In A Bishop of Two Peoples: William of St. Calais and the Hybridization of Architecture in Eleventh-Century Durham, Meg Bernstein considers England's Durham Cathedral alongside the nearly contemporaneous Norman Chapel, located in the bishop's palace adjacent to the cathedral. Both were commissioned by Bishop William of St. Calais, the second Norman-appointed bishop of Durham. Bernstein argues that the dramatically different formal styles of the two buildings reflect politically motivated choices the bishop made following the Norman cultural conquest of England after 1066. While the cathedral is recognizably hybrid, recalling Anglo-Saxon formal motifs applied to a Norman plan, the castle chapel draws straight from the milieu of the duchy of Normandy. In particular, the chapel's stone capitals were most likely made in Normandy and brought to England by the bishop. This article seeks to provide context for the cathedral where it has been lost and to draw conclusions about the chapel's commission within the context of the Norman colonization of England.
Thomas Girtin's romantic, loosely rendered watercolor and pencil drawing Durham Cathedral and Castle (ca. 1800) shows an imposing pair of buildings rising above a river, an arched bridge, and groups of chimneyed houses (Figure 1).1 While the houses are cast in shadow and visually blended together, the castle at left and the cathedral to its right are dramatically lit and more fully articulated. In contrast to the movement of people and livestock across the bridge and the water flowing down the river, falling and splashing in the foreground, the castle and cathedral anchor the scene and give a sense of how these buildings together dominated medieval Durham.
As Girtin's image shows, Durham was home to two structures that together served as the spiritual and administrative center of the north of England after the Norman Conquest in 1066 (Figure 2). The scholarly literature of the past hundred years has focused mainly on the cathedral (Figure 3).2 The castle is often overlooked, to the detriment of an understanding of Durham as an environment fraught with complex power relations between the bishop and the Anglo-Saxon laity.3 This article considers the close relationship between these two buildings, focusing on the castle's so-called Norman Chapel to see what insight it may provide into the patronage and architectural iconography of the complex as a whole (Figure 4). My aim in analyzing the chapel and cathedral together is to sharpen our understanding of the careful crafting and political ramifications of Norman visual language; these buildings illustrate the situation-specific ways in which that language was deployed. Consideration of these structures as a pair provokes questions that study of the cathedral alone does not: about architecture's role in expressing and navigating royal–religious political dynamics and about the deployment of architecture in the consolidation and expansion of power.
Each building's design was informed by its presumptive audience. The cathedral was planned as a public space, and it spoke to members of the larger public in a language they could understand and appreciate. The castle's Norman Chapel, on the other hand, was a private space catering only to the small group of elites, and it spoke only to them. Yet both buildings had the same patron: the second Norman-appointed bishop of Durham, William of St. Calais (1030–96, r. 1080–96). Bishop William is well known for his role as initiator of the new Romanesque Durham Cathedral in 1093; this information comes from Symeon of Durham, who wrote in 1105 that the bishop ordered the destruction of the existing church and the laying of new foundation stones.4 Less well known is the history of the castle chapel, which represents an intentionally pure Norman style uninflected by Anglo-Saxon architecture. Bishop William's involvement with these two architecturally disparate buildings casts light on his political ambitions and on his relationship with Normanitas, or Norman cultural identity.
Normanitas, a term that comes up frequently in the literature about Norman identity and self-perception, refers to the ways in which the people we call Normans viewed themselves. It is a complicated mind-set to reconstruct, given the tension between these people's assimilation with and resistance to France, their political entanglements over the English throne, and their incursions into Sicily and elsewhere.5 Historian David Bates has critiqued the term's use as vague and thus unhelpful, arguing that “identity cannot be understood without reference to the history of power.”6 I propose that when power structures are taken into consideration, Normanitas can be understood not as a monolithic identity but as a set of identities through which Norman elites established their cultural position in relation to their subjects. In terms of art and architecture, Normanitas is manifested in a distinct visual vocabulary, one deployed in different ways, depending on the audience. The unfettered expression of Normanitas effected by Bishop William in the castle's chapel suggests that the patron was disinterested in assimilating to his new homeland and still considered Norman visual language to be superior. And yet, while Normanitas could have been used to erase the cathedral's Anglo-Saxon visual heritage, it was employed there with great caution, put in conversation with Anglo-Saxon motifs as a means of pacifying the rebellious northerners.
In Durham, the decades following the Norman Conquest constituted a politically charged period in which those put in power by the Normans utilized architecture to further the Norman cultural conquest. The notion of hybridity, developed by the linguist Mikhail Bakhtin and popularized within postcolonial studies by Homi Bhabha, can be applied to illuminate the conditions of architectural production in post-Conquest England. As art historians Carolyn Dean and Dana Leibsohn note, hybridity “is usually understood to designate specific by-products of European expansion” and thus reflects the coming together of the “European” and the “non-European.”7 To think of the Norman Conquest in England as a colonial enterprise is precarious, because colonialism is typically fraught with racialized connotations having to do with the categorization and mixing of distinct bodies. There is no Anglo-Norman “mestizo”—Norman dominance was not racial, and intermarriage was not stigmatized or rigidly differentiated within a hierarchy of social relations. The offspring of those relationships were not considered racially inferior.
The concept of hybridity is most useful when disparate power relations between colonizer and colonized are emphasized. As literary scholar Jeffrey Jerome Cohen notes, “Hybridity does not indicate some peaceful melding of colonizer and colonized. … It neither obliterates nor supersedes the histories it intermingles.”8 In Durham's case, the stylistic contrast between chapel and cathedral—one private and one public—gives evidence of Bishop William's political machinations. Standing less than 200 meters from the castle's chapel and constructed roughly contemporaneously, the cathedral exemplifies the role played by hybridity in the Norman military and post-Conquest campaign waged by elites to gain and maintain control of England. Formally distinct from the chapel, the cathedral utilizes Norman-derived monumental scale and elevation composition with bay divisions but places visual priority on Anglo-Saxon surface decoration and arcading (Figure 5). William's interest in displaying the integration of cultures is thus apparent in the outward-facing architecture of the cathedral. Meanwhile, in the private space of his chapel, William emphasized Norman style and Normanitas.
Postcolonial theory has proved itself a useful lens for students of medieval culture, particularly in reference to the Norman Conquest.9 Yet postcolonial approaches remain novel in the study of post-Conquest architecture. Scholars have described the process by which Normans subdued the Anglo-Saxons after the 1066 invasion as one of “colonialism”; here, the phrase cultural conquest seems more appropriate, and it still leaves space for a postcolonial critique of the topic.10 Eventually, Anglo-Saxons and Normans intermarried, and by the mid-twelfth century, distinctions between the two cultures were barely acknowledged. But even in the eleventh century, when this cultural convergence was still fresh, its constituent elements were usually understood as matters of political rather than racial or ethnic difference. William the Conqueror invaded England because he believed he had a claim to the throne, and there is no evidence that he or his fellow Normans considered themselves ethnically superior to the English in any meaningful way.11 For these reasons, the power structures at work in eleventh-century northern Europe must be differentiated from later instances of European imperialism in the Americas, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.
Still, there are strong resonances in the Norman Conquest with postcolonial theories of hybridity, which Dean and Leibsohn argue refer not to biology but to “political and cultural events in which conquest and colonization, resistance and subversion, play significant roles.”12 Issues of “purity” and “authenticity” come to the fore in attempts to parse the “Normanness” or “Englishness” of architectural forms, and following that, in attempts to determine what these meant to the indigenous population in England after the Conquest. Indeed, Bishop William's near-simultaneous commissioning of the cathedral and castle chapel in Durham demands a critical approach to “pure” or “authentic” style (here seen in the castle chapel's utilization of continental Norman forms) and “contaminated,” “hybrid,” or “mixed” style (as in the cathedral's decorative scheme). What power structures and relations come to light in the conversation between these two buildings? How do their formal similarities and differences illuminate the nuances of Norman political strategies?
The Settlement and Conquest of Durham
The see of Durham originated in Lindisfarne, where Cuthbert (634–87) had been bishop. An important cult developed there after his death. Following nearly a century of invasion and attack by Vikings and Scots alike, the see moved to Chester-le-Street in 883, where it remained until 995, when it was moved yet again to establish the cathedral at Durham.13 This peripatetic diocese was composed not only of the bishop but also of what Symeon of Durham called the congregatio sancti Cuthberti, the community of Cuthbert, later described by historian William Aird as “an awkwardly constituted body of married priests and monks living according to a monastic rule.”14 The community, in addition to caring for the relics of Saint Cuthbert, was in charge of lands gifted to the saint posthumously. The importance of the community in the governance of the north cannot be overstated; as historian William Kapelle notes, the members of the community elected the bishop (usually from among their own ranks) and carried out the spiritual responsibilities of the cathedral, but they also held land and married. The community was rich and powerful, and, perhaps most important, it reflected continuity with the pre-Viking north.15 Soon after becoming bishop in 1080, William disbanded the community of Cuthbert and instituted in its place a Benedictine convent at Durham, thus undermining the community's power and severing its members' ties to their Anglo-Saxon cultural lineage.16
The cultural conquest begun in 1066 by William, Duke of Normandy, and his followers was not the first encounter between England and Normandy. England and the Norman duchy had long been in close contact, and in the years prior to the Conquest they were linked by trade and political exchange between Edward the Confessor and Duke William. Edward brought Norman clerics to England, and, notably, he had Westminster Abbey rebuilt in a Norman style before his death in January 1066.17 Likewise, the crossing and dwarf transepts at Holy Trinity, Great Paxton, probably built between 1042 and 1066, reflect Edward's and his builders' knowledge of a broader, continental European Romanesque (Figure 6).18 The tower arch of Saint Bene't in Cambridge represents yet another attempt—clumsy but concerted—by Anglo-Saxon builders to replicate continental Romanesque motifs (Figure 7). Too little is left to support any systematic theory of how Anglo-Saxons interpreted Romanesque motifs on English soil prior to the Conquest, or to what degree they did so. We must, however, set these stylistic moves made prior to Edward the Confessor's death apart from the more forceful ones brought by William the Conqueror's regime, beginning just after the Battle of Hastings.
William, then Duke of Normandy, landed on English soil in 1066 and soon defeated the army of Harold, the Anglo-Saxon king, at Hastings. Immediately, William took over the southern part of the country, yet it was not until several years later that his forces managed to quell resistance in the north of England, including Durham, in a series of events known as the Harrying of the North. Northerners fought against conquest with greater tenacity than did their southern counterparts, in keeping with the history of violent separatism within their region.19 Durham was especially well protected, given its advantageous geographical position: far from the political center of England, it was surrounded on three sides by the natural “moat” of the River Wear. The nearly vertical slopes of the river's gorges constituted a significant obstacle for hostile armies. The gorges, which were also a source of building stone, had made Durham the logical place to locate the spiritual and temporal centers of the north. Indeed, by the time of the Norman Conquest, Durham had already been the site of an Anglo-Saxon cathedral for three-quarters of a century, since 995, when it became the permanent resting place for the saintly Bishop Cuthbert.20
The strategic location, cultural significance, and recalcitrant populace of Durham ensured that its bishops paid close attention to the public messages they projected to their diocese. The architectural decisions they made must be considered within the context of the Conquest as a whole, during which time the Normans used techniques similar to those employed by modern colonial powers in order to invade, subdue, and govern the Anglo-Saxons. William—now king of England—appointed bishops and handsomely rewarded his followers with land and titles, effectively imposing an “alien aristocracy” on England while at the same time stripping many of the natives of their property and positions.21 The native populace was subjected to new taxes, as well as to shifts in administration and pastoral care, while episcopal sees were moved in the aftermath of the Conquest. Beyond these administrative changes, the Normans introduced new linguistic and visual vocabularies on a broad scale. Unlike the trickle of pre-Conquest cultural influence, after 1066 the Normans quickly initiated a powerful program to rebuild nearly all existing major churches using an architectural vocabulary imported from Normandy, part of a potent and effective political effort to gain control over England.
The Norman Chapel and the Case for William of St. Calais's Patronage
In 1072, William the Conqueror and his associate Waltheof, a native earl of Northumbria who kept his title in exchange for an oath of fealty (only to be put to death after participating in a revolt), began building a new castle close to the site of Durham's extant Anglo-Saxon cathedral.22 Before significant construction had begun, William granted the castle to the bishops of Durham to serve as their future residence. The earliest Norman-appointed bishops of Durham needed to build their episcopal palace ex nihilo. The first to reside there was William Walcher of Liège, a Lotharingian appointed bishop in 1071; he served until his murder in 1080. His successor was William of St. Calais, a Norman from Bayeux who had served as abbot of Saint-Vincent-des-Prés near Le Mans; his episcopacy spanned from 1080 until his death in 1096. Bishop William is best remembered for his largest building project: the Anglo-Norman Romanesque cathedral in Durham, which he commissioned in 1093 to replace the earlier Anglo-Saxon building.23
Little documentation is available on the castle's extent and condition when Walcher took over in 1071. First priorities for the builders would certainly have been establishing defensive boundaries and creating temporary accommodations for the bishop. According to Martin Leyland, who has completed the most extensive archaeological study of the site, the castle's curtain walls (i.e., the connecting walls between the towers, not to be confused with the non-load-bearing curtain walls of modern architecture) were first to be constructed, as these addressed the need for security. The west range, probably including the original gate and temporary accommodations, came first, followed by the east range.24
Now encased by the fabric of later building campaigns, the Norman Chapel is on the north side of the castle's outer walls—the earliest extant part of the castle. The diminutive chapel is a rectangular space measuring 10 meters by 6.8 meters (Figure 8). Although it now appears to be mostly subterranean, archaeological studies show that today the surrounding ground level is at least 2.6 meters higher than it was in the Middle Ages; thus the chapel was built at ground level.25 Longitudinally planned with three aisles, the outer two slightly wider than the central one, the chapel features six columns made of golden-brown sandstone from the Durham coal measures, each stained with swirling concentric rings reminiscent of agate or marble (Figure 9). There is a modern entrance on the western wall, but in the Middle Ages one would have entered from the bailey through a door on the south. The curtain wall features windows that were substantially enlarged after the Middle Ages; they are on either side of a sally port of approximately 2 meters in height. The chapel has attracted scholarly attention primarily for its rich sculptural program. Among other things, the historiated capitals of its sandstone columns represent human faces, a stag, lions, a mermaid, a tau cross, grapes, Saint Eustace, and a repeated chip-carved saltire pattern (Figure 10).26 The slender columns and complex sculptural capitals stand in stark contrast to the nearby cathedral, whose monumentality and insistently carved abstract decoration seem a world away.
About halfway through the episcopacy of Bishop Walcher (r. 1071–80), King William named him Earl of Northumbria and thus granted him the power to act as a government official, not simply as an episcopal one. This conferred upon Walcher and his successors legal authority alongside their spiritual power, making their position unique among English bishops. When the bishop was given control over this region, a number of responsibilities shifted to his purview, including the raising of an army, the minting of currency, and the collection of taxes from residents.27 In short, after 1075 power in Durham was consolidated in one individual. Leyland has argued that Bishop Walcher was the patron of the Norman Chapel, but I propose that this is unlikely for historical and stylistic reasons.28
First, the expanded jurisdiction attached to prince-bishop status rendered the bishops of Durham especially vulnerable to attack. Durham was far from the southeast of England, where the king was based, and the city's proximity to the Scottish border made potential encroachment by its northern neighbors a long-standing source of anxiety.29 As with churches, which were typically built from east to west to allow worship to begin as soon as possible, a new castle in a volatile region had to be constructed in a manner that prioritized certain functional requirements, particularly the provision of a safe, defensible space for habitation. Archaeologist Oliver Creighton has argued that “military considerations were only one of many variables” in castle building, with others including symbolic and administrative functions.30 Still, it is difficult to imagine that within his first seven years as bishop and steward of the castle, Walcher could have managed to ensure its security and functionality along with commissioning and completing a fully finished chapel.
The chapel's style must also be taken into consideration. While little documentary evidence exists regarding Walcher's architectural patronage in Durham, the projects with which he was associated display a style consistent with his place of origin, Liège, in the region once known as Lotharingia (eastern France, the Rhineland, Belgium, and Holland). Walcher was involved with the construction of the monastic buildings at Saint Paul's Monastery at Jarrow, not far from Durham, which have features consistent with contemporary buildings in Lotharingia, such as the crypt of the collegiate church of Huy and Saint Peter's Church in Utrecht; notable at Jarrow are the bulbous bases of the monastery's arched doorway and its cushion capitals (Figure 11).31 Walcher, not the prior of Jarrow (whose name was Aldwin), was the link between Jarrow and the Low Countries; it is likely that he employed a master mason from his homeland for the monastery.
Significantly, the Durham Castle chapel manifests no Lotharingian architectural features, nor do Norman architectural tropes appear at Jarrow. Had Walcher commissioned the building of the castle's chapel, it is probable that Lotharingian architectural elements would be found there, alongside or rather than the Norman ones we see. Even more than Jarrow (for which Walcher was an external patron), and unlike domestic accommodations or spaces built for other more mundane purposes, a chapel's style represented its patron. A chapel was a prestigious commission, one that offered an opportunity to include sculpture that was comparatively rare in domestic settings.
Thus, on the basis of functional and formal logic, it seems likely that Bishop William was the patron of the castle chapel. An overview of William's life before his appointment as bishop of Durham contributes to an understanding of his motivations. Before his arrival in Durham, he served at Bayeux Cathedral as a secular cleric and professed monastic vows at Saint-Calais, where he became prior. Unfortunately, the style of the Norman Chapel cannot be compared to the monastery buildings at Saint-Calais, as those were destroyed in a fifteenth-century fire.32 However, the future Bishop William was probably at Bayeux Cathedral during the more or less continuous building activity that took place there from 1049 to 1077.33 At Bayeux, he likely observed the construction of a Romanesque church on Norman soil.
Along with his allegiance to monastic and religious institutions in Normandy (in addition to his connections with Bayeux and Saint-Calais, he had been prior of Saint-Vincent in Le Mans), Bishop William had a marked preference for objects created in Normandy. This is evidenced by his nonarchitectural patronage. It has been noted, for instance, that of the forty-nine manuscripts William donated to the monastic library at Durham—according to a list in the surviving volume of his two-volume Bible—most were probably made in Normandy, or by scribes in England who had been trained in a Norman milieu.34 Symeon of Durham corroborates the first theory, writing that the bishop “did not return empty-handed, but took care to send on ahead of him to the church many sacred altar vessels of gold and silver, various ornaments, and also many books.”35 Symeon's statement suggests that a significant amount of material was sent from Normandy—so much that William sent it in advance of his own arrival.
In the case of the castle chapel, style provides the most compelling evidence of Bishop William's patronage and political motivations. There is no indication of visible hybridity in the chapel space—English style has not entered into the design. The chapel's volute capitals, for instance, find their closest relatives not in England but in Normandy (Figure 12).36 The volute form was popularized in Normandy in the second half of the eleventh century, and early examples are found in crypts at Rouen and Bayeux, as well as at Jumièges and at Caen in the Abbaye-aux-Dames (Figure 13). Following the Norman Conquest, the form was brought to England, where it can be seen in a number of places, including the east aisle of the north transept of Ely Cathedral (Figure 14).37 The volutes of the Durham Castle chapel are more sophisticated than the roughly contemporary ones at Ely. In the chapel, the volutes unfurl delicately from the capital, while at Ely they appear labored, even tentative. The Ely examples seem to be a step further from their Norman source; perhaps they are copies of Norman volutes made by a Saxon mason. In contrast, the volutes in the crypt of Bayeux Cathedral, which was consecrated in 1077, are similar in form to the Durham Castle examples, suggesting a stronger connection with Normandy for Bishop William's chapel.
Another feature of the chapel capitals that is more characteristic of Normandy is their geometric decoration, even in the representation of human and animal forms.38 Two motifs are employed in the capitals' surface decoration: chip-carved saltires and a crosshatch or trellis pattern (Figure 15). An early example of chip-carved saltires can be found in the crossing at the church of La Trinité at the Abbaye-aux-Dames in Caen—the burial foundation of Matilda of Flanders, wife of William the Conqueror (Figure 16).39 Founded around 1060 and consecrated in 1066, the Abbaye-aux-Dames, like the bishop's chapel at Durham, features crossing piers framed by volutes; the crossing arch is surmounted with wide bands of saltires. The crossing likely postdates the Conquest, having probably been built soon after, during the late 1060s or early 1070s. Its appearance suggests that this motif was an indigenous Norman one adopted during the following decades in Norman-controlled northern England.40 Art historian Maylis Baylè has commented on the similar character of the capitals at the Abbaye-aux-Dames and the Durham Castle chapel, and the likely influence of the former on the latter.41 It is indeed possible that Bishop William had seen the abbey. It was a prestigious foundation, and it was probably completed before William the Conqueror's own nearby monastic burial foundation's church, Saint-Etienne, which was not begun until 1066. Bishop William was appointed to his position by King William himself, so it is plausible that William would have visited Caen in the company of England's new king. While there, he might also have visited Matilda's church for women, La Trinité, the construction of which was in progress long before Bishop William's own chapel was built at Durham. At La Trinité, the future bishop could have observed the latest in Norman decorative fashion.
The Durham Castle chapel emphasized motifs from Normandy, but this leaves open the question of exactly how Bishop William succeeded in building a chapel that would seem to have been more at home in the duchy than on English soil. It is possible that the bishop brought a mason from Normandy back with him to Durham, perhaps after he concluded his exile in Normandy (1088–91), which was imposed on him by the Conqueror's successor, William Rufus, who accused him of treason. However, an alternative explanation would be that the capitals, made of a stone different from that used for the columns, were carved in Normandy and purchased there by Bishop William for his prospective chapel in England.42 This would be consistent with contemporary practice for English Romanesque sculptural decoration, which, according to art historian George Zarnecki, was almost always carved off-site.43 The castle chapel's capitals are small by comparison with other Romanesque capitals, and there are only six of them.44 Their transportation by boat would have been entirely possible, particularly given Durham's position on the thoroughly navigable River Wear.
The columns, made of golden carboniferous sandstone, are marble-like in appearance because of their sand content. Although the columns inside the chapel are still in good shape (having suffered only minor water penetration), the outer walls made from the same material have been ravaged by weather and time, and they survive in poor condition (Figure 17). The capitals, meanwhile, made of a homogeneous, smooth white stone suitable for carving, are in excellent condition (Figure 18). Although they have not been chemically tested, they are almost certainly made from a type of limestone, possibly even Caen stone.45 Because of the quality of the stone, the six capitals, as well as the two eastern responds, retain the sharpness of their carving (Figure 19). By contrast, the western responds, which imitate the capitals in their shape and decoration but are made of sandstone like the outer walls, have deteriorated. Perhaps these responds were made as a stopgap measure because an insufficient number of capitals were available for the chapel's design; this would tend to support the theory that the capitals were brought to Durham by the bishop in advance of the completion of a design. If they were carved in England, the western responds could have easily been made at the same time, and of the same stone, as the column capitals and eastern responds.
All things considered, it seems likely that the capitals were commissioned by Bishop William in Normandy and that the chapel was designed to showcase these “genuine” Norman objects. The bishop looked to Normandy when he selected a decorative scheme for his chapel, opting to import an alien style rather than utilize hybrid motifs of the sort that would characterize his cathedral building.
Durham Cathedral and Anglo-Norman Architectural Hybridity
In order to understand the relationship between the chapel's architecture and that of Durham Cathedral, one must view both within the context of England's political and social status in the years immediately following 1066. While scholars have cautioned against imagining 1066 as a turning point that dramatically altered everyday English experiences, it is clear that the Normans were the power brokers of post-1066 England. Normans were quickly appointed to spiritual constituencies and given duchies, and it is well established that they used the razing and replacement of Anglo-Saxon churches as a primary means of communicating their power. This was an expansive architectural campaign that had an indelible impact on the built environment and urban fabric of England. Eric Fernie notes that the years following the Norman Conquest “must have turned the country into a vast building site, with almost every city, town, and village affected.”46 He argues that the Normans carried out England's material transformation “because they saw modernizing the country as a means of indicating who, both politically and culturally, was in charge.”47 The totality of the campaign was impressive: almost no surviving cathedral or large monastic church contains Anglo-Saxon elements within its standing masonry.48 Within this broader visual field, Durham Cathedral deserves special consideration, given its conspicuous and unusual use of Anglo-Saxon motifs.
Although the post-Conquest Anglo-Norman building program drew on contemporaneous architectural styles from across the channel, the resulting English work was hardly identical to structures found in Caen, Jumièges, or Rouen. According to architectural historian Lawrence Hoey, the Normans built structures in England that were “more ambitious and imaginatively varied than those they had left, or were still building in Normandy. … Anglo-Norman Romanesque architecture, given its great variety of plan, elevation, and articulation, is the most self-consciously creative of its day.”49 Hoey's statement becomes particularly salient in light of Durham Cathedral, which disrupts Norman paradigms not only in its decoration but also in its innovative engineering of ribbed vaults and pointed arches.50
Bishop William began the rebuilding of Durham Cathedral in 1093. During the late eleventh century, the town would have been abuzz with the activities of building: planning, transporting and carving stone, and erecting the structures. The physical and temporal proximity of these two building projects—the cathedral and the chapel—raises the question of whether each had its own master and lodge of masons, or if there was a centralized lodge and perhaps a single mason in charge of executing both projects. Even if there were two discrete groups of masons working on the Durham peninsula in the late eleventh century, they would certainly have rubbed shoulders and perhaps shared or swapped personnel. Since both projects were spearheaded and funded by the same bishop and built in such close proximity, a certain amount of exchange would be expected. What is remarkable is that there does not seem to be any formal commonality between the two projects. While the castle's Norman Chapel might be seen as representative of ruling-class resistance to assimilating a local vernacular, the hybrid Norman-Anglo-Saxon cathedral seems more politically manipulative than culturally inclusive.
Although art historians generally consider Durham to be typical of English Romanesque cathedrals, this characterization is somewhat flawed: the cathedral, in fact, is exceptional, both formally and historically. The special circumstances of the cathedral's Norman takeover and governance by the prince-bishops set it apart from its southern peers, such as Winchester and Ely. Architecturally, as already noted, the building is highly innovative. Although it utilizes a Norman elevation and plan, the viewer is struck by the church's difference from, rather than its affinity with, other post-Conquest buildings in England. In particular, Durham manifests a number of Anglo-Saxon references. Given that the building was begun in 1093, during the second generation of Anglo-Norman cathedrals, this stylistic character was clearly a deliberate choice made by the patron and builders. Malcolm Thurlby paints a picture of Bishop William as deeply concerned with the appearance of his cathedral and well aware of other Norman building projects throughout England, as well as prestigious churches, like Old Saint Peter's in Rome, with which Durham shares the use of spiral designs on supports (a Solomonic reference) and proximate measurements in plan.51 Doubtless, Bishop William's interest in architecture would have extended to his private chapel as well.
Lisa Reilly has argued that although Durham Cathedral contains recognizably Saxon elements, it “may not call to mind a particular Saxon building in any specific way we understand.”52 It incorporates motifs unknown either in Normandy or in first-generation Anglo-Norman buildings, such as the column decoration and the interlacing dado arcade (parallels have been identified in Anglo-Saxon manuscripts, but not in buildings), and the monumental 10-foot thickness of the walls was not typical in pre-Conquest buildings or in Normandy.53 The decorative program of the cathedral, particularly with its emphasis on linearity, recalls Anglo-Saxon stripwork decoration typical in eastern England (Figure 20).54 For instance, the abstract surface decoration of the cathedral's columns calls to mind the spiral columns in the Saxon crypt of Saint Wystan's, Repton, although the deeply incised carving at Durham leaves a different visual impression (Figure 21).55 These ambiguities have made Durham the subject of significant scholarly interest.
As Reilly notes, scholars have approached the question of Durham Cathedral's influences archaeologically, seeking but failing to locate a direct precedent in another building or to determine the nationality of the mason.56 She asserts that “the invocation of the Anglo-Saxon past at Durham may be read as a Norman manipulation of the historical past to make their presence part of an ongoing tradition and to gloss over the rupture their conquest represents.”57 The design fuses architectural and decorative features from the Romanesque architecture of Normandy with existing English forms, but the lack of specificity in the Saxon elements keeps recognition just out of reach. Reilly contends that seeking the nationality of the designer of the cathedral is futile and indeed irrelevant, and I agree. My interest is not in seeking origins but instead in elucidating the sociopolitical field that demanded and created these two contemporaneous yet markedly different forms of architecture.
The strategies employed in the cathedral's architecture were quite deliberate and can be productively read in the context of hybridity. In reality, both the chapel and the cathedral are hybrid structures. However, unlike the cathedral, where references to an Anglo-Saxon visual vocabulary were openly made, at the castle chapel, the work of the Anglo-Saxon masons—undoubtedly the labor force behind the Norman building—remains invisible. In other words, the two building projects exhibit dramatically different degrees of fidelity to the architectural vernacular of those in power—the Normans and, more particularly, the prince-bishops of Durham. Cultural hybridity could have been visually expressed in both the chapel and the cathedral, but it is evident in only one of them. This fact underscores my assertion that, rather than being the natural outcome of a cultural exchange, and in contrast to the “invisible hybridity” of the chapel, the visible hybridity of the cathedral was a deliberate, strategic choice. Once the chapel was completed, it no longer bore the signs of the indigenous labor and methods used to construct it. As Dean and Leibsohn note, “Recognizing colonial hybrids is—or ought to be—a profoundly political act.”58 By fashioning a chapel built by a native English workforce into one that looked as though it could have been built in Normandy, Bishop William made his aversion to cultural integration explicit.
The Norman cathedral was probably designed by someone from Normandy or, at the very least, by someone familiar with the architecture of Normandy. The workforce that executed that vision, however, was likely drawn from a local population and used local techniques and materials. Whether the Anglo-Saxon northerners would have seen anything of themselves or their architectural traditions in the cathedral is a question that will likely remain unanswered. From the continental perspective, however, Durham Cathedral could have been read as an essentially Norman building that utilized a few unfamiliar motifs in order to placate local populations by providing a locus of familiarity. For an Anglo-Saxon, the cathedral might well have appeared as a Norman building that nonetheless allowed expression of the north's cultural resilience and respected its native saint, Cuthbert.59
Cuthbert, an indigenous Anglo-Saxon saint from near Melrose (in modern-day Scotland), was best known for his role as bishop of Lindisfarne, and he provided Durham's most important relics. Thus, Bishop William probably considered it advantageous to present his new cathedral as visually connected with the saint and his milieu, rather than at odds with them. Historian Susan Ridyard has convincingly argued that Norman abbots and bishops were not generally hostile to indigenous saints, as some scholars had previously suggested. In the case of Durham, she asserts that the “protection of St Cuthbert was no less useful to the continental bishops of Durham than their Anglo-Saxon predecessors.”60 The architectural planning of earlier Anglo-Norman building projects, however, was arguably less concerned with indigenous saints and could comfortably focus on a more pan-European Christianity. Perhaps, between the difficulty of conquering England's north and the desire to exploit the important Anglo-Saxon saint interred at Durham, Bishop William came to view the modification of Anglo-Saxon decorative motifs for his cathedral as advantageous.
Rebuilt not long after Durham Cathedral was Lindisfarne Priory, which picked up on a number of the cathedral's decorative motifs (Figure 22). Lindisfarne is closely linked with Durham because of its Cuthbertine associations, and the Romanesque priory there was settled by monks from Durham Cathedral priory. Although smaller, Lindisfarne Priory imitates the cathedral in numerous ways: it has a three-story elevation, alternating piers, incised carving, rib vaults, and chevron.61 In spite of the priory's poor state of preservation, this visual comparison is compelling. Particularly in light of the strong visual relationship between Durham Cathedral and Lindisfarne Priory, which were constructed contemporaneously, it seems that the bishop of Durham must have found it advantageous to link the two structures related to Saint Cuthbert and the north, and to do so by means of fitting an Anglo-Saxon decorative vocabulary into a Norman plan. Within the context of these choices made at two different sites, Durham Castle's Norman Chapel seems peculiar precisely because it does not conform to the aesthetic shared by the cathedral and the priory. Indeed, the chapel makes no reference to the Anglo-Saxon motifs that are so significant at those sites.
That a bishop's chapel has functions different from those of a cathedral requires little explanation. The cathedral is large, formal, and public; the chapel is small and part of a residential complex. At Durham, the chapel was located within the castle's walled enclosure, used by the bishop and members of his household, and perhaps occasionally attended by diplomatic guests. One would not expect the two spaces, disparate in function and size, to be identical. However, the cathedral and chapel also have no commonalities in terms of either decoration or architecture. This is unusual, given the formal similarities between other pairings of cathedrals and bishops' chapels—for example, Reims Cathedral and the bishop's chapel there, built concurrently and probably by the same masons.62
Bishop William's commitment to Norman craftsmen and their style has been discussed with reference to his donation of manuscripts to Durham Cathedral. Likewise, the chapel's architecture and decoration project its Normanitas—the Norman identity of its patron, the bishop. The chapel's design is a private reminder that the bishop did not identify with the northern English people over whom he presided. As noted, the bishop had significant connections in Normandy, having been a young cleric and, later, a political exile there.
Bishop William had the opportunity to choose from a number of styles for his chapel, and he could have mixed and matched elements from each. However, he opted for a formal language that linked him with his past and place of origin, a testament to Norman cultural conquest over England rather than to cultural integration. When the chapel is considered in relation to the cathedral, the impression of what is communicated by style in that well-studied building is altered, and the conception of both spaces is complicated.
The hybridity at work in Durham Cathedral may be read as a visual marker of northern resistance to the Norman Conquest. Bishop William's decision to incorporate Anglo-Saxon motifs in a building begun nearly thirty years after Norman troops met Harold Godwinson at Hastings seems an intentional attempt to manage uneasiness about the north's restive native population. According to Dean and Leibsohn, “Hybridity—the marking of particular kinds of difference—is generated out of intolerance, the need to distinguish and come to terms with unacceptable, conditionally acceptable, or uneasy mixes.”63 The Harrying of the North created the context for a historically particular “intolerance”—one indicated both by the friction between the Anglo-Saxons and the Normans and by the intolerance of more recent historians, who have traditionally seen Anglo-Saxon and Norman motifs as incompatible because of that contentious history. The Harrying marked a time of transition, when the Norman elites resisted assimilation into English culture and avoided visible hybridity among themselves but employed it as a means of bringing the rebellious northerners into the fold, softening the blow of their subjugation.
Dean and Leibsohn argue that “once we accept that hybridity owes no less to present needs and desires to see and know what is disquieting about colonial history than it does to any particular past event, we can begin to write more complicated histories.”64 The monographic tendency to treat the cathedral and the castle chapel separately has resulted in an erasure, allowing students of both to overlook the two structures' richly textured, shared history and the signs of struggle and discord, manipulation, and placation visible—and invisible—within their fabrics.