Durham Castle and Cathedral


Heritage Category:
World Heritage Site
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Date first listed:
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Durham Cathedral was built between the late 11th and early 12th century to house the bodies of St. Cuthbert and the Venerable Bede. It attests to the importance of the early Benedictine monastic community and is the largest and finest example of Norman architecture in England. The innovative audacity of its vaulting foreshadowed Gothic architecture. The Cathedral lies within the precinct of Durham Castle, first constructed in the late eleventh century under the orders of William the Conqueror. The Castle was the stronghold and residence of the Prince-Bishops of Durham, who were given virtual autonomy in return for protecting the northern boundaries of England, and thus held both religious and secular power. The original inscription only included the Cathedral and Castle but subsequently it was extended to include part of the Castle precinct within which are later buildings of the Durham Palatinate, reflecting the Prince-Bishops' civic responsibilities and privileges. These include the Bishop's court (now a library), almshouses, and schools. Palace Green, a large open space connecting the various buildings of the site once provided the Prince Bishops with a venue for processions and gatherings befitting their status, and is now still a forum for public events.

This is a cultural World Heritage Site in England. It is located at N54 46 29 W1 34 34 and measures 8.79 hectares.

There is a Management Plan for the World Heritage Site (November 2006) and a World Heritage Site Coordinator responsible for implementation of the objectives and action plan. A Steering Group made up of key stakeholders oversees World Heritage activities. Worship continues in the Cathedral and the Castle is an integral part of the University of Durham. In 2008 the World Heritage Committee approved a boundary modification to unite the two halves of the World Heritage Site and to include part of the Castle precinct within which are later buildings of the Durham Palatinate, reflecting the Prince-Bishops' civic responsibilities and privileges. These include the Bishop's court (now a library), almshouses, and schools and Palace Green open space.

Statement of Significance

The property has exceptional architecture demonstrating architectural innovation;

The visual drama of the Cathedral and Castle on the peninsula and the associations of the site with notions of romantic beauty;

The physical expression of the spiritual and secular powers of the medieval Bishops Palatine that the defended complex provides;

The relics and material culture of the three saints buried at the site. The continuity of use and ownership of the site over the past 1000 years as a place of religious worship, learning and residence;

The site's role as a political statement of Norman power imposed upon a subjugate nation, as one of the country's most powerful symbols of the Norman Conquest of Britain;

The importance of the site's archaeological remains, which are directly related to the site's history and continuity of use over the past 1000 years;

The cultural and religious traditions and historical memories associated with the relics of St Cuthbert and the Venerable Bede, and with the continuity of use and ownership of the site over the past millennium.


This entry is compiled from information provided by UNESCO who hold the official record for all World Heritage Sites at their Paris Head Quarters. This entry is provided for information only and those requiring further assistance should contact the World Heritage Centre at UNESCO.

Criterion (ii): Durham Cathedral is the largest and most perfect monument of 'Norman' style architecture in England. The small castral chapel for its part marks a turning point in the evolution of 11th century Romanesque sculpture.

Criterion (iv): Though some wrongly considered Durham Cathedral to be the first 'Gothic' monument (the relationship between it and the churches built in the Ile-de-France region in the 12th century is not obvious), this building, owing to the innovative audacity of its vaulting, constitutes, as do Spire [Speyer] and Cluny, a type of experimental model which was far ahead of its time.

Criterion (vi): Around the relics of Cuthbert and Bede, Durham crystallized the memory of the evangelising of Northumbria and of primitive Benedictine monastic life.


Statement of Outstanding Universal Value

Draft Statements of Outstanding Universal Value have been submitted by DCMS in February 2011 for consideration by the World Heritage Committee.

World Heritage Site inscribed by the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO in 1986.

End of official listing

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