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Last chance to see ruins of medieval chapel at Auckland Castle Thursday, 14 July 2022
People are being encouraged to make the most of a rare opportunity to explore the atmospheric ruins of the long-lost medieval chapel in Bishop Auckland, before it disappears from view.
Discovered in the grounds of Auckland Castle, the chapel was constructed during the early 14th century during the rule of Prince Bishop of Durham, Anthony Bek (1284-1310).
The magnificent building, which housed two chapels, would have dominated the Auckland Castle site and the surrounding landscape as a statement and symbol of the ruling Prince Bishop’s power and status.
Although its existence had been documented, the chapel’s location had remained a mystery since its destruction in the 1650s by Sir Arthur Haselrig, following the English Civil War.
It was uncovered over a number of years during excavations – some of the most extensive ever undertaken on a Bishop’s palace in Europe in recent years – beneath the Castle’s lawns by archaeologists and volunteers from Durham University and The Auckland Project, before being revealed to the public in a special exhibition in early 2020.
Since then, hundreds of visitors to Auckland Castle have enjoyed archaeological tours, hearing the story of the chapel’s construction, demolition and disappearance beneath the Castle’s lawns while standing in the footprint of one of medieval England’s most spectacular lost buildings.
However, from July 25th, the preservation process of covering over the ruins will begin, and bookings for the final tours around Bek’s Chapel, which are offered free to those visiting Auckland Castle, are now being taken.
John Castling, Archaeology and Social History Curator at The Auckland Project and PhD researcher at Durham University, said: “During the six years we’ve been digging up parts of Bishop Bek’s remarkable chapel, we’ve slowly but consistently been in awe of its scale and grandeur as we’ve understood more of this astonishing building.
“In recent months the opportunity to share the story of this chapel, which is the story of the rise and fall of Durham’s powerful bishops and noblemen, with members of the public has been such a privilege.”
Although the idea of proactively hiding such an important and stunning discovery may sound odd, John explained the reason behind the decision.
He said: “To best protect the archaeological remains we have to rebury them, but the garden which will cover it will reference the chapel’s ruins.
“So, while the stones of the chapel will be buried, its story will remain on show within a beautiful new garden setting.”
The new Faith Garden will sit alongside The Auckland Project’s Faith Museum, which is due to open in autumn 2023.
“The excavation really is one of the most spectacular medieval digs in the whole country in recent decades, so I’d encourage anyone who can to come and visit before the final tour at the end of July.”
Tours of the ruins of Bek’s Chapel take place at 2pm Wednesday-Sunday and are free for visitors to Auckland Castle.
For more information on Auckland Castle and The Auckland Project (TAP), visit www.aucklandproject.org meanwhile you can follow TAP’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts for attraction updates and special event announcements.