Durham Cathedral--page 6 (of six pages): The Galilee Chapel (or Lady Chapel)

c. 1175-80

Technically, this addition is like a porch, but also a "lady chapel," although it was unusual to build a lady chapel at the west end of a church (The attempt at the east end had been unsuccessful.) While the main body of the Cathedral is characteristically Romanesque--that is, solid and massive, the Galilee Chapel is much more delicate and lighter. It is, of course, smaller and lower (and precariously extending on the edge of the cliff) but because it was constructed between 1175-80, several decades after the completion of the main cathedral, it illustrates the transition to the new Gothic style. The columns, for example, are slender and graceful and the decorated arches have with zigzag edges adding to a sense of lightness. Some scholars suggest there may have even been an influence of Islamic buildings from Andalusia. (See The Mezquita, for example.)

Entrance to the Galilee Chapel from the main nave


Painted drapery and portraits of Saints Cuthbert and Oswald


The Galilee Chapel

The west entrance door was blocked during the Medieval period by an altar to the Virgin Mary and is now blocked by the tomb of Bishop Langley. Thus one does not enter the cathedral from the west but from the northwest end. The chapel also contains the tomb of the Venerable Bede, the marble edge of which is seen in the left photograph.

The chapel is divided into five aisles with arcades of four bays. The round-headed arches are elaborately chevroned and supported on slender quatrefoil piers with twin shafts.

Altar with remnants of mural paintings--the Apostles as martyrs, dying for their faith

The wall paintings in the Galilee Chapel give some indication as to what Durham Cathedral would have looked to prior to the 16th century, when the building was whitewashed. This scene probably dates from the 13th or 14th century.

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© 2015 Mary Ann Sullivan. I have photographed (on site), scanned, and manipulated all the images on these pages. Please feel free to use them for personal or educational purposes. They are not available for commercial purposes.