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St Cuthbert

First and foremost, Durham was the site of the shrine of St Cuthbert, greatest of the Northern saints. During the three centuries after his death, Viking raids forced the saint’s body to be moved several times before its eventual 'guidance' to his final resting-place in 995.

The presence of Cuthbert's remains was the fount of the prince bishop's spiritual authority: the exploitation of his cult, an important source of their revenue. Pilgrimage was big business for both cathedral and city.

After the assassination of Thomas à Becket in 1170, the supremacy of St Cuthbert as a national and regional saint was challenged by the growing popularity of the Canterbury martyr. In Durham, Bishop Puiset responded with a programme of artistic and architectural refurbishment designed to offer pilgrims an awe-inspiring experience: altars draped in sumptuous cloths and set with glittering liturgical plate, vestments embroidered with pearls and jewels. An imposing chapel was built to house Cuthbert's remains and a new history of the saint's life issued - complete with accounts of the latest miracles at his shrine.

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