Singing from Durham Cathedral Tower, County Durham
Every year on the nearest Saturday to May 29 the choir of Durham cathedral climbs the steps to the top of the tower, there to sing three songs, one facing east, one south, one north. There are several explanations for this rite, the most popular linking the singing with events of October 17 1346. On that day the Bishop of Durham Thomas Hatfield, formerly a soldier, fought with the English army that defeated and captured King David of Scotland at the Battle of Neville's Cross . John Fosser, Prior of Durham at that time had supposedly dreamt the night before the battle that he should take a relic of St Cuthbert with him and assist at the battle, which he did, being in the midst of the fighting as one point.
As the battle raged monks and clergy at the Cathedral watched from the tower, bursting into celebratory singing of the Te Deum as the Scots were eventually routed.
As Neville's Cross took place on October 17, and the ceremonial singing happens around May 29, a direct link is rather questionable, though it is possible that the custom rolls rites associated with Corpus Christi, the deliverance of Durham from the marauding Scots, and the overcoming of an almost catastrophic fire on May 25 1429 into one ceremony. The singing is known to have taken place in 1672, but for some time the tradition was not observed, being taken up again in 1829. These days it is an important event in the cathedral's calendar, of interest to locals and visitors to the beautiful old cathderal city alike.
More British Folk Customs?
1 Response to Singing from Durham Cathedral Tower
From Kasey on 29th May 2012
I have a calendar which lists this custom for today, however it merely states the custom is as old as the Battle of Neville's Cross. It makes no connection between them, though I suppose one would assume the connection. The information on the calendar is shown as being from Peter Ditchfield's 'Old English Customs' printed 1896.