Just one month after it opened its doors to the public, Durham Cathedral’s £10.9million Open Treasure exhibition experience has welcomed huge numbers of visitors.
Over 5,500 visitors from across the globe have visited Open Treasure since the doors were unlocked on Saturday 23 July.
Dean of Durham, The Very Rev Andrew Tremlett, said: “We are delighted with the number of people who have visited Open Treasure so far and also with the wonderful feedback that we have received from so many of those who have been through this fabulous exhibition experience.
“Our aim was to attract around 60,000 visitors in the first year rising to 120,000 by the end of our 10 year plan. We are therefore delighted that in this inaugural month, figures are ahead of schedule and rising.”
As a development project with a paid-for entry policy, Open Treasure will help to maintain free entry to Durham Cathedral, the ultimate ‘Open Treasure’ and one of the world’s most beautiful cathedrals, located at the heart of the Durham UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Within the next 10 years, Open Treasure is set to attract 120,000 visitors annually, which is around one fifth of total visitors to the Cathedral. Open Treasure has also created 22 jobs and 400 volunteering opportunities as well as opportunities for contractors and suppliers and was supported by a £3.9million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
In a leading example of how to boost the economic viability of churches and cathedrals, this brand new development has formed part of a wider plan to increase Durham Cathedral’s income, through the redevelopment of the Cathedral Shop and Undercroft Restaurant, a programme of events to attract more visitors, as well as extended outreach work to broaden the range and demographic of visitors the Cathedral engages with.
The Dean added: “Here at Durham Cathedral we pride ourselves on our free entry policy, but just like any ancient building, we have important maintenance work to do and overheads to meet. We therefore took the decision to charge a modest entry fee for Open Treasure.
“Open Treasure and the wider project it forms a part of are an essential part of us becoming more financially viable and in doing so, ensuring that this majestic place of sanctuary and pilgrimage can remain freely open to all who wish to visit, as well as ensuring that we play our part in maintaining this 923 year old building for future generations.”
Open Treasure gives visitors access to the Cathedral’s buildings and collections as never before, telling the story of the Cathedral’s own life and the history of Christianity in the North East of England. Embracing the latest in exhibition technology, Open Treasure combines old with new as visitors enjoy the most up-to-date, interactive experience, as they journey through the most intact surviving medieval monastic buildings in the UK.
Among the permanent exhibits in the 14th Century Monks’ Dormitory, is an extensive collection of Celtic, Anglo-Saxon and Roman stones and casts, including the impressive, towering crosses that loom high over visitors’ heads as they enter the space. A timeline of the Cathedral’s history and interactive exhibits detailing 14th Century monastic life at the Cathedral complete the displays in this beautiful space.
In the newly created Collections Gallery, a rolling programme of exhibitions from Durham Cathedral’s own collections will be complemented at a later date by exhibitions and displays of collections and artefacts from other prestigious institutions.
Sitting under the magnificent vaulted octagonal ceiling of the Great Kitchen, a series of glass cases will eventually house the Treasures of St Cuthbert, including fragments of his wooden coffin and his Pectoral Cross. These precious Anglo-Saxon treasures will go into the exhibition in around one year’s time, following a period of monitoring to ensure the bespoke exhibition cases are maintaining the correct environment such precious objects require. Ahead of this, a display of stunning metalwork has been mounted, including elaborately decorated altar crosses, archaeological finds of medieval metal and objects associated with the Prince Bishops.
The new exhibition experience is complemented by an on-going programme of public events and educational activities which offer further opportunities for people of all ages to learn about the region’s rich heritage. Participants in this programme will have the opportunity to create their own responses to the Cathedral and its collections, with their work being displayed in the new Community Gallery space at the end of the exhibition experience.