choir. The school remains on the peninsula six hundred years after its foundation, educating some 200 boys and girls between the ages of 3 and 13 and is the only Cathedral choir school in the north of England to offer boarding facilities. The presence of the school retains the commitment to and ethos of the education of children within the context of the Cathedral, enables the Cathedral to maintain the choral tradition and provides a unique experience for all the children.

In the 15th century, Bishop Langley built a school to teach grammar and plainsong on Palace Green and, in 1541, Henry VIII founded a school on Palace Green for non-choristers. Now known as Durham School, in 1844 it moved to its present site overlooking the peninsula and retains a strong Christian ethos and link with the Cathedral.


The partners will promote and support academic appointments and research proposals that further the study of the WHS, collaborating where appropriate, and will encourage people with research experience, including retired academics and adult learning groups, to assist with formal and informal research based on the WHS.

Figure 3.16 :Durham School

Figure 3.17: Learning in the Cathedral

Figure 3.18 :World Heritage Day events on Palace Green

3.5.3 Education Outreach

The Cathedral and the University Education departments work with children promoting visits by school and other children’s groups to the WHS that focus on providing access to both the built heritage and the cultural collections. They provide materials and opportunities that accord with changes in the  government’s Key Stage learning programmes and facilitating learning about the WHS. Cuts to schools’ budgets for educational visits and an increased focus on the government’s core values threaten these programmes which the partners will nevertheless continue to provide. Family activities are provided, especially during special events such as the Cathedral’s Cuthbert-tide celebrations and the WHS weekend. At these and on other occasions, drama by student theatre groups brings history to life for residents and visitors and the WHS partners will support their contribution to the WHS.


  • To promote an increasingly positive attitude to learning and education, new ways of engaging with the local community are needed and the WHS is an under-utilised educational resource by and for local people. The partners will work with the County Council and other partners to expand the range of facilities and formal and informal educational opportunities for all people, in particular for lifelong learners who are underrepresented in the educational life of the WHS;
  • The WHS partners will increase public access to and understanding of the World Heritage Site and the surrounding riverbanks.

Figure 3.19: Matriculation

Figure 3.20: Castle Kitchens

3.6 University Traditions

University traditions are very strongly linked to the site itself. The Cathedral hosts University matriculation and congregation ceremonies, the symbolic milestones of commencing and completing university life, which include processions across Palace Green, continuing a tradition of processions dating back to medieval times. College services, such as the special services around the tomb of the Venerable Bede on Hild-Bede College day, and Cathedral carol services held by various Durham University Colleges, are reminders of the strong link between the Cathedral and the community of scholars resident in Durham across the centuries. The strong bond between Durham University students and Durham itself means that Durham University alumni tend to retain a life-long connection to the WHS.

The Castle, at any one time, is home to a community of 800 students whose very university identity is shaped by a wealth of social rituals and traditions that have taken place in that building for almost two hundred years, often maintaining much older social traditions associated with the Durham Prince Bishops. These include bi-weekly formal dinners in the Great Hall, which continue the tradition of medieval banquets, even preserving the social hierarchy reflected in the seating arrangement of the hall. The fact that the Great Hall is used informally on a daily basis, and regularly for formal events, is a continuation of its original multi-purpose function. Castle meals are still made in the kitchen constructed in 1499 in preparation for a royal visit.

3.7 Civic Functions of the Castle

The Castle has always been an important seat of political power, and, as such, has often served as a stopping point for monarchs and other dignitaries travelling to and from Scotland, and as a temporary regional base for them. This tradition continues: the current monarch had lunch in the Castle during her visit to the region in the summer of 2012, and has used the building in a similar fashion several times during her reign. Although most ceremonial uses of the Castle are related to dignitaries (both scholarly and political) visiting the university, it does also retain some other traditional civic functions such as hosting the judges once a year, continuing the tradition of hosting the judges of the Assizes, who travelled around country trying important cases until their abolition in 1972.

Figure 3.21: Collections on display in Durham Castle, Great Hall (Andrew Heptinstall)

Figure 3.22: Embroidered textile from Cathedral Collections

3.8 Site Collections and their Intangible Value

Both the Cathedral and the University house significant historic, portable collections within the WHS relating to their histories, missions and associations. These include works of art, books and artefacts of a variety of forms. Although tangible in their own right, many of these are linked to the intangible values of the site, such as its intellectual and creative life. Dating from the sixth century onwards, many of the collections here were created in Durham, some in the first quarter of the 12th century under the direction of Symeon of Durham, the scribe, chronicler and precentor of Durham Cathedral Priory. In recent years, the Cathedral has been able to repatriate some books from the monastic library that had been dispersed and came up for auction.

Details of the collections can be found on the Cathedral and University websites. The Cathedral is working to achieved Designation of the whole of the Cathedral Collections and both the Cathedral and University are digitising their manuscripts, a project that is gaining momentum through collaboration on a project to digitise all the priory manuscripts. A pigment analysis project is also currently underway. As part of the Research strategy and programme for the WHS, funding for further research and publications based on the collections is sought actively by the Cathedral and University, as it is for the provision of world class facilities so that the treasures of the WHS can be displayed for visitors to see. New exhibition facilities have already been created in Palace Green Library and the World Heritage Site Visitors Centre in Owengate and are being provided at the Cathedral.


  • The Cathedral and the University will maintain excellent standards of care of their historic collections, seeking funding and professional skills to facilitate this.
  • Where appropriate they will make them available for public viewing and research in world-class exhibition facilities.
  • The research strategy of the WHS which is integral to the continuation of Durham WHS’s role as a centre of academic excellence is actively supported by the WHS partners.

Figure 3.23: The Cathedral Broderers

3.9 Skills and Trades

The conservation and restoration of the historic buildings and landscapes of the WHS are never-ending tasks which require the skills of a variety of specialist craftspeople, including masons, joiners, stained glass restorers, and book conservators. Both the Cathedral and the University employ skilled craftsmen and provide apprenticeships. As some of these are skills are not currently in general demand within the UK economy, the active conservation of the WHS promotes a living cultural heritage of endangered skills. These skills are not only important for the conservation of the built heritage, but are also significant in their own right, allowing understanding of the intricate skills and knowledge of our ancestors, and enabling insight into their lives.


The WHS partners will encourage apprenticeships and work opportunity schemes, especially those that conserve and pass on traditional skills which are at risk of being lost.

Figure 3.24: Conservators at work in Bishop Cosin’s Library

 Figure 3.25: Statue of Annunciation, by Josph Pyrz

Figure 3.26: St Cuthbert’s banner

Figure 3.27: Lumiere installation in Cathedral Cloister

3.10 Creative, Artistic and Cultural Expression

In addition to providing opportunities to maintain skills in the building trades, the WHS has long been an inspiration for creativity and artistic expression thus also maintaining artistic traditions through the vast body of artwork, literature, music and other forms of creative expression created to celebrate the WHS, its associations and its history.


  • With the increased promotion of the WHS and of events within in it, there is scope to expand the existing opportunities that the WHS partners offer to people seeking experience in fields such as concert and stage management, marketing and business development;
  • The architecture of the Cathedral and the Castle are perhaps the most obvious testament to creative expression at the WHS; however, these large scale tangible expressions must stand alongside the smaller pieces of embroidery, illuminated manuscripts, books, paintings, sculpture, stained glass and silverwork housed at the Site. The Cathedral maintains the long tradition of commissioning or receiving new art including, in this century, stained glass, sculpture, embroidery, painting, icon, woodwork and choral music;
  • Textiles are a significant part of the artistic and creative heritage of Durham. Silk embroideries from the Byzantine period were found in Cuthbert’s coffin and remain in the care of the Cathedral. Vestments from later periods include the cope worn by Bishops of Durham at twentieth century coronations.
    St Cuthbert’s banner, thought to contain a fragment of the True Cross, played a significant part in the history of Durham Cathedral, and the community. Apart from being an emblem of the community, its presence was felt auspicious and it was carried into battle on several occasions, including the celebrated Battle of Neville’s Cross in the 14th century. The banner was allegedly destroyed by the wife of the first Dean of the Cathedral, an action that appalled the author of the Rites of Durham, a 16th century Durham monk. In 2011 a new banner, based on the description of the original, was given to the Cathedral and dedicated; it now hangs near Cuthbert’s shrine and is used in procession at major festivals. The Cathedral Broderers keep alive and pass on the skills of church embroidery, producing magnificent new altar frontals, vestments, kneelers and other liturgical items which can be seen in the Cathedral;
  • The University’s Art History Department, Institute of Advanced Studies and Artists in Residence schemes at the University’s colleges bring artists and scholars to the WHS who contribute to the on-going creativity. Palace Green Library, University College, the Cathedral nave, Galilee Chapel and Cathedral Undercroft, and WHS visitor centre provide spaces for temporary art exhibitions, many of which showcase the work of local artists inspired by the site and its history;
  • The Cathedral community shares its artistic skills with visitors through services, workshops and the music outreach programme which each year gives hundreds of children from local schools the opportunity to sing with choristers in the Cathedral. The Cathedral is used regularly for a wide variety of artistic endeavours, some in collaboration with the University;
  • The increased use of all areas of the World Heritage Site for major events, for example, Lumière, can introduce a different ethos to that which gives it its identity but also provide new opportunities to express the Christian heritage of the site. Where such events are permitted by the landowners, careful management is needed to ensure that the character of the World Heritage Site, especially its Christian spirituality as expressed in the worship in the Cathedral, is not put at risk by either the nature or the impact of events on or near the World Heritage Site. The partners in the World Heritage Site already work together to ensure that potential problems are identified and resolved and are developing guidelines for major events within the World Heritage Site;
  • The Cathedral and University will work with other partners in and beyond the WHS to promote appropriate forms of tourism that can help to regenerate the economy of the region and to enable the WHS to continue to be a place of public creative and artistic endeavour and excellence, whilst ensuring that increased public access to the peninsula for major events does not jeopardise the well-being of the WHS and the people who live and work here or hinder the on-going life of worship at the Cathedral and education at the University. To that end, the landowners will develop and adhere to protocols for events in the WHS.

3.11 Community

Durham is a living and working World Heritage Site. It is home to various residential communities: the clerical members of the Cathedral Chapter; some Cathedral employees and pupils of the Chorister School who board; hundreds of students at University College; and some of the College's staff. In addition, hundreds of other people work or volunteer in the WHS every day. The WHS is also a central gathering point for the entire community not only of the City of Durham but for the wider region which looks to Durham as a focal point.

It enjoys a special place within the heart of the community of the City of Durham, a sentiment that is passionately expressed by most members of this community. This is symbolised by the views of the site from the surrounding countryside, especially from riverbanks and the railway viaduct, the latter being a view that continues to turn the heads of passengers as trains approach the station.

New energy-efficient floodlighting of the Cathedral and Castle have enhanced the significance of night-time views of the WHS. The Cathedral is at the heart of the Diocese of Durham and is recognised by people of all Christian churches, as well as by people who do not have a faith commitment, as ‘their’ Cathedral. The fact that the Cathedral does not make an admission charge is very important in maintaining this sense of local community ‘ownership’ of the Cathedral. Thousands of people attend the special services at the Cathedral, ranging from Carol Services for many local organisations to the Remembrance Day and Battle of Britain services, and the DLI reunion service.

Each July, the Miners’ Gala brings thousands of people to the WHS especially for the Miners’ Festival Service which has been held in the Cathedral for over one hundred years, helping to keep alive the brass band and the Miners’ banner traditions which are so much a part of the heritage of the region. The matins for the Courts of Justice similarly retains a long tradition of the legal community assembling to worship in the Cathedral.

The fact that that a University of international importance is located in a WHS influences many students in their decision to apply, they matriculate and graduate in the Cathedral, but most are here for only three years and full appreciation of the heritage they have inhabited may develop only once they have graduated. Every year there is a substantial new intake of students so the work has to begin again.

Students describe the environment of the WHS as inspiring and that it feels like home very quickly. Many student groups engage directly with the WHS and further opportunities will be sought to increase the level of student engagement and volunteering within the WHS. Ex-students of the University hold the WHS in high regard, and many consider it to be a symbol of their university days. Research into student perceptions of the WHS is in progress and may lead to new ways of raising student awareness of, and sense of responsibility for the opportunity to live and study in a WHS. Similar work to stimulate the continued interest of alumni/ae is needed.


The presence of students who not only study but live in the WHS is a significant factor in the character of the WHS and ways to build on student awareness of, and commitment to, the unique opportunities and responsibilities of living and studying in a WHS will be sought.

Figure 3.28: Miners’ Gala Service in the Cathedral

3.12 Innovation and Ambition

Durham’s place on the World Heritage List is due to its architectural innovation – the vaulting of the Cathedral was especially innovative and the techniques used in its construction had a major impact on the very course of western architecture. Adopting nascent architectural techniques (ribbed vaulting and pointed arches) but perfecting them and using them at a large scale enabled the construction of a monumental stone building, which overcame many of the challenges faced by medieval stonemasons. If the vault of Durham Cathedral seems unsurprising today, it is because its techniques of rib vaulting came to define later medieval architecture and later revivals. 

Two common, and related, sentiments are embodied in the World Heritage Site across its history: the desire to commission the best work possible (for example, the Neville Screen, the Cathedral organs and the Black Staircase in Durham Castle) and the drive to push boundaries (building a Cathedral the same size as St Peters in Rome, and a Cathedra higher than that of the Pope in Rome). It is perhaps fitting that the motto of Durham University is ‘Shaped by the Past, Creating the Future.”


Ensure that Durham WHS continues to build on its tradition of innovation and ambition to excel and push boundaries.

3.13 Actions

This section of the Plan aims to preserve and foster the intangible values of the site. It recognises the importance of openness to new ideas and activities while safeguarding the site’s traditions. It identifies the importance of actively engaging the local community and ensuring that more people are aware of the site and its value, of providing more training opportunities to help build the capacity of local residents as much as possible, of encouraging research, both academic and non-academic. It recognises the value of fostering the sense of community and belonging, and benefiting from the vitality and creativity of the student community in particular. The main current challenges identified in this section are the underestimation of the value of the link between modern institutions and Durham’s history.