The splendid 14th century medieval chapel is discovered in County Durham

A stunning 14th century medieval chapel was discovered in County Durham, 370 years after its destruction following the First English Civil War.

Part of Auckland Castle, the remains of the long-lost place of worship – the Bek Chapel – were discovered with the help of staff and students from Durham University.

Experts believe the chapel would have been stunning to see in its heyday – with a wooden ceiling and huge pillars with decorated stone.

The exact location of the chapel had remained a mystery since it was demolished in 1650 – despite being larger than the King’s chapel in Westminster.

In fact, some of the pieces of carved stone that make up the two-story structure were as heavy as a small car, the researchers said.

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A stunning 14th century medieval chapel was discovered in County Durham, 370 years after its destruction following the First English Civil War. In the photo, an artist's reconstruction of what the chapel might look like when it was in use

A stunning 14th century medieval chapel was discovered in County Durham, 370 years after its destruction following the First English Civil War. In the photo, an artist’s reconstruction of what the chapel might look like when it was in use

Part of Auckland Castle, the remains of the long-lost place of worship - the Bek Chapel - were discovered with the help of staff and students from Durham University. In the photo, the chapel is excavating. A base for a column base can be seen in the foreground, with the bases for the south wall of the chapel visible on the right

Part of Auckland Castle, the remains of the long-lost place of worship – the Bek Chapel – were discovered with the help of staff and students from Durham University. In the photo, the chapel is excavating. A base for a column base can be seen in the foreground, with the bases for the south wall of the chapel visible on the right

The exact location of the chapel had remained a mystery since it was demolished in 1650 - despite being larger than the King's chapel in Westminster. In the photo, the impression of an artist from Auckland Castle in the 14th century, with the chapel on the left

The exact location of the chapel had remained a mystery since it was demolished in 1650 – despite being larger than the King’s chapel in Westminster. In the photo, the impression of an artist from Auckland Castle in the 14th century, with the chapel on the left

WHO WAS BISHOP ANTHONY BEK?

Anthony Bek was bishop-prince of Durham between about 1284 and 1310.

Born into a family of knights around the year 1245, Bek became one of the most influential men in all of Europe.

Bek gained the favor of the then Prince Edward, who later became King Edward I.

He accompanied Edward on Crusade in 1270 and would have been the king’s longtime adviser.

It had a following of 140 horsemen.

The bishop was known for his courage, chastity and extravagance.

Bek died in London on March 3, 1311 and was buried two months later in Durham.

The team spent five months discovering the foundations of the chapel, including part of the floor, buttresses along the sides of the chapel and walls that measured 4.9 feet (1.5 m) thick by 39 feet (12 m) wide and 131 feet (40 m) long.

The chapel was built in the early 1300s for Bishop Antony Bek, who was the Prince-Bishop of Durham between about 1284 and 1310 and both a great warrior and one of the most influential men in Europe were reported at the time.

Experts believe that the grand staircase and decorations would have served as a statement on the status of the bishop-prince – who held the power to collect armies, mint coins and even rule instead of the king, Edward I.

Bishop Bek had the castle built from an old 12th-century manor house to serve as the main residence due to its proximity to his hunting lodge.

He added the great hall, the defensive walls of the castle and the chapel, the latter described as “sumptuously built” and “extraordinarily good”, similar in size to continental chapels such as the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris.

However, the castle eventually fell into the possession of a Sir Arthur Haselrig – a leader of the parliamentary opposition to Charles I – in 1646, in the wake of the First English Civil War.

Sir Haselrig continued to demolish much of the medieval structure – including the chapel – by building a villa on the site instead.

The castle was later rebuilt following the restoration of the monarchy, at which point the former banquet hall was converted into a replacement chapel.

The team spent five months discovering the foundations of the chapel, including part of the floor, buttresses along the sides of the chapel and walls that measured 4.9 feet (1.5 m) thick by 39 feet (12 m) wide and 131 feet (40 m) long

The team spent five months discovering the foundations of the chapel, including part of the floor, buttresses along the sides of the chapel and walls that measured 4.9 feet (1.5 m) thick by 39 feet (12 m) wide and 131 feet (40 m) long

The chapel was built in the early 1300s for Bishop Antony Bek, who was the prince-bishop of Durham around 1284-1310 and has been reported to be a great warrior and also one of the most influential men in Europe at the time. In the photo, a volunteer works on the chapel floor

The chapel was built in the early 1300s for Bishop Antony Bek, who was the prince-bishop of Durham around 1284-1310 and has been reported to be a great warrior and also one of the most influential men in Europe at the time. In the photo, a volunteer works on the chapel floor

Experts believe that the large scale and decorations of the chapel would have served as a declaration on the status of the bishop-prince - who held the power to collect armies, mint coins and even rule instead of the king, Edward I. In the photo, archaeologists John Castlng (left) and Jamie Armstrong (right) with a finely carved ceiling protrusion from the chapel

Experts believe that the large scale and decorations of the chapel would have served as a declaration on the status of the bishop-prince – who held the power to collect armies, mint coins and even rule instead of the king, Edward I. In the photo, archaeologists John Castling (left) and Jamie Armstrong (right) with a finely carved ceiling protrusion from the chapel

Bishop Bek had the castle built from an old 12th-century manor house to serve as the main residence due to its proximity to his hunting lodge. In the photo, the excavation site of today's castle, which is a listed grade I historical site.

Bishop Bek had the castle built from an old 12th-century manor house to serve as the main residence due to its proximity to his hunting lodge. In the photo, the excavation site of today’s castle, which is a listed grade I historical site.

“This is archeology at its best,” said Durham University archaeologist Chris Gerrard.

“Durham professionals, volunteers and students work together as a team to put together clues from documents and old illustrations using the latest investigation techniques to solve the mystery of where this huge lost facility is located.”

The volunteers came from the local charity The Auckland Project, which currently owns the castle.

Part of Auckland Castle, the remains of the long-lost place of worship - the Bek Chapel - were discovered with the help of staff and students from Durham University. In the photo, the location of the excavation site at Auckland Castle, before excavations took place

Part of Auckland Castle, the remains of the long-lost place of worship – the Bek Chapel – were discovered with the help of staff and students from Durham University. In the photo, the location of the excavation site at Auckland Castle, before excavations took place

Bishop Bek's castle eventually fell into the possession of a Sir Arthur Haselrig - a leader of the parliamentary opposition to Charles I - in 1646, in the wake of the First English Civil War. Sir Haselrig continued to demolish much of the medieval structure - including the chapel - by building a villa on the site instead. In the photo, the modern castle and the excavation site

Bishop Bek’s castle eventually fell into the possession of a Sir Arthur Haselrig – a leader of the parliamentary opposition to Charles I – in 1646, in the wake of the First English Civil War. Sir Haselrig continued to demolish much of the medieval structure – including the chapel – by building a villa on the site instead. In the photo, the modern castle and the excavation site

The castle was later rebuilt following the restoration of the monarchy, at which point the former banquet hall was converted into a replacement chapel. In the photo, a protrusion of the chapel ceiling, with carved ivy and drawings of grapes

The castle was later rebuilt following the restoration of the monarchy, at which point the former banquet hall was converted into a replacement chapel. In the photo, a protrusion of the chapel ceiling, with carved ivy and drawings of grapes

“It is difficult to overstate the importance of this building, built by one of the most powerful Bishops in the world as a declaration of his power,” said John Castling, curator of archeology and social history of the Auckland Project.

“In the end, discovering the chapel was a fantastic moment for the whole team, which included students from Durham University and volunteers from the Auckland Project.”

“We were all surprised by the vastness of the chapel and it is nice to be able to share the image of the reconstruction showing a building that would have stunned visitors from all walks of life.”

Some of the pieces of carved stone that make up the two-story chapel were as heavy as a small car, the researchers said. In the photo, a large crossbow from the top of a column, from the chapel site

Some of the pieces of carved stone that make up the two-story chapel were as heavy as a small car, the researchers said. In the photo, a large crossbow from the top of a column, from the chapel site

“This is archeology at its best,” said Durham University archaeologist Chris Gerrard. In the photo, archaeologists Jamie Armstrong and John Castling at the chapel excavation site

In the photo, a large dent can be seen here in the floor of the original chapel. Experts believe this was caused when the building was demolished, sending a stone from the vaulted ceiling that crashes to the floor below

In the photo, a large dent can be seen here in the floor of the original chapel. Experts believe this was caused when the building was demolished, sending a stone from the vaulted ceiling that crashes to the floor below

‘We really can’t wait to go back to Auckland [Castle] in June for another excavation season, “added Professor Gerrard.

When the researchers resume excavation, they hope to be able to discover more of the south side of the building.

Meanwhile, an exhibition entitled “Inside Story: Conserving Auckland Castle” will open in the castle’s Bishop Trevor Gallery on March 4th and will last until September 6th.

When the researchers resume excavation, they hope to be able to discover more of the south side of the building. In the photo, archaeologist Peter Ryder takes notes on some of the stone works discovered at the excavation site

When the researchers resume excavation, they hope to be able to discover more of the south side of the building. In the photo, archaeologist Peter Ryder takes notes on some of the stone works discovered at the excavation site

An exhibition entitled “Inside Story: Conserving Auckland Castle” will open in the castle’s Bishop Trevor Gallery on March 4 and will last until September 6. In the photo, the foundation of a column base can be seen here surrounded by rubble from the demolished chapel

In the photo, the researchers found that the base stone for a buttress broke in two - damage likely caused during the demolition of the chapel. Under the stone, you can see what is thought to be a charge hole for gunpowder.

In the photo, the researchers found that the base stone for a buttress broke in two – damage likely caused during the demolition of the chapel. Under the stone, you can see what is thought to be a charge hole for gunpowder.

Part of Auckland Castle in County Durham, the remains of the long-lost place of worship - the Bek Chapel - were discovered with the help of staff and students from the University of Durham

Part of Auckland Castle in County Durham, the remains of the long-lost place of worship – the Bek Chapel – were discovered with the help of staff and students from the University of Durham

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