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.