Durham Cathedral: Cloister

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Durham cathedral is described as “the finest and most complete of all the Norman cathedrals surviving in Britain” (Tatton-Brown, 1989). The location of the building is high above the River Wear making its magnificent setting very striking. Bishop William of St Calais decided to build a new cathedral in 1092 resulting in the complete demolition of the existing church on the site which had been built almost a century before. The first foundation trenches for the new church were dug on 29th July 1093, in the presence of the bishop and the prior, and on 11 August the first stones were ceremoniously laid. When Bishop William died in 1096 the monks carried on the building work and after Rannulf Flambard was made bishop in 1099, the church was “made as far as the nave” (Chronicle of Simeon of Durham, c1104-1108). The coffin of St Cuthbert was moved to its new resting place within the eastern apse on 29th August 1104 and the 12th century English historian William of Malmesbury tells us that “there was a premature but harmless collapse of the centring upon which the vault over the east end was erected.” The walls of the nave were complete “up to the covering” (Chronicle of Simeon of Durham, c1104-1108) when Bishop Flambard died in 1128 and work was completed during the course of the next five years. It is thought likely that Durham was the first great cathedral in Europe to be vaulted throughout and the spectacular structure was constructed within a period of forty years ((Tatton-Brown, 1989).

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The plan of Durham cathedral is uniform throughout and is based on the plan of Lanfranc’s cathedral at Canterbury some twenty years earlier. The technological high point of English Romanesque architecture was fully embodied at Durham. At a time when many new ideas were reaching north west Europe from the east, and following the period of the First Crusade, the masons skilfully introduced remarkable innovations. With the introduction of new building techniques, the massive solid early Norman structures were gradually enhanced with much more decorated and beautiful buildings of the High Romanesque architecture of the 12th century. Benedictine cathedral monasticism drew to a close at the beginning of the 12th century and was followed by the Cistercians who started to build churches in a very different way.

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Needless to say, the materials that a building is constructed from will play an important part in its visual impact. Durham cathedral is constructed of dressed sandstone and as Clifton-Taylor (1983) notes, a building of stone “has something of the monument about it.” The Conquest effected a revolution in English stone building when the Norman prelates required enormous churches and the stonemasons of the Middle Ages were among the best paid and most highly regarded of all workers. These trained craftsmen were needed in huge numbers during an incredible age for building and with many of the finest cathedrals and castles dating to the Norman period, numerous masons were Norman French arriving in England to undertake the vast scale of architectural work of the period. Many architectural terms are of French origin and are a direct result of the introduction of the Norman stonemasons’ words. The standardization of building units is of Norman influence and the glorious art and architecture of the 700 years that followed was equally met by the craftsmanship of the stonemasons. The master mason was for many centuries considered the key figure of building construction. Supervising the works and often assuming the role of architect before architecture became a separate profession, the master masons were under direct control of the Crown, the church and high dignitaries. They were responsible for overseeing the quarrying of the stone, arranging transportation to site, preparing full scale layouts (drawings) and working the building stone entirely by hand (Clifton-Taylor, 1983).

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On the south side of Durham Cathedral is the cloister. From the Latin ‘claustrum’, meaning enclosed space, the word cloister generally refers to the covered ambulatory around a monastery or college quadrangle. Benedictine and Cistercian cloisters were very often majestic in scale compared to those of the Franciscans which were of more modest proportions (Jenner, 1993). Although construction began in 1093, when the cathedral was begun, the buildings contained within the cloister date from the 15th century and later. In monastic cathedrals such as Durham, the cloister was at the heart of a complex of buildings which included the chapter house, dormitory and refectory. Once built, a cathedral would have been profusely decorated with stained glass, sculpture and wall paintings (Tatton-Brown, 1989). Window tracery was an exacting task for banker masons with nearly all designs rooted in geometry. At the Reformation, and again during the Cromwellian period, such ornamentation was considered to be heretical and idolatrous resulting in widespread destruction. Clifton-Taylor (1974) describes the destruction of medieval stained glass as “the greatest calamity that has ever befallen English art.” The Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century by Henry VIII was far more than an act of ecclesiastical reform. The period also saw the most radical redistribution of land ownership since the Norman Conquest despite Henry VIII’s principle policy of destroying monastic buildings being motivated by his desire to acquire their valuable fittings (Jenner,1993). As it was not possible to destroy all the hundreds of abbeys, priories and friaries which had been built over so many centuries, thankfully the ruinous beauty and majesty of monastic architecture can still be appreciated.

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Often covering the intersection of vaulting or a ceiling intersect, roof bosses are a prolific feature at Durham Cathedral. The wooden ceiling above the arcades in the cloister is richly ornamented with these beautiful architectural features which would originally have been brightly coloured. With the advent of Gothic architecture, these decorative bosses became widespread and are often elaborately carved with foliage, heraldic shields, animals and grotesques. Not only was their purpose to cover a joint, in stone or wood, the boss could be applied when the structure was complete or be an integral part of the structure. The bosses, capitals and ornamentation surrounding windows was the responsibility of the carver who was usually trained in a masons’ yard (Clifton-Taylor, 1983). Several wooden benches are all that now furnish the cloister yet walking along the arcades and looking out onto the grass courtyard, there’s an ambience that takes you back to the hustle and bustle of times long since passed.

The lack of comfort and extremely cold temperatures in some of our religious buildings is humourously noted in 1771 by Tobias Smollett in The Expedition of Humphry Clinker: 

“the builder’s intention fhould be to keep the people dry and warm – For my part, I never entered the Abbey church at Bath but once, and the moment I flept over the threfhold, I found myself chilled to the very marrow of my bones – When we confider, that in our churches, in general, we breathe a grofs ftagnated air, furcharged with damps from vaults, tombs, and charnel-houfes, may we not term them fo many magazines of rheums, created for the benefit of the medical faculty? and fafely aver, that more bodies are loft, than souls faved, by going to church, in the winter efpecially, which may be faid to engrofs eight months in the year. I fhould be glad to know, what offence it would give to tender confciences, if the houfe of God was made more comfortable, or lefs dangerous to the health of valetudinarians; and whether it would not be an encouragement to piety, as well as the falvation of many lives, if the place of worfhip was well floored, wainfcotted, warmed, and ventilated, and its area kept facred from the pollution of the dead.”

Durham Cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Grade I Listed.

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Tebay: St James Church

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Until the middle of the 19th century, Tebay was a hamlet which formed part of the parish of Orton. The railway came in 1846 and with the steady increase in the population, it was recognized that Tebay needed its own church. With an initiative from the Bishop of Carlisle and funds from the London & North Western Railway Company, a separate ecclesiastical parish was created. The building was completed in 1880 and was the design of architect C J Ferguson who was a pupil of the English Gothic Revival architect George Gilbert Scott.

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Consecrated on 20th July 1880 by Reverend Harvey Goodwin (Lord Bishop of Carlisle), the church is dedicated to Saint James – the fisherman of Galilee. The building is constructed of rock faced snecked granite blocks (Shap granite) and features a west baptistry in the form of a big apse. Next to the western baptistry is a three stage round bell turret with conical spire.

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March 1896 saw the arrival of Reverend A E Palin who had previously been curate in Workington, Scotby and Maryport. The heating system and organ were in urgent need of repairs at this time and by July of the same year, a considerable amount of funds had been raised in order to begin work. Following rebuilding work the organ was reopened on 22nd June 1898, celebrated with a Parish Supper, costing more than the original value of the instrument.

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The interior of the church is brick-faced, yellow with red bands and the north plank porch door (above) sits within a pointed surround. Referred to as a true railway church, the inside is built with railway bricks and features pews akin to those found in a railway waiting room.

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After the Reverend Arthur Aird left in 1977, Tebay was combined with Orton and was no longer a separate parish. Under Canon Norman Scott, Ravenstonedale with Newbiggin on Lune was added to the parish in 1981. Shap and Bampton have since been combined and the new five parish unit is called High Westmorland.

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Shap granite was also used for the font (above) which is surmounted by a railway engine wheel cover.

The Church of St James is Grade II Listed.

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Dacre: St Andrews Church

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In the village of Dacre stands the parish Church of St Andrew. Constructed of sandstone rubble walls, the church dates to the late 12th century. With 13th century additions, the building was rebuilt in 1810 and features battlemented parapets which date to the 19th century. The church has a west tower of three storeys with an inscription above the entrance noting that the steeple was rebuilt in 1810.

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The church has an open timber roof which dates to the 17th century

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The three bay chancel retains 12th century narrow round-headed windows and has a late 17th century communion rail with twisted balusters.

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The nave features the original 12th century unmoulded round-headed tower arch and has two light clerestory windows. The four bay arcades date from the early 13th century and differ from one another. The north arcade is earlier having arches with slight chamfers and piers that are mostly round while the south arcade arches have normal chamfers and octagonal piers.

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Engraved window memorial to Sylvia McCosh of Dalemain

In the chancel of the church is an engraved window (above) by Sir Laurence Whistler as a memorial to Sylvia McCosh. Whistler was a poet, writer and glass engraver who revived the technique of line engraving on both sides of the glass. This intricate engraving creates an illusion of perspective in his depiction of landscapes and was a popular technique during the 17th and 18th centuries. Sylvia McCosh of Dalemain was instrumental in bringing the gardens of Dalemain House back to life following the war. She had successfully nurtured small plants and seedlings since childhood and faced with the task of bringing a dormant garden to life again, she introduced many plants which flourished in her garden in Lanarkshire, including Meconopsis grandis, and over one hundred varieties of old-fashioned roses. Before her death in 1991, Sylvia started a campaign for a pipe organ in the church to replace the 19th century organ that had been removed in the 1970’s. Following extensive fundraising, the new organ was finally installed in 2002.

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The Church of St Andrew is Grade I Listed.

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Mallerstang: Church of St Mary

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The 20th century east window

Located along the B6259 in the parish of Mallerstang is the Church of St Mary. The Chapel of Ease was founded in the 14th century and was extensively rebuilt in 1663 for Lady Anne Clifford. The single storey building is constructed of coursed squared rubble with a graduated slate roof.

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South porch with semi-circular head and continuous cavetto moulding

The inscription over the south porch (above) details the work of Lady Anne Clifford and is recorded in Roman capitals of typical 17th century character. The inscription reads: “This chapple of Mallerstang after itt had layne ruinous and decayed some 50 or 60 years was newe repayred by the Lady Anne Clifford Countesse Dowager of Pembroke. Dorsett & Montgomery. In the year 1663 who allsoe endowed the same with lands which she purchased in Cawtley near Sedbergh to the yearly value of eleaven pounds for ever. Isiah Chap 58. vs 12. Gods name be praised.”

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The east window (above) was inserted in 1926 and depicts the Virgin Mary and Child surrounded by northern saints, including the Monk of Whitby, Caedmon. The church features a panelled polygonal pulpit which dates to 1798.

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20th century east window detail

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17th century window north wall

The north windows and south doorway date to the rebuilding by Lady Anne Clifford in the 17th century while the south windows date to 1768 when the church was later restored.

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The Church of St Mary is Grade II Listed.

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Chimney & belfry to west end of the church

Sedbergh: Church of St Mark

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West end of the nave with bellcote

Located on Cautley Road in the Yorkshire Dales National Park stands the Church of St Mark. Built in 1847, the church is constructed of random rubble in the Decorated style. The church was designed by the English Gothic Revival architect William Butterfield and was one of his earliest commissions.

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View along the nave to the chancel

The simple plan incorporates a nave with west bellcote, chancel, north vestry and a south porch. The chancel is slightly lower than the nave and features a large three light east window with ogival headed lights and geometrical tracery. The chancel also has a double chamfered arch with a Perpendicular style wooden screen.

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Fine detailing from the pulpit

The walls of the interior are plastered with a panelled dado and plain panelled wooden pews grace the nave.

The Church of St Mark is Grade II Listed.

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Kirkby Stephen: Church of St Stephen

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Located on the north side of Market Square in Kirkby Stephen is the parish church of St Stephen. Rebuilt in the early 13th century, the church is constructed of coursed squared rubble and ashlar. The 16th century west tower is of three stages and features an embattled parapet with pinnacles.

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The church features a clerestory detailing double and triple mullioned windows which date to the 19th century.

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The church features a seven bay nave with much of the interior stonework replaced or reworked during the 19th century.

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The aisles have 15th century windows with tracery which dates to the 19th century.

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The ornately decorated pulpit is constructed of various coloured marble and dates to c1871. The Church of St Stephen is Grade II* Listed.

Ely: Cathedral of the Holy Trinity

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Construction of the monastic church in Ely began in 1083 under the leadership of the Abbot Simeon, who was a kinsman of William the Conquerer. The church became a cathedral in 1109 with completion of the building in its present form by 1350.

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Also known as the Ship of the Fens, the cathedral is constructed of ashlar faced Barnack limestone. Flying buttresses support the 12th century exterior which retains numerous carved figure heads and grotesques adorning the towers with pinnacles.

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The cathedral contains early Norman to late Perpendicular examples of Gothic architecture with windows of several architectural styles which have been added throughout the course of its history.

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The 12th century Norman nave features a ceiling of painted panels which depict the history of man with figures of patriarchs, prophets and evangelists. The painting of the nave ceiling was started during the Victorian restoration of the building by the amateur artist Henry Styleman Le Strange in 1858 and following his death in 1862, the painting was completed by the English artist Thomas Gambicr Parry in 1865.

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Arcades of undecorated columns line the aisles with floor tiles which date to the 19th century restorations.

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The richly decorated pulpit dates to the 19th century Victorian restorations under the direction of architect Sir George Gilbert Scott.

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Beautiful vaulted ceilings adorn the cathedral interior which rise up from wall shafts between the windows. The Cathedral of the Holy Trinity is Grade I Listed.

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