[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] A new multi-million-pound visitor attraction at one of Britain’s oldest cathedrals is gearing up for its official opening in July; and as part of its preparations a small group of school children were given a sneak-preview when Durham Cathedral gave them a “test run” through their new Open Treasure experience and exhibition.
The cathedral dates back to AD 995 when it was established by members of the Community of St Cuthbert who arrived in Durham from their former home on the holy island of Lindisfarne. Work on the present building began in 1093 and originally took around 40 years to complete.
As part of the new £10.9 million GBP Open Treasure experience, the cathedral is transforming some of its most historic spaces into a world-class exhibition route. Visitors will “journey through the newly restored Monks’ Dormitory, followed by a purpose built gallery in a former medieval yard, arriving at the Great Kitchen, before completing their journey through the Covey to the Cloister,” a Cathedral spokesperson said.
“The Great Kitchen will be home to the Treasures of St Cuthbert, alongside other culturally significant items from the Cathedral collections, including paintings, textiles, metalwork, manuscripts, and carved stones, including Viking hogback gravestones and preaching crosses.
“These will tell the story of Christianity in the North of England, monastic life in Durham and the life of the Cathedral today. Open Treasure will also enable a series of rolling exhibitions including loans from prestigious institutions from across the globe.”
As part of the preparations for its official opening on 23 July, the cathedral invited a group of 25 school children from Collierley Primary School in nearby Dipton to give the experience a test-run and to take part in an interactive learning session about the Anglo-Saxons. As part of the experience, the young students dressed as Vikings and Anglo-Saxons as they learned more about invasion and settlement in Britain, the role of the monks and how Christianity developed at that time.
“A hugely important part of the new Open Treasure development here at the Cathedral is the outreach and education work that we are able to offer,” the Cathedral’s head of education, Charlotte Rowbotham, said. “The new Open Treasure spaces are magnificent and inspiring places for visiting education groups to learn about the Christian history and heritage of our region and enjoy some hands-on learning with the range of add-on activities that we offer, such as cooking using herbs from the medieval medicinal monastic herb-garden or creating Anglo-Saxon artwork.”
The school’s head teacher, Natalie Maughan, commented: “Our children were completely engaged and captivated throughout their guided tour of the Monks Dormitory Exhibit. Our thanks go to all the staff at Durham Cathedral for providing our children with an outstanding learning experience in a beautiful setting.”
Durham Cathedral is home to the shrine of St Cuthbert – the saint is enshrined in the Feretory at the cathedral, and the great Anglo-Saxon Christian history, the Venerable Bede, is buried in its Galilee Chapel. Every year, the cathedral attracts more than 700,000 pilgrims from around the world.