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Durham Cathedral, Chapterhouse

The sumptuous decoration of Durham Cathedral's 12th-century chapter house reflects its role as the administrative heart of the Priory. Alas, it fell victim to the disastrous 'improvements' of the architect, James Wyatt who had earlier recommended - and started - the demolition of the Galilee Chapel. In 1796, he had this east end of the chapter house destroyed on the highly unlikely grounds that it was structurally unsound. The clerk of works pulled out the keystone of the arch and the collapse of the roof inevitably followed, leaving Grimm's sketch as a particularly valuable record. Almost a century later, the chapter house was rebuilt, though rather lumpily, re-using some original stonework.

The great and everyday affairs alike of the monastic community were centred on the chapterhouse. Here bishop, prior, monks and senior lay officials met twice daily to exchange information, assign work tasks and agree the policy that ruled the priory. It was a place of power, and sometimes high drama.

Many of the early prince bishops and priors of Durham were buried within the chapterhouse walls until glory overcame modesty and they dared claim a place in the cathedral near the sacred remains of St Cuthbert. When several of the graves in the chapterhouse were excavated in 1874, three contained gold rings set with sapphires were discovered. That of the 12th-century bishop Rannulf Flambard contained a crosier.

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