Saint Cuthbert’s Shrine
Because of Cuthbert’s fame, and his miracle working, visitors flocked to Durham to see his shrine.
Many left gifts behind them. "It was estimated to be one of the most sumptuous monuments in all England, so great were the offerings and Jewels that were bestowed upon it, and no less the miracles that were wrought at it ".
Under the shrine there were four seats for Pilgrims or the lame or sick to rest.
The shrine was situated behind the Main altar in Durham Cathedral.
The shrine became more elaborate with more decoration and jewels. John Neville paid for a stone screen to be erected. There were niches in it for dozens of alabaster statues of saints.
On St Cuthbert’s Feast day in Lent (March 20th) the cover of the shrine was raised which caused six silver bells to ring to draw people in the church to the shrine. The cover was gilded and the top had, "carved work cut out with Dragons and other beasts most artificially wrought".
On the East end there was a painting "of our saviour sitting on a rainbow to give judgement very lively to ye beholders". On the West end, "Ye picture of Our Lady and Our savour on her knee".
Cuthbert was the Patron Saint who protected the Northumbrians. Most English kings going into battle against the Scots would call and pray at Cuthbert’s tomb.
The Danish king of England Cnut walked barefoot to the shrine.
Nearly every English monarch in the Middle Ages visited Durham.
Henry III tried to steal the treasure kept at the Shrine.
At the time of the Reformation it was ordered that shrines should be destroyed.
Commissioners Lee, Henley and Blythman came to Durham. They ordered a Goldsmith to break open the coffin which he did with a great hammer. He broke the leg of the body but could not pass down the bones, "for the sinews and skins held it that it would not come asunder." The body was placed in the vestry to await the King’s orders.
The Commissioners brought lapidaries with them to value the jewels on the shrine. The precious stones were broken off. One alone was, "worth in value a King’s ransom."
On December 31st 1540 Durham priory was ended. In May 1541 the Dean and Chapter of Durham was established. The last prior, Hugh Whithead, became the first Dean.
In November 1541 Cuthbert’s shrine was taken down. The body was taken from the vestry and buried beneath a plain slab on the site of the old shrine.