Two of the greatest monuments of the Norman Conquest of Britain face each other in a dramatic setting on a narrow peninsula, in one of England’s most attractive medieval towns.
Durham Cathedral, built between 1093 and 1133, is one of the finest examples of Norman architecture in Europe – and the first European cathedral to be roofed with stone-ribbed vaulting, which allowed for the construction of the pointed transverse arches and hey presto! the Gothic style of architecture was born.
The site is also outstanding because of its political history: The Castle and Cathedral reflect the unique status of the Prince-Bishops of Durham. The Prince-Bishops were religious leaders who also had secular powers — they governed a virtually autonomous state that formed the buffer zone between England and Scotland from the late eleventh century until 1603.
It’s also the final resting places of St Cuthbert, the saint whose place of burial has been a place of pilgrimage for over 1500 years; and the Venerable Bede, the 7th century scribe who is credited as the ‘inventor of England’ and the father of English history.
In the Middle Ages, anyone who’d fallen foul of a court judgement could bank the main knocker and ask for 37 days’ sanctuary in the cathedral before having to serve their sentence.