Our journey at Durham University begins and ends at the same place. Matriculation over Freshers’ Week and Congregation as we graduate and bid farewell to Durham. Durham Cathedral may merely be a magnificent and awe-inspiring spectacle to many, but it’s not just the architecture and ceremonies that captivate me; it’s the enduring echoes of home that resonate within its hallowed walls, which create a sanctuary, much like St. Andrew’s Cathedral, which holds a special place in my heart back home in Singapore.
Sentinels of Faith
In the heart of Singapore’s bustling cityscape, St. Andrew’s Cathedral stands tall, a tranquil oasis amid the urban chaos. Consecrated in 1862, it’s the country’s largest cathedral, serving as the mother church of the Anglican Diocese of Singapore. Its neo-Gothic architecture, adorned with spires and intricate stained glass windows, narrates stories of history and hope. Durham Cathedral, consecrated in 1093 and more recently recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, holds a similar significance in England. Both cathedrals symbolise unwavering faith and provide solace to their communities, creating an intriguing sense of familiarity despite their geographical distance.
During World War II, both cathedrals played pivotal roles. St. Andrew’s Cathedral became a casualty station and shelter during the Japanese occupation, offering aid to victims of air raids. Similarly, Durham Cathedral provided refuge to evacuees during air raids and safeguarded precious artefacts from larger cities. These shared historical experiences highlight the enduring importance of these cathedrals as sanctuaries during times of calamity.
Finding Home Away from Home
Studying far from home is both an adventure and a challenge. Yet, in the heart of Durham Cathedral, I find a sense of familiarity that bridges the gap between Singapore and England. The cathedral’s solemn interior, the harmonious choral voices, and the dappled sunlight through the stained glass all bring a slice of home to this historic city. It’s the shared reverence for the sacred and respect for history that make me feel like I belong. The tranquil cloisters of Durham Cathedral, with their timeless architecture, often remind me of the peaceful courtyards and the nave of St. Andrew’s Cathedral. Both cathedrals offer respite and contemplation amidst the demands of life, offering me a beautiful escape.
Back in Singapore, Sundays meant attending service at St. Andrew’s Cathedral, a steadfast familial obligation. Now, the Sung Eucharist on Sundays at Durham Cathedral is a cherished tradition. Locals and students from diverse cultures come together to worship, mirroring the sense of unity and camaraderie at home. After the service, the warmth and conversations over tea and biscuits at the cloisters evoke a poignant nostalgia, much like the congregation gatherings that united us in fellowship over food back home.
Festive seasons in Durham were initially unfamiliar, but Durham Cathedral became an anchor for celebration. Last Christmas, my parents visited Durham, and we attended the midnight mass, recreating our tradition of St. Andrew’s Cathedral and the drive by Orchard Road’s festive lights. The drive back to our Airbnb, passing the adorned Market Square, felt comfortingly familiar. Over Easter, the camaraderie felt from fellow Singaporeans staying in Durham was heartwarming. They joined me for the Easter Sunday Sung Eucharist, followed by an Easter egg hunt, transforming the holiday away from home into a cherished experience of unity and fun (albeit with a bit of a British twist because egg hunts are not common back home).
Conclusion: A Shared Sanctuary
St. Andrew’s Cathedral and Durham Cathedral may be worlds apart in terms of geography and architectural style, but they share a common thread: they are more than just buildings, they are sanctuaries of faith, community, and reflection. These cathedrals offer a slice of home, a connection to the past, and a sense of tranquillity to those seeking solace from faraway places. Durham might be my academic home, but its cathedral is my sanctuary, wherein history, faith, and echoes of my childhood home merge to create a unique sense of belonging.
Images: Alysa Pitchamani