Durham Cathedral

The case of Durham can be taken as an example of what happened with large religious buildings in England. Durham Cathedral was built in 1093-1133 by the Normans who wanted to establish and reinforce their position in the country. The building was placed on the edge of a high plateau overlooking the River Wear which curved around it on three sides, forming a sort of peninsula. On the south side were the monastic buildings, and to the north the castle, forming an impressive ensemble for the little town. The cathedral was built in stone with boldly carved heavy round pillars, and the first high rib vaults in Europe. Its total length of 123 m extended from the twelfth-century Galilee

Figure 5.1 View of Durham Cathedral with additions in pencil by Thos. Wright for the design of new pinnacles — similar to those in York Minster. (The Dean and Chapter of Durham)

Chapel in the west to the thirteenth-century Chapel of Nine Altars at the rear of the choir in the east. Over the crossing was a central tower, and, at the west end, two towers, which lost their spires in the seventeenth century.

After the dissolution of monasteries in 1536 and through the iconoclasm in the seventeenth century, Durham also suffered serious damage, and in the eighteenth century it was again in need of repair. In 1777, a report was prepared for this purpose by a local architect, John Wooler, who was contracted to supervise the works. The necessary drawings were prepared by Wooler's assistant, George Nicholson, who acted as the clerk of works. The stonework and the roofs were reported to be in a poor state; there were cracks in the vaults; the central tower and the turrets of the Chapel of Nine Altars were decayed; there was no rainwater disposal system; the windows were badly rotted; the north porch was moving away from the wall, and there were minor problems in the foundations of the Galilee Chapel. The aim of the repairs was to restore the whole to 'as complete a State of Repair as the Structure itself may require, and the Nature of the Stone Materials wherewith it is built will allow of;'4 in addition, some ornaments were suggested to 'beautify' the building.

The ashlar of the exterior was badly weathered and many stone blocks were completely worn out; in order to avoid water penetration and to bring the wall to a tolerably even surface, Wooler proposed to chip off the stones to the depth of 2 to 3 inches, to replace the perished stones, and to fill up the joints and cavities with mortar and flint chips. This also meant renewal of any decorations and carved window frames. The cracks in the nave vault were to be kept under observation, and the defects in the Galilee Chapel repaired. The rebuilding of the turrets of the Chapel of Nine Altars was considered essential for the sake of uniformity, and, as part of the 'beautification', the plan was to 'relieve the too Massy Appearance of the whole Structure' by adding stone pinnacles on the western towers and on the central tower. The pinnacles, resembling those at York Minster, seem to originate from sketches by Thomas Wright (1711—86), a local teacher of mathematics, navigation and astron-omy,5 who also suggested spires to decorate the north transept and the Chapel of Nine Altars. The works started in 1779, and the pinnacles on the western towers were completed by 1797.

The changes were not approved by all, however. In 1787, W. Hutchinson published Nicholson's drawing in his History of Durham,

Paintings Durham Landmarks

Figure 5.1 View of Durham Cathedral with additions in pencil by Thos. Wright for the design of new pinnacles — similar to those in York Minster. (The Dean and Chapter of Durham)

and strongly criticized the loss of the 'ancient appearance' of the cathedral. He was particularly concerned about the loss of some old figures, cut in relief, which were 'expressive of the age of the building', and gave an example of the state of the art in that era. While he considered the new figures fine in themselves, he was afraid that in the future they would betray the spectator into an error, making him believe that this part of the structure had been erected, or at least rebuilt, much earlier (Hutchinson, 1787:226).

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