A NORTH EAST cultural attraction with a fascinating place in history has enjoyed a record-breaking year.

And now Ushaw, on the outskirts of Durham, is gearing up to raise its profile even higher in 2019 by becoming the permanent home of the precious St Cuthbert’s Ring.

New figures show that 43,000 people visited the attraction during 2018 – up from 37,000 in 2017, 21,000 in 2016, and 7,500 in 2015.

Ushaw last year celebrated the 450th anniversary of its founder college at Douai, in France, and up to seven years ago, the magnificent buildings and grounds had been used for the training of priests.

Father John Marsland, President of Ushaw, said: “We are delighted by the latest figures which show that more and more people are discovering how visually spectacular and historically fascinating Ushaw is. Given that there was a chance of Ushaw closing not very long ago, it is wonderful to see this rebirth.”

Ushaw had a particularly successful festive period, with 3,500 people visiting its first Christmas Tree Festival, and 1,000 attending popular annual carol services. Classic films, such as It’s A Wonderful Life, Joyeaux Noel, Holiday Inn, and The Holly and The Ivy also increased visitor numbers.

“What has been so lovely is the way families came to enjoy Ushaw – it really did recapture the true spirit of Christmas and acted as an antidote to all the commercialism elsewhere,” added Fr Marsland.

A varied programme of events, including Jazz and Brass festivals, and art exhibitions, were held at Ushaw throughout 2018, and that is set to grow again in 2019.

The highlight will be plans for St Cuthbert’s Ring going on permanent display, potentially from St Cuthbert’s Day on March 20. The 13th Century gold ring, with a large uncut sapphire, was left by a wealthy pilgrim at St Cuthbert’s tomb in Durham Cathedral. At the time of the Reformation under Henry VIII, the ring was spirited away for safe-keeping, with some suggestions that it was taken from St Cuthbert’s finger in his tomb. It ended up in a Catholic convent in Paris and, in the 1850s – with Ushaw established – it was felt appropriate that the relic should return to County Durham.

“Ushaw will become known as ‘The Home of St Cuthbert’s Ring’ and that will really help to put us on the map, nationally and internationally,” said Fr Marsland.

Other plans include commissioning celebrated chainsaw sculptor, Tommy Craggs, to add to Ushaw’s new nativity figures. Tommy, from Consett, produced figures of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in time for Christmas and, following an appeal, a private donor has come forward to fund the next figure in 2019.

As well as historic chapels, stunning architecture and beautiful grounds, Ushaw is also becoming a craft-based business hub, and has a tea room and café called Divines, which is reminiscent of the dining room at Hogwarts in the Harry Potter books.

To find out more about Ushaw, go to: www.ushaw.org

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