It’s early September, and school starts a new academic year. Does your school look like Hogwarts? This sunlit cloister of Durham Cathedral in England looks a lot like Hogwarts, Harry Potter’s school, because parts of the Harry Potter movies were filmed here.
Rendered here in a sepia-toned, black and white photograph, we can appreciate the sunlight and shadows of the Norman architecture. I recall similar architecture at the University of Sydney in Australia.
Roaming around Durham Cathedral in Northeast England, I was busy learning about Norman architecture, the imprisonment of the Scots in the Cathedral and the bishop-princes appointed by William the Conquerer. But there was over a thousand years of history made here, and scores more facts to absorb.
Then, my attention was drawn to some unmarked tombs just outside the Cathedral.
Later research on the web provided the names of a bishop, a priest and a dean of the Cathedral buried outside the walls, but there are many more tombs than three, leaving the mystery of the tomb’s identity or date unsolved.
Perhaps it is better to consider this site a place for meditation and prayer. The questions raised by death and the what happens to each of us after death have vexed the human mind for millennia. It may benefit us more to reflect on the human condition and our questions about life after death than to seek the identity of any one particular grave.
When you compare the meaning of “sanctuary” in 12 c. England to 21 c. America, you might wonder about 21 century America under President Donald Trump. This year migrants are cross the American border from Mexico, seeking sanctuary from unsafe conditions, and are met with incarceration and separation from their children. Many of us Americans oppose this policy and wonder what has become of American values, in particularly freedom, individual rights and the pursuit of happiness. With these current events in mind, I was particularly touched by the mercy demonstrated in this tidbit of history from Durham Cathedral.
In 12th century England, criminals could seek sanctuary in Durham Cathedral by knocking on this bronze knocker and hanging on to it until they were admitted. “Fugitives were given 37 days to organize their affairs. They had to decide with to stand trial or to leave the country by the nearest port.” (Quote from a sign on the Cathedral wall.)
Please note, the Cathedral provided sanctuary to criminals, not migrants, but the concept of sanctuary and mercy is cause for reflection.
Inside Durham Castle, where Durham University students live during the school year, photography is not allowed. That’s too bad in my opinion, because I’d love to share with you the beautiful Norman chapel, 14 century Great Hall and more. Instead, I can share a story with you.
The grand Black Staircase curiously has pineapples carved into the wooden banister. Pineapples in England? Yes, you see it was very hard to grow a pineapple in England, and so fresh pineapples were very expensive. Back in the day, you would do your guest a great honor to serve pineapple, while at the same time, the host would have his wealth and status on display. In fact, there were stories about the Prince Bishop who lived here displaying a real pineapple as a centerpiece, and then serving a fruit that resembled pineapple, in the hope that guests might assume it was pineapple. In fact, the carved pineapple doesn’t really look much like a pineapple, so perhaps the artist had never seen one.
Finding this tale rather humorous, I asked our guide if this grand gesture of honoring a guest by serving pineapple might be the origin of the pineapple as a symbol of welcome or hospitality. (The pineapple is described this way in Newport, Rhode Island, where it also serves as a symbol of the town.) Our castle guide didn’t know the answer, but I have a good hunch about it.
Have you heard of a Prince Bishop? As the story goes, there were three earls in Northumberland. Two earls dueled and killed each other, and the third one rebelled against the king, so the English King Henry VIII had the great idea to appoint bishops as princes, give them taxing authority. They minted coins and organized an army. Not surprisingly, the bishops were fine with this idea.
For more stories, stay tuned. There is an interesting story tied to the door knocker of the Durham Cathedral, where again no photographs were permitted.
I spent the day exploring Durham, England. I caught the train from Newcastle, and walked into town, finding the central square and market. Strolling up the road, I took some photos of lovely storefronts and stopped into a few shops. (I should have titled this piece “Shopping Durham,” as my “shopping” blog posts are the most popular!)
I explored the beautiful Castle and Cathedral – more on those in the next few blog posts! One of the outdoor cafe tables at Cafe on the Green, between the Castle and the Cathedral called my name. My guidebook and journal kept me company during lunch. Then, I had the good instinct to cross the River Wear and walk along the far side, looking up at the town and the Cathedral in its summer greenery. Why? I realized that the Cathedral facade would be lit by the afternoon sun.
I was even able to position myself just right so the construction cloth over the tower that is under restoration was blocked by the leaves. It was a beautiful and peaceful afternoon, part of an unusually sunny summer of 2018.