Open Treasure is the new exhibition space at Durham Cathedral. At a cost of more than £10 million, raised in part through donations to place bricks in an incredible Lego model of the cathedral, the new gallery opened in July 2016. I finally had a chance to have a look around earlier this week and can report that it still has that ‘new museum smell’.
The exhibition begins in the newly restored Monks’ Dormitory. Even if it was empty this would be a breath-taking space. The newly refurbished oak beamed ceiling soars over the huge room. The structure is beautifully lit allowing visitors to appreciate the workmanship which went into constructing the roof from timbers which still have a lot of the tree about them.
Below are immaculately conserved stone treasures from around County Durham. There are Viking influenced hogbacks, Roman inscribed stones, and a large collection of crosses and grave covers from Gainford near Darlington and Brompton near Northallerton. It is a fabulous collection, perfectly lit to bring out the intricacy of the carved bears and beasts, human figures and interlace which decorate the stones. The exhibition is brought to life by interactive displays and video clips with experts explaining the significance of the stones. This part of the exhibition is particularly effective when each expert is asked to explain which is their favourite stone from the collection. The videos beautifully convey their passion and love of their subject.
The exhibition moves on to explain the story of the cathedral. Children will enjoy the interactive section which allows the smells of the cathedral to be experienced. Adults may find the bombardment of tallow, leather and bread fragrances a little overpowering.
Thankfully the next stop is accessed via an airlock. This takes visitors into a gallery of environmentally controlled display cabinets which house a changing collection of objects. To come over the next few months are exhibitors of textiles from the Cathedral’s collection, a display of beasts and monsters depicted in medieval manuscripts and the Treasures of St Cuthbert. If you live in the area this is a very good reason to buy an annual pass to allow you to return for future exhibitions.
The exhibition continues into The Great Kitchen, an octagonal room with a high rib-vaulted ceiling which has a real wow factor. The numerous oak doors give the kitchen the feel of a Harry Potter set, which was partly filmed in the Cathedral.
Open Treasure is a superb addition to the Cathedral which was already a must-see attraction for any visitor to the North East. The changing exhibitions also make it a place for locals to enjoy time and time again.