No sanctuary in Durham Cathedral


Sanctuary knocker

“Dear Sir –

I came to visit our (not just your) beautiful cathedral last week. As I was taking a couple of photos without flash a bossy little woman in fancy dress ran up and shouted ‘No photos in the church! No photos in the church!’


Achtung! Verboten, untermensch!

You have flimsy leaflets of information about the cathedral for which you demand £1.50 and visitors have to pay if they want to go up the tower. Why not go the whole hog like St Paul’s in London and get cash machines installed in the main entrance?

I was born and raised in the North East and Durham Cathedral is a part of my heritage and I have helped pay for its upkeep for almost half a century now. I don’t need officious little busybodies with cushy jobs and too much self importance telling me I can’t take photos to remind me of the place when I’m back in godforsaken London.”

That’s the letter I never got round to writing following my most recent trip to Durham. I would have just got a letter back that started, ‘We’re sorry that you had such an unfortunate experience, but we must point out in all fairness that…’ Anyway, I told the woman that I had been about to make a substantial donation but that I had now regrettably changed my mind…

In medieval times fugitives from justice could bang on the famous sanctuary knocker and hang out inside for a while under the protection of the Church. I can imagine myself racing there in about 1365 with the authorities in hot pursuit, intent on giving me a fair trial followed by a slow and public disembowelment. I make it in the nick of time, bang on the knocker and am greeted by this bossy little woman who yells at me ‘F*** OFF!’ before slamming the door in my face.

There is a small group of people there who seem to think they’re the special guardians of the cathedral and I’m sure they’d much rather nobody came at all unless they were making a donation or buying something from the shop. The bloke at the Anglo Saxon relics exhibition upstairs looked like a relic himself, although to be fair he did allow me to take some photos, if only to shoo me away so he could get back to sleep.

I’d like to see Durham Cathedral get back to the state of Old Saint Paul’s, where there was at least a bit of life going on in the transept and God had something interesting to look at rather than just a crowd of middle-class snobs telling him how great He is all the time.

Cathedral exterior

It feels much more like a country club than a church these days, but I’m sure the building has seen it all down the centuries and is not overly concerned. A few twats in fancy dress aren’t going to make much of an impact, come to think of it.

I just detest being told off, I suppose. Like most other things it goes back to school days:

  • Elliott – don’t run in the corridor!
  • Elliott – the day begins at nine, not five past nine!
  • Elliott – stop staring out of the window, lad!

Regrettably, the last words my beloved junior school headmaster addressed to me were ‘Get out of my sight.’ Dear old Mr Freeman looked like a WWII fighter pilot with his pencil moustache, tweeds, pipe and rakish grin. His firm conviction was that learning your tables off by heart would adequately prepare you for anything life could throw at you. He meant well but he was completely wrong of course.

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