Research towards publishing a monograph on the construction history of the cathedral by detailed measurements and surveys of extant built fabric and production of a digital plan to the nearest millimetre.
Durham cathedral is unique in the history of European cathedrals on seven counts. It is one of the first churches to employ structural rib vaults which are rivalled only by the crypt in Saintes in central France, the Christchurch crypt in England and the choir of Lessay in Normandy.
These ribs were all vaulted in the 1090s. Durham cathedral has an intricate motif of interlaced arcades in the aisles at ground level which have no equal until 1100. The aisles piers alternate between compound piers with responds and large drum piers decorated with Norman decoration of lozenges, zigzags and flutes all precisely carved as a repeating pattern into the individual stones. The vault and arcade ribs have been intricately detailed with a chevron pattern that displays an understanding of complex spatial arrangements and also demonstrates a marked improvement in the craft of stone cutting. Underneath the timber roof at the tribune level stone arches are found to be functioning similarly to a flying buttress, one of the earliest examples. The ground level windows are surprisingly wide for this era of cathedrals, and the seventh point is that the rolls and scotias of the arches are more detailed and complicated than any earlier example.
The floor plan of the cathedral would have been laid out on the site using strings and straight edges, therefore there does not exist any documented original blue prints. In some cases tracery details for windows were inscribed into a tracing floor, a layer of soft plaster spread across the flagging of a nearby hall. As for the smaller repetitive elements such as the piers and the mouldings, they were carved according to the timber templates. These templates were drawn up by the master mason using his constructive geometric techniques and could be exactly reproduced as the need arose. This ensured that no matter what stage of the construction of a pier or whether a template was damaged or lost, the stone would be cut to the same profile, defined by a series of geometric steps.
Co-author and Research Assistant:
Author: JOHN JAMES
Photography: JOHN JAMES
C19th Floor Plan: JOHN BILSON
Research scholarship 2005
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