From serpents to dragons, griffins to unicorns, an array of mysterious creatures will be taking occupancy at Open Treasure in Durham Cathedral.
BEASTS!, the latest temporary exhibition at Open Treasure, tells the story of the weird and wonderful beasts that have fascinated people since the earliest times through displays of medieval manuscripts and early printed books. The exhibition, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, opens on Monday 20 February and runs until Saturday 10 June.
The illustrations of lions and dragons in the manuscripts, and details of sea serpents, wyverns and rhinoceros in early printed books paint a picture of magical myths and realities blurring together. The exhibition also looks at the material ‘evidence’ presented for the existence of griffins and unicorns.
Such objects were often gifted to religious sites or saints shrines, including the Shrine of St Cuthbert, and in 1383 the Durham inventory recorded many of these gifts among the treasures. The exhibition will attempt to recreate part of the collection through a number of items, including a unicorn’s horn, griffin’s eggs and an elephant’s tooth, kindly loaned by Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens. Visitors will also be able to see what may have been one of the original griffin’s claws gifted to St Cuthbert, on loan from the British Museum.
Marie-Thérèse Mayne, Open Treasure Exhibitions Officer, said: “We are thrilled to be continuing our programme of exhibitions at Open Treasure with a look at some of the weird and wonderful creatures that have always fascinated people. We hope that, through exploring the myths and stories about unusual animals, the displays will really capture the imagination of visitors.
“Some of these creatures also have a special link to St Cuthbert and to Durham, and it is exciting to be able to present this fascinating part of our local history to our visitors.”
BEASTS! will be followed by Magna Carta and the Forest Charters from 19 June – 9 September where Durham Cathedral’s three issues of the Magna Carta, including the only surviving copy of the 1216 issue, will be shown alongside their associated Forest Charters.
Entry to BEASTS! is included with entry to Open Treasure. Tickets cost £2.50 – £7.50 (under 5s free) and are available from the Visitor Desk in the Cathedral, the Open Treasure Welcome Desk, and in advance from www.durhamcathedral.co.uk/open-treasure/book