The story of the Dun Cow, as depicted in the above eighteenth-century panel on the north facade of Durham Cathedral, supposedly explains how the remains of St.Cuthbert came to find their way to the city of
– an event which led, in turn, of course, to the construction of the mighty Durham Cathedral. Durham
Legend has it that in around 995AD the monks of
Lindisfarne, whilst traversing the North-East with the saint’s holy remains in tow, came to rest upon Warden Law, a prominence a little to the north-east of Houghton-le-Spring. On attempting to resume their journey they couldn’t move the cart upon which the coffin was being carried, and resorted to prayer in order seek divine guidance. Bishop Aldhun (or the monk Eadmer – accounts vary) then had a vision in which he was told to take St.Cuthbert’s remains to ‘Dunholme’, but nobody knew where that was.
The story goes that the monks then overheard a passing milkmaid asking a local woman if she had seen her wandering dun (greyish-brown) cow. The local was heard to have said that she thought she’d seen it walking towards Dunholme, whereupon the maid made her way westward. The monks then quickly gathered themselves and returned to the coffin with the intention of following the young girl, whereupon they found that, miraculously, the cart now moved freely.
And so the party moved happily down the road, bound for the saint’s final resting place.
Mind you, it’s not the only hill that claims the rights to the story!