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Durham Cathedral, Chapterhouse Gateway

The chapter house invariably opened off the eastern walk of a monastic cloister. Built around 1140 by Bishop Geoffrey Rufus, the chapter house doorway at Durham shows the zigzag – or chevron – ornament typical of Norman architecture. It follows the standard monastic form in having an elaborate portal flanked by a pair of windows. Surviving both the 18th-century destruction and the 19th-century reconstruction of the eastern parts, the doorway remains today as Grimm drew it.

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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