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Despite the holiday season is approaching and Christmas markets are warming up the atmosphere of our Northern towns, my academic and work commitments seem to never end. As I was sitting on my bed listening to the Rat Pack and trying to write a few lines on whether we can claim that the Peace of Versailles established a New World Order, I decided that I needed a short break. The following morning I therefore took the X21 to Auckland to visit its Castle and renowned Chapel.

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The Castle is located right in the city centre, which is ideal is you wish to grab a quick bite. I was however unimpressed with the town itself as most businesses are in fact chains and it took us a good twenty minutes of wandering to find a nice independent coffee shop to grab a cup of tea before our visit. Unfortunately, the Gardens were still under renovation so we couldn’t admire a great deal before we entered the Castle. However these will be re-opened in 2016, which is very nicely timed as Durham Cathedral will complete its restoration and exhibit its countless manuscripts (including its copies of the Magna Carta) in the very same year. Nevertheless, we befriended some sheep on our way to the entrance.

1924500_10203050454730535_4292843101812939988_nA definite highlight of this trip is the reasonable admission fee, which was only £4 and makes this an ideal one-day break for those who spent too much money on Christmas presents. As we entered the premises I was dazzled by the beautiful Chapel and its long standing history.

St. Peter’s Chapel started life in the 12th century as a Banqueting Hall for the Prince Bishops and their guests. Most of the commensals actually came from Durham to hunt on the premises, and will then stay for dinner at the banqueting hall. The structure was supposed to have its own buttery, wine cellar and minstrel galleries and served as a banqueting all for nearly 500 years.

10846150_10203050551572956_5955226398048832173_nAbove you can see a picture of the altar, located where High Table used to stand in Medieval times. The Hall also used to have a fireplace in the middle of the room and a louvre in the ceiling so the smoke could escape through the shuttered opening. Needless to say that I would have loved to see what the premises actually looked like during the Middle Ages. However, the Banqueting Hall was turned into a Chapel after the appointment of Bishop John Cosin (appointed in 1660), who set about rebuilding and renovating the Castle. As the original Chapel was demolished following the Civil war of 1642-51, Cosin needed a new one, hence he converted the Banqueting Hall into the Chapel we can admire today. Despite I slightly resent him for doing so, this Chapel boasts a flabbergasting ceiling and beautiful glass-stained windows which tell us the tales of St. Cuthbert and Bede, among others. I chose to write about four windows that I particularly enjoyed.

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Centre: This panel commemorates the foundation of the religious houses at Jarrow and Monkwearmouth in about 675. Benedict Bishop displays a plan of one abbey, as his fellow monks unpack various furnishings including books, sheet music, a golden casket, a chalice and a crucifix for the new altar.

Lower right: This panel shows Bede when he was a chorister. His hands are clasped together in prayer for salvation from the plague – you can see a dead body being carried away in the background.

Lower left: Bede’s dying moments. He prays in the chapel, supported by a fellow monk.

Upper lights: The Venerable Bede sits upon a throne, writing one of his many learned works with a quill.

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Lower right: This panel shows the discovery of the Lindisfarne Gospels, washed up the shores of Northumbria. In the background the monks of Lindisfarne flee from invasion in 875. They carried with them the body of St. Cuthbert which, after seven years, found a permanent home at St. Cuthbert’s Church in Chester-le-Street.

Centre: King Athelstan offers gifts at the shrine of St. Cuthbert in Chester-le-Street in about 930

Lower Left: Bishop William Carilaph began building a permanent shrine to St. Cuthbert at Durham Cathedral in 1095. Here is shown discussing designs with master craftsmen and masons, the great Cathedral rising in the background.

Upper lights: Portraits of King Alfred, Prior Turgot and Bishop Aldhun.

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Lower right: This panel depicts the young Saint Cuthbert raising his cap in greeting as he enters the monastery of Melrose to become a monk.

Centre: St. Cuthbert was consecrated Bishop of Lindisfarne in 685. He kneels before the Archbishop of Canterbury during the ceremony.

Lower left: St. Cuthbert died on the Farne islands in 687. Here we see three monks praying by his dead body whilst another signals the news to the mainland with burning torches.

Lower centre: The angel’s scroll lists the later Bishops of Hexham from Alchmund to Tidfreth.

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Centre: Saint Aidan sits with an open book on his lap, instructing a group of students gathering around him. One of his pupils was Saint Chad. In case you were wondering, I did most definitely choose to mention this window because there is a reference to Saint Chad, and as a member of St. Chad’s college I almost felt obliged to.

I have just overwhelmed you with pictures of glass-stained windows because I must admit I have taken next to no pictures of the Castle itself. The latter is in fact hardly a castle and more of a luxurious Bishop estate fashioned in Georgian style, which I am not extremely fond of. During our visit we walked past numerous anonymous Spanish paintings, one of which was a portrait of a late Bishop who looked extremely like my College Principal, and a Georgian dining table with a large plastic cake. The visit was however very enjoyable thanks to the very knowledgeable and kind volunteers that offered to tell us all about the premises and offered us ginger wine and minced pies.

We have also encountered some fancy dresses that visitors could play and take pictures with, so this may have happened:

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Needless to say, Blackadder II jokes took over our afternoon. Who’s Queen?

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