Peter Marshall

Cloistered Lives

The Last Office: 1539 and the Dissolution of a Monastery

By Geoffrey Moorhouse

Weidenfeld and Nicolson 272pp £25 order from our bookshop

Which structure was dubbed by Sir Walter Scott ‘half church of God, half castle ’gainst the Scot’, and was voted in a 2001 BBC poll the nation’s favourite building? Geoffrey Moorhouse’s highly readable and often surprising book is a kind of historical love-letter to Durham Cathedral, tracing the history of the institution from the earliest times, with an epilogue providing an amusing (and at times moving) fly-on-the-wall account of the reactions of contemporary tourists and worshippers to this most extraordinary of churches. But at the heart of the story is the event that falls almost exactly halfway between the laying of Durham’s foundation stone in the late eleventh century and our own day: the dissolution of Durham Priory by Henry VIII’s commissioners in the last days of 1539.

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