Lumiere: Okay, Who Set Fire To Durham Cathedral?


Durham Cathedral is on fire, and everyone’s cheering.

Flames licks up the time-blackened battlements, turning the sea of faces around me a lurid footballer’s-wife orange. In its thousand-year history, Durham’s never suffered a serious attack – the closest being the final battle of a failed Scottish invasion of England a few miles and seven centuries away. The only person to successfully storm the cathedral was Henry VIII, and he didn’t use the front door – but it weathered a greedy royal plundering, it weathered everything else (including, you know, the weather) and here it stands today.

And now it’s ablaze.


Well, kinda.

For a second I forget the context, and it’s all very surreal. We’re stood in the rain, a thin drizzle that will later turn to a thundering assault. Everyone’s rapt, heads craned back, faces flicking with reflected light. It’d be Orwellian if it wasn’t for the expressions. Even A Clockwork Orange didn’t feature eyes as wide as this. Mouths are open in pure wonder.


Durham Cathedral continues to explode. Now it’s showing astronomical symbols, equations, stars. A black hole rages back and forth, sucking on windows and towers. Machines clank, wheels turn, tides of colour sweep across, and I realise with self-disgust that I’m watching all of it through the lens of my camera. Forget it, Mike. Someone here is taking better photos than you ever will. (Yup – athough I managed to get this one off.)

It’s called The World Machine, it’s an abstract sprint through the history of modern cosmology – and it’s the opening act in England’s premiere light festival, where the streets fill with all manner of glowing weirdness…


And when the light fades from the cathedral, and everyone realises how much the rain has intensified, we all file out of the courtyard to be instantly replaced by the next crowd for the next (identical) performance – and then we dissipate into the city’s streets…

Lumiere has begun, and it’s time to explore.

Read the rest of the story here – and read Mike’s overview of Durham here.