Doors of the UK – Durham Part 1

The medieval city centre of Durham has enough interesting doors to warrant its own series of door images.

Durham Cathedral is situated in the heart of the City of Durham, and it is a pilgrimage destination for thousands of visitors to north-east England, many who come to visit the shrine of St. Cuthbert. The cathedral started construction in 1093, during the early years of the Norman conquest. The Bishops of Durham were known as prince-bishops, which meant that they had civil authorities in addition to their ecclesiastical role. This included the right to levy taxes and duties, administer their own laws, and raise their own armies. There was no division of authority between the church and the state in this region until Henry VIII became king and diminished the power of the bishops.

Durham Cathedral was built in the Romanesque style and still retains many of these features. These architectural features include the use of semi-circular arches and chevron decoration of the stonework, both of which can be seen in these first two images. Unfortunately, photography is not permitted inside the cathedral, so you will have to make a personal visit to see what lies behind these grand doors.

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Durham Cathedral side entrance
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Durham Cathedral main entrance

The cathedral and much of the surrounding area has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. This includes Durham Castle and Durham University. Theological teaching began in Durham during the reign of Henry VIII, and the University of Durham was officially recognized as a university in 1832 – the third oldest in England after Oxford and Cambridge.

There are several doors that face onto the Palace green, located between the cathedral and the castle, some of which are shown in the following images. These are my contributions to this week’s Thursday Doors, hosted by Norm Frampton. See the links on Norm’s blog site for other door contributors.

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Durham University Library
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elevenses outside the library
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the bishop’s library
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mystery door

The Devil’s Door

Early Anglo-Saxon churches in the UK often had a north door entrance to the nave of the church. Although not considered to be significant at the time, later medieval superstitions led to the north door of a church being known as “The Devil’s Door.”

The Devil’s Door was intended to be left open during any infant baptisms in the church, so that any evil spirits could escape as the child was christened. In medieval times, the north side of the church was considered to be the “sinister” side (Latin: sinestre = left), the side where the evil spirits could hide in the shadows of the building. Following the Reformation (1530s), many of these doors were removed or blocked up.

The north side of a church yard had similar connotations, as it was sometimes used for the burial of suicides, criminals, and infants who had not been baptised.

I learned all of this while visitng Escomb Saxon Church near Bishop Auckland, England. Escomb Church is considered to be the best preserved Anglo-Saxon church in England. The following images of the church are my contribution to this week’s Thursday Doors blog, published by Norm Frampton.

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the devil’s door
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the north exterior wall
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the south entry to Escomb Saxon Church
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interior of Escomb Saxon Church

Doors of the UK – Church Doors

Our recent trip to the UK included visits to many older churches. One of our first stops was at the Kilmartin House Museum, located south of Oban on the west coast of Scotland. This museum displays some of the 5,000 years of human history in this area, and is well worth a visit. The Kilmartin Parish Church is next door to the museum. The purple church doors were attractive, while the sign “To the Stones” was intriguing. Alas, not the Rolling Stones, but the stones that were on display in the graveyard included a well-preserved collection of early grave slabs. Two late-medieval grave slabs with interesting geometric designs are illustrated here.

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Kilmartin Parish Church
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early 18th Century grave slabs

Travelling north-west from Oban we visited the island of Iona and the Iona Abbey.  The abbey is located on the site of the original monastery established by Columba, who arrived here from Ireland in AD 563. The Book of Kells was started by the monks of Iona, before they had to retreat to Ireland to escape Viking raids.

Next door to the abbey is St. Oran’s Chapel, a simple church structure that was orignally built around 1150. The Romanesque arched doorway is original, although the chapel was abandoned for 100’s of years, and was only recently restored at the same time as the abbey. Surrounding the chapel is Relig Odhráin (Gaelic for Oban), which is a graveyard that has been used for over 1,400 years. Iona is the symbolic centre of Scottish Christianity, and many Scottish kings have been buried in this graveyard.

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St. Oran’s Chapel
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St. Oran’s Chapel door

Hexham Abbey is another site of an early Anglo-Saxon monastery, founded in the old Kingdom of Northumbria in AD 674-8 by St. Wilfrid. The abbey is located in Hexham, England, in proximity to Hadrian’s Wall. The only remaining portion of the original monastery is the crypt, which is lined with stones recycled from a nearby abandoned Roman fort.

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the view from the crypt at Hexham Abbey

This is my contribution to Norm’s Thursday Doors for the week of October 18. To see what other contributors have posted, check out Norm’s blog post here.

Doors of the UK – Holy Island

I have recently returned from a month of travels in the UK. In addition to the many new experiences we enjoyed on this trip, I have  a new collection of doors to share with others who participate in Norm’s Thursday Doors every week.

Holy Island – also known as Lindisfarne – is a tidal island located off the east coast of Northumberland. Being a tidal island means that it is accessible by car over a one-mile long causeway during low tides, but otherwise only accessible by boat. The Holy Island HM Coastguard is kept active by having to rescue motorists from their stranded cars when they attempt to make the crossing during high tides. About a dozen cars have been stranded during the summer months over the past three years.

The Holy Island Coastguard are a team of eight volunteers. Their all-terrain vehicle and equipment are stored in this shed, which is located near the harbour.

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Holy Island Coastguard shed

There are many boats in the harbour and along the shoreline, including several fishing boats. Some of the older boat hulls have been repurposed as sheds, such as this one with the lucky horseshoe on the door.

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fishing boat shed

Lindisfarne is best known as an important historic monastic site. The first monastery was founded here in 635 AD when King Oswald invited an Irish monk named Aidan to travel east from Iona to introduce Irish Christianity to the northern kingdoms of the resident Anglo-Saxons. A cult later developed around the relics of St. Cuthbert, who served as the bishop of Lindisfarne in the late 7th Century. The Lindisfarne Gospels were created by the monks of Lindisfarne in the early 8th Century, but Viking raids beginning in 793 reduced the prominence of the church on the island.

The church regained its stature on the island after the Norman conquest of 1066, and Lindisfarne Priory was constructed about 1150. In 1537, about 400 years later, the priory was closed on the orders of King Henry VIII, and was abandoned. The ruins of the priory are a popular tourist destination, and the site is managed by English Heritage. You can imagine that there may have been a pair of impressive doors located in the archway that now serves as the entrance to the priory grounds.

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Lindisfarne Priory

A Visit to Stratford – Part 2

The evolution of the use of older church buildings is an interesting study topic. Originally built as places of worship during the early growth of towns and cities, churches were imposing structures funded and constructed by community members. Over time, as local congregations have moved on, and religion has lost some of its relevance, increasing numbers of church buildings have become surplus and may be re-purposed.

The church located at 70 Brunswick Street in Stratford is a good example. According to one source, it was originally named the Congregational Church when it was built in 1873-1874. Congregational churches comprised Protestant groups arising from Puritanism, and were organized on the principle that each congregation should be autonomous. Many congregational churches later joined with other churches in the creation of the United Church of Canada in 1925. At some point in time, this church was named the Mackenzie Memorial Gospel Church.

About 40 years ago, the church was re-purposed as The Church Restaurant, and offered fine dining to local residents and theatre goers. In 2015, the church and restaurant were sold to new owners, and the premises were renamed Revival House. There are three components: Revival, a street-level event space; Chapel, a second-floor gastro pub; and Confession, a small balcony VIP lounge. After the restaurant re-opened, a leak was discovered in the roof. A group of local musicians assisted the owners in organizing a fund-raising event to help pay for a new roof.

Community support to build the original church in the 1800’s has evolved into community funding for the repair of a restaurant and event space in the 21st Century! The new roof can be seen in the accompanying image.

The hinges on the front doors are also noteworthy. Apparently, the ironwork on the doors was crafted by workers at the Grand Trunk Railway, which later became the Canadian National Railway, at their shops based in Stratford.

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Revival House

During our visit, we found a door oddity on Wellington Street in downtown Stratford. This image of a horse (at least I think it is a horse and not a mule) could be attributed to an aspect of the history of the city: either as an “iron horse,” to early railway buffs; or a role in a Shakespeare play, as there are references to horses in several of the bard’s plays. I chose the latter. I also found this Shakespeare quote about a painted horse, which may or may not be relevant.

Look, when a painter would surpass the life,
In limning out a well-proportion’d steed,
His art with nature’s workmanship at strife,
As if the dead the living should exceed;
So did this horse excel a common one,
In shape, in courage, colour, pace and bone.

Perhaps another visit to Stratford is warranted to inquire into the origins of this door. For more encounters with doors, be sure to check out other contributions to Norm’s Thursday Doors.

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the painted horse

Doors of southern France – Part 2

This is the second half of my collection of doors from southern France, and this week’s contribution to Norm’s Thursday Doors.

We begin with another door from Narbonne – this one more institutional than the doors included in Part 1. Someone has gone to a lot of work to preserve the finish on these two wood doors. The two gargoyles are also quite well preserved.

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Office door in Narbonne

The glazed door is from a hotel in Avignon. The glazing and the opened door make this entrance much more inviting than any of the other doors – but then, for a hotel to be successful, this is a good feature to have.

Avignon is well known as the site of the Pont d’Avignon, located on the Rhone River. Several popes resided in Avignon in the 14th Century, and parts of the city are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, making it a popular tourist attraction.

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Hotel door in Avignon

The third door is from Les Baux-de-Provence, another historic village in southern France. Baux is a hilltop village that has been inhabited for thousands of years. There are typically more tourists than villagers in town on most days.

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Old door in Les Baux-de-Provence

The largest set of doors in my French collection belong to the Church of Saint-Trophime in Arles. The church is well known as a good example of Romanesque architecture – note the round arch above the doors – as are the sculptures on the portal.

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Church of Saint-Trophime, Arles