Artefacts, Castles, Chapels, Durham, Durham Castle, Durham University, English History, History, Medieval Architecture, Medieval History, Norman Chapel, North East, University College, William the Conqueror
Following my previous post of Durham Castle by night, here is a more detailed one featuring photos of my most recent daytime visit. This post will merely highlight my favourite locations within the Castle and those that I deemed more attention-worthy, so please do not expect a comprehensive description by any means.
A bit of history – Evidence shows that the grounds that now host the Norman castle was previously marked by an Anglo-Saxon defensive structure. A large number of British castles were in fact constructed following the Norman Conquest, as it is the case in Dover, London, Exeter, Hasting, Winchester and Pevensey. The construction of Durham Castle as we know it didn’t take place until 1071 upon request of William the Conqueror himself. The project was supervised by Waltheof, Earl of Northumberland, until the latter was executed in 1076 following a rebellion against William.
Durham Castle was of strategic importance both to defend the border against Scottish and Danish invasions and to exert control over the surrounding territories as well as taming English rebellions, which were incredibly common at the time. The Historia Regum, a literary work about the history of the English kings written in 1136, mentions that the Castle was constructed ‘to keep the bishop and his household safe from the attacks of assailants’. This makes sense – Robert de Comines (or Cumin), the first earl of Northumberland appointed by William the Conqueror, was brutally murdered along with his entourage in 1069.
Did you know? – Unlike other castles, Durham Castle was home to Bishops, many of whom altered the castle according to their taste or to the fashion of the time. In 1837, the Castle was however donated to Durham University. It is now home of University College, the oldest of Durham University’s Colleges.
The Tunstall Gallery
The Tunstall Gallery was built in the 16th century as a way to access Tunstall Chapel without having to go through the courtyard. It is now home to some of the Castle’s collections and artefacts, among which a series of weapons, saddles and drums. If you think this is a splendid sight already, wait until you get to have a champagne reception at dusk!
The Norman Chapel
The Normal Chapel is perhaps my favourite place in the whole Castle. Constructed around 1090, it is the city’s oldest building and features an unusual variety of carvings and bas-reliefs. What I found particularly interesting is that, despite quite obviously being a place of worship, it presents carvings of zoomorphic figures, which are reputedly pagan symbols. Similar figures can be found in the Norman Chapel of the Norman Palace of Palermo, in Sicily. Were these figures purely decorative? Could they be linked to the Norman’s pagan heritage? Feel free to advance any suggestions.
The Great Hall
We have finally come to a much clearer picture of Durham Castle’s Great Hall by day. As I have previously mentioned in my last post, University College students are lucky enough to enjoy their meals in this amazing hall every day. The Great Hall as we know it saw its birth in the 13th century, but was however heavily remodelled in the 19th century in occasion of Durham University’s fiftieth anniversary. The latter refurbishment included the addition of stained glass windows and arms of various figures connected with the Bishopric and the University in its early days.