Durham Cathedral and a Lost Treasure

Durham Cathedral

Neville Screen and altar at Durham Cathedral.
Photo Credit: Paul Robson

Research Find at Durham Cathedral

While researching for The World of Richard III, I came across a story which stuck in my brain and won’t let go. It sparked my imagination and one day it might find its way into a work of fiction. At times like these, I wish I was a bit like Indiana Jones. I’d love to be the one to find this lost treasure – not to keep it, but to put it back in its proper place, for all the world to see.

Beginnings of Durham Cathedral

From its position high above the River Wear, Durham Cathedral sits sentinel over the surrounding area. Begun in the eleventh century, the cathedral’s roots lie on the Holy Isle of Lindisfarne, where a bishop named Cuthbert became well known. After his death, many miracles were reported at his tomb and he was later canonised. The body was moved first during the invasion of the Danes, but after a period of several more moves finally came to rest at Durham Cathedral.

The Saxon Church that was built to house the saint’s body was later replaced by the Normans. A Benedictine priory was established here, and the Norman foundation stone of the cathedral was put in place in 1093. Said to represent Noah’s Ark in its proportions, most of the church as Richard would have known it had been completed by the fourteenth century.

A Lost Treasure at Durham Cathedral

The Neville Screen was given to Durham Cathedral in the fourteenth century by John Neville, who is buried in the cathedral. The gorgeous screen was built in London and shipped to Newcastle before being brought to Durham where it was painstakingly put together. Originally, the screen would have been brightly painted and gilded. In its niches would have stood more than 100 intricately carved statues. These statues would have graced the screen for many years, and Richard III would have seen them on his visits.

During the Reformation, the statues were taken down and carefully hidden by the monks. It seems as if they have been hidden too well. While there are theories as to where the statues are, they have never been recovered. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be the one who found them? (A girl can dream, right? I doubt that I’d get permission to dig within the cathedral precincts!) It’s possible they still remain in the cathedral somewhere, even today. Hopefully one day this lost treasure will be found.
Durham Cathedral

Durham Cathedral