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100 years ago: Monks and their tunnels

21 April 2023

April 20th, 1923.

THE monastic ruin of Finchale, near Durham, has been taken over from the Dean and Chapter of Durham by the Office of Works, and it is possible that in the course of repair and excavation some interesting discoveries may be made. It is scarcely likely that among them will be that of the grave of St Godrick, the austere solitary who in the opening years of the twelfth century settled at Finchale after a spell of roving adventure, and whose story is one of the most romantic of that age. And it is practically certain that no exploration will discover that wonderful four miles of underground passage, which yet another variant of a foolish legend declares to connect Finchale with Durham Cathedral. There is scarcely a notable ruin, military or monastic, with which such a story is not associated. Why popular imagination should credit monks with a desire to creep through damp subways, instead of walking along ordinary roads in the ordinary course of human progression, is not clear. But it does, though common sense might inform the most credulous of the utter impossibility of constructing a tunnel miles long in the valley of the Wear, parallel with the river and close to it, and keeping it drained and ventilated if ever it had been constructed. Yet so long as the scantiest fragment of a mediæval ruin stands in England, so long will the legend flourish.

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