This post was most recently updated on October 31st, 2017
Catholicism in Crisis
For five centuries, Durham was a significant monastery, but by 1530 King Henry VIII had other ideas. The Dissolution of the Monasteries was a major crisis for England’s cathedrals and the monks who lived and worked within them.
Strangely, while other cathedrals were forced to surrender their wealth, disperse their monks and risk demolition or appropriation by a members of Henry’s inner circle, Durham Cathedral was spared. But why?
Put simply, Henry VIII liked the look of it. Brought up in the Catholic faith and married to committed Catholic Catherine of Aragon for 24 years, Henry remained enchanted by the ancient rituals of the Church and attended Catholic services throughout his life.
Durham Cathedral touched some part of Henry and he chose to protect it by dismissing its monks but introducing a dean and chapters.
The tide of anti-Catholic sentiment Henry unleashed during his Dissolution of the Monasteries could not easily be stopped. As decades passed and Tudor kings and queens died, many ordinary Englishmen and women began to rebel against the Catholic Church.
These rebels became known as Puritans and their rejection of the Church went hand in hand with their rejection of the monarchy. Civil war ensued.
Durham Cathedral was badly damaged by the victorious Puritans who established a commonwealth with Oliver Cromwell at its head.
It was used as a prison for a time during the 1650s and then sat derelict for a decade. The Cathedral did not regain its status until the 1660 when Charles II was welcomed back to the throne.