THE Treasures of St Cuthbert opened this week at the heart of the £11m Open Treasure exhibition at Durham Cathedral, placing the North-East’s own saint firmly at the heart of his own shrine.

Many Memories readers have already visited the exhibition of Anglo-Saxon stones and artefacts – from places like Gainford, Brompton, Hurworth and Neasham – in the stunning 14th Century monks’ dormitory and now, in the remarkable vaulted medieval Great Kitchen, the rarest of St Cuthbert’s treasures have gone on display. Wrapped up with them are some of our area’s most wonderful historic stories. Here are five items that you won’t miss:

The wooden coffin

CUTHBERT died on March 20, 687, aged about 52, probably of tuberculosis, and was buried in Lindisfarne Priory. Eleven years to the day later, the coffin was reopened and, to the surprise of the monks, his body was intact. This miracle started the cult of Cuthbert, and he was transferred into a coffin hastily made of oak, and covered in carvings of saints, apostles and archangels.

The carvings are the earliest outside Rome to show Christ.

It was in the coffin that the monks carried Cuthbert’s body as they toured the region from 875. The story suggests that they were fleeing invading Vikings, or it could just be that they were taking Cuthbert on a massive PR trip to meet-and-greet as many living people as possible to cement his position as their saint.

The tour took in the Lake District and possibly as far south as Doncaster. The Tees Valley was very receptive and where the coffin rested, a church dedicated to Cuthbert was created: Stokesley, South Cowton ("Cuthbert's town"), Barton and Marske in North Yorkshire; Cotherstone (another "Cuthbert's town"), Forcett, Darlington, Ormesby, Marton, Kirkleatham, Wilton, Billingham and Redmarshall in County Durham.

From 995, Cuthbert settled in Durham and in 1104 the wooden coffin was placed inside a new coffin and lowered into his shrine in the new cathedral.

In 1537, Henry VIII’s Commissioners ordered a local goldsmith to take a sledgehammer to Cuthbert’s coffin because they are convinced riches were hidden inside. The sledgehammer smashed the wooden coffin, and broke one of Cuthbert’s legs – but the rest of his body was still undecayed. He was reburied like a Russian doll in his broken wooden coffin inside the 1104 coffin inside a new coffin.

Curiosity about the contents of the coffin got the better of people in the 19th Century and they reopened it in 1827 and in 1899. By now, the 1,100-year-old wooden coffin was in bits, and even the body was decaying.

In 1899, before the 5ft 10in skeleton was sealed up for the last time, 6,000 pieces of wood are said to have been removed from the coffins. Of those, 169 are fragments of the 698 coffin, and they have been pieced together to make the centrepiece of the new exhibition – historians say they are the most important pieces of wood to survive in Britain from before the 1066 conquest.

Pectoral Cross

THIS beautiful item, brilliantly lit in the exhibition, is probably the star of the show. It was found hidden deep inside Cuthbert’s robes when the coffin was reopened in 1827. It is made of gold and garnets and in the floodlight you can see how it was crudely repaired during Cuthbert’s lifetime. It hung around his neck on a silk and gold cord; it must, therefore, have pressed against his skin when he was alive.

St Cuthbert’s Comb

This grubby-looking comb was also retrieved from the coffin in 1827. It is made of African elephant ivory, and may be as early as the 4th Century and may have been made in Egypt.

Immediately before saying mass, a clergyman would pull on his robes and then have to comb his hair to tidy himself up. It also become a symbolic way of brushing away worldly thoughts to concentrate on prayer.

In the 10th Century, when the wooden coffin was opened frequently as Cuthbert was on tour, one monk in particular devoted much time to combing his hair.

The comb has 40 thin teeth on one side and 16 thick teeth on the other.

Sanctuary Knocker

THANKS to Blue Peter’s Simon Groom, everyone knows that the knocker on the cathedral’s northern door is a replica – in January 1980, he had the 12th Century original alongside the new replica and uttered the immortal line: “What a beautiful pair of knockers.”

Everyone probably also knows that from Anglo-Saxon times, those who “had committed a great offence”, such as murder in self-defence, could knock the knocker and they would be given 37 days of sanctuary within the cathedral in which to try to reach an agreement with their accusers.

But many people may not have studied the knocker, but the exhibition gives an opportunity to examine the original, which was made around 1155. It is a “hellmouth”, an Anglo-Saxon vision of the entrance to hell. It takes the form of a lion’s head which is eating a man. The man’s legs are protruding from the lion’s mouth and are in turn being eaten by a double-headed snake to form the knocker part of the knocker.

The Conyers Falchion

THIS is the sword with which Sir John Conyers slew the terrible Sockburn Worm, or dragon – a mystical event of such fascination that it inspired Lewis Carroll to write Jabberwocky about the killing of the Jabberwock.

It is a 13th Century falchion, a bulbous type of sword good for killing dragons as opposed to a thin, conventional sword which is only good for running humans through. It has the arms of the Holy Roman Empire on one side of its pommel and the arms of England on the other, which dates it to the reign of Henry III from 1216 to 1272. It is speculated that it belonged to Richard Earl of Cornwall, who was Henry’s younger brother and became King of Germany and King of the Romans from 1257 to 1272.

The falchion symbolises Durham’s commitment to its faith and so is presented to a new bishop of Durham when he first crosses the Tees from the south into his new diocese.

Bishop Paul Butler, though, will go down in history as the last bishop to receive the original falchion, when he crossed Croft Bridge on February 22, 2014. A replica has now been made for use in the ceremony and the original dragon-slayer will hang peacefully with the Treasures of St Cuthbert.

Open Treasure runs from 10am to 5pm Monday to Saturday, and 12.30pm to 5pm on Sunday. An adult ticket is £7.50, and other tickets and passes are available.