Saintly Sisters Revealed

Saintly Sisters, a new temporary exhibition showcasing female saints of North East England, is now open at Durham Cathedral.

The exhibition reveals the lives and enduring legacies of female religious figures from North East England.

Women have historically had a complicated relationship with Durham Cathedral. Despite stories of Cuthbert’s friendship with female saints and abbesses senior religious figures, worship in the Cathedral was segregated until the Reformation in the sixteenth century. The line of Frosterley marble on the floor of the nave marks the point that women could not cross in the church before the dissolution of Durham Priory at the Reformation. Recognising the importance of female worshippers, the Galilee Chapel was originally built as a place of worship for women.

Saintly Sisters ultimately shows how women were richly and enduringly involved in the Anglo-Saxon, medieval and modern history of Christianity at Durham and the wider North East. Saintly Sisters documents women’s material and spiritual contributions to Durham and the wider North East region: by procuring relics and founding monasteries such as Whitby Abbey, by becoming focuses of devotion themselves as saints, and by enriching the lives of others through charitable work.

The exhibition also recognises the importance of Durham Cathedral as a focal point for women’s religious activities in the North East. The exhibition brings to light well-known historical figures such as St Hilda and St Margaret of Scotland, both of whom have altars in the Cathedral’s Chapel of the Nine Altars, but also features obscure figures such as St Elfleda and Elizabeth Clarkson who have strong links to Durham’s religious community.

The Reverend Rosalind Brown, the Nave Canon and Canon Librarian, says, “As the first female Canon in Durham Cathedral’s 900 years, I am aware that we are still making history today. Women have been very active in the church from the beginning, and some have been declared saints. However, their stories are often not widely told, so we are excited to bring the lives and legacies of female saints from the North East into the limelight.”

Saintly Sisters will be open to visitors until 3 February. 

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