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Head north to Durham for cultural delights

[THIS WEEK] Durham City offers awe-inspiring cultural spectacles, finds James Pallister

A wedding in Northumberland provided a welcome opportunity to catch, just before it closed, the Lindisfarne Gospels exhibition in Durham City. The exhibition placed the production of the gospels (completed around 700AD on the island of Lindisfarne, also known as Holy Island) in the context of the two competing forms of Christianity: the Ionan and the Roman. Unlike the Roman Christians, whose bishops preferred to live in urban centres, the Ionan Irish Christians preferred seclusion, and Lindisfarne, accessed via a causeway (it is similar to Mont Saint-Michel in Brittany), was ideal.

Unfortunately, its location in the North Sea made it easy pickings for Vikings. It was sacked in 793 and the displaced monks left and began a journey which would ultimately see them settle in Dun Holm, now Durham City, where they built their shrine to St Cuthbert and St Bede where the great Norman cathedral now stands. It’s rare that one encounters books older than cathedrals, and it’s a sobering, awe-inspiring experience.

The exhibition took place on Palace Green, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which we accessed from Ove Arup’s Kingsgate Bridge. Such was Arup’s fondness for this elegant Grade I-listed bridge that he requested that his ashes be thrown off it. A bronze bust by Diana Brandenberger of a bespectacled, smiling Arup sits on the adjoining students union building, which is unfortunately showing signs of concrete fatigue.

In November, the city hosts Durham Lumiere, produced by Artichoke, a four-day festival of light with installations throughout the city: a great opportunity to explore the cathedral and the dramatic peninsula which provided refuge for those monks so long ago. Get your tickets early – and pack your hat and scarf.


Durham Lumiere festival of light, 14-17 November 2013

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