Last weekend, Younger Niece brought her partner for a visit, his first trip to the northeast. Naturally, we took them to the cathedral, despite the crowds who were there for the food fair in the cloisters, and we decided to pay our first visit to the new Open Treasure
Feel free to add inverted commas throughout that phrase. "Open Treasure" is the name the cathedral has given to the revamped gallery space in the Monks' Dormitory, Great Kitchen and connecting passages. It is "new" in the sense that it is now reopened after substantial restoration and consolidation work. But on the one hand, "new" is not what you look for in a medieval cathedral, and on the other, the work will not be complete until the treasures of Saint Cuthbert
are on display (awaiting confirmation that the environment is as it should be). Very proper, but it leaves a hole at the centre of the display, to be filled by memories of what used to be on show in the Treasury (which was once a shadowy vault in which a whalebone lay disregarded, and is now a very glitzy shop).
Also, of course, "open" doesn't mean free access. There is a charge (prices here
; I'd say it's dear for what you currently see, not too bad when the exhibition is complete, very reasonable as a one-year season ticket price). We had intended to wait, but I wanted to see the current exhibition of textiles, which includes Grayson Perry's Death of a Working Hero
- though "includes" does not mean that the piece is within the gallery: it stands slightly outside the main display space, so that you turn away from it to pay at the admission desk opposite - and having done so, are likely to overlook it. Only as I emerged from the airlock into the textile exhibition did I realise that I had missed it (and the rest of the party didn't believe me, until we reached the end of the tour). It's worth going back for.
The main gallery space in the Monks' Dormitory is bright and airy, and the various carved stones displayed there look good. I've heard complaints that this has been achieved by removing what was previously a library, but surely library access could be allowed elsewhere? There are touch screens inviting the visitor to explore the display further, but since they only repeat the information on the labels, this is disappointing. I wanted to know, for example, about the hogbacked tombstones: what were the animals carved on them, could they possibly be bears? (Wikipedia says "yes".
) And what about the modern statue of Saint Cuthbert in the centre of the room, did the sculptor not deserve a credit? I asked one of the attendants, who produced her printed briefing: unfortunately this contained only the information on the labels in yet another fornat (luckily one of the attendants downstairs heard me complaining about this and, referring to her handwritten notes, was able to point me to Tim Chalk
The Great Kitchen is a splendid space. It was worth a visit even during its period as Cathedral bookshop, and now, stripped back and renovated, it is magnificent. Pity the view is obstructed by the huge, temperature and humidity controlled showcases - but perhaps I will feel more positive about these when they hold, as one day I hope they will, Saint Cuthbert's coffin, the Sanctuary Knocker, the Conyers Falchion
. At present they contain miscellaneous church plate, which leaves me cold - plus one final treat, the 'Alvis Cross', an enamelled cross
found on the site of the battle of Neville's Cross.
Overall? A work in progress.