I have a secret love.
Not flesh and bone, but glass and stone; my love is Durham Cathedral.
I have an evangelical passion for this place; wherever I go in the world I sing its praises, and those of this precious gem of a city. I am unable to visit Durham without stepping inside the Cathedral. It calls my name and I am drawn towards it, up the steep bank and past the medieval jumble of shops and cafes on Saddler Street , and along ancient cobbled Owengate. I catch my first glimpse as I approach the elegant open expanse of Palace Green, and it makes me smile.
This is no cold, forbidding ancient space; this Cathedral has a beating heart, a warmth and a joy, its ancient stones embracing all who visit, those of all faiths and those who have none.
This place is both restful and busy, calming and vibrant. In the golden light ladies with armfuls of flowers and greenery bustle back and forth creating floral arrangements for the altar and side chapels; purple-gowned guides and beadles smile and chat to visitors and pilgrims; cassock-clad choristers march in procession on their way to choir practice; a small army of volunteers and listeners attend to those seeking information and those seeking solace.
The footsteps of tourists fall upon marble memorials set amidst the flagstones, all of them too busy looking upwards at the magnificent vaulted ceiling to notice the names of long forgotten souls who rest for eternity beneath their feet.
I watch as candles are lit in memory of lost lives, or perhaps just lost love, and I light my own.
This Cathedral is full of souls, and full of soul.
It’s not a particular architectural feature that draws me back. It’s not the magnificent rose window, a huge kaleidoscope of jewel-coloured glass. It’s not the juxtaposition of the contemporary and the ancient in the Galilee Chapel. It’s not the exquisite tomb of St Cuthbert, for whom the Cathedral was built, with its glittering canopy of red and gold.
It’s not the Durham Light Infantry Chapel nor the Miners Memorial, commemorating those who gave their lives in the pursuit of empire or in defence of the realm, the winning of wars and the winning of coal. Nor is it the sunshine casting shadow-arches on the floor of the Cloister.
It’s nothing that you can touch or see or smell that brings me here. It’s an atmosphere, a feeling which envelopes me as soon as I enter. It can bring me to tears and it makes me smile.
Some talk to God. I talk to the stones and the ghosts of countless others who have loved this place, and they whisper back.
The moment I walk through the ancient doors and step into the warm light, a peace descends. Whatever trouble disturbs my mind is but a speck of dust caught in a sunbeam through the prism of a stained glass window. This place has existed for a thousand years before I was born, and will exist for a thousand years after my ashes have been cast to the four winds. This place has witnessed the joys and sorrows of a million souls, as it has witnessed mine.
This place belongs to me, and I to it. All is well, because I am home.
My love is not flesh and blood, but glass and stone.
You can read more about Durham Cathedral here
For things to see and do in this beautiful city and the surrounding county, check out the This is Durham website.
MY BOOKS (NON-FICTION/HISTORY)
The Horsekeeper’s Daughter (2017)
Above Us The Stars: 10 Squadron Bomber Command – The Wireless Operator’s Story (publication date Summer 2020).