THE STORY OF THE PRINCE BISHOPS


TELLING THE STORY OF THE MEDIEVAL PRINCE BISHOPS

It may look strikingly modern from the outside; however, Auckland Tower boasts a number of unique elements that hark back to the very beginnings of Bishop Auckland.

Curator Andrew Ferrara is one of a team that has drawn inspiration from the building’s historic and natural surroundings, telling the story of how the early Prince Bishops established Auckland Castle as their seat of power.

Fascinating finds

On the first floor is an exhibition where visitors can discover archaeological finds.

Andrew explains: “We’ve been uncovering parts of the Castle’s history that have been lost and forgotten, due to later changes to the site.”

One of the objects on display is an elaborate 15th-16th century carved dragon, which would have once looked down upon visitors to the Castle.

There are also fragments from the 14th century Great Chamber, built to accommodate the Prince Bishops and their courts of medieval nobles and churchmen.

Powerful imagery

The decorative ceiling was designed by Tony Curtis: an artist who specialises in recreating the style of medieval illuminated manuscripts.

Special design elements include:

  • The coats of arms of various bishops, including Antony Bek (1281-1311) and Shute Barrington (1791-1826).
  • Leaf and vine patterns, reflecting the central role of gardens and the Deer Park to the Castle estate, created as private displays of the bishops’ extensive wealth and status through history.

Chronicling the past

On the outside of the building, eight panels of engraved text chronicle how the Castle and town evolved over the centuries.

The narrative begins in AD43, with the invading Roman armies building the fort of Vinovia in present-day Binchester. The panels bring us bang up-to-date to the 20th and 21st centuries, telling how the Bishops of Durham have continued the tradition of striving for the wellbeing of all those in County Durham and beyond.

A new perspective

No visit to Auckland Tower is complete without climbing to the 15-metre-high viewing platform. “You get a real sense of the Castle in its wider context, which visitors haven’t been able to achieve before,” Andrew says.

“Alongside the exhibits, you get an appreciation of why the Castle is here; how the town grew around it, and why you as a visitor are standing here today.”

Visitors to Auckland Tower between Thursday, 27-Sunday, 30 December can receive free entry to learn more about the Prince Bishops, as part of Heritage Lottery Fund’s national #ThanksToYou campaign. All you need to do is bring along a valid National Lottery ticket or scratch card.

(The offer also applies to the Mining Art Gallery.)

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