THE remains of a long-lost medieval chapel – comparable to some of the greatest in Europe – have been uncovered by archaeologists in County Durham.

Historical documents show that a ‘sumptuously constructed’ and ‘exceedingly good’ two-storey chapel was built at Auckland Castle, in Bishop Auckland, in the early 14th century.

It was created for Bishop Antony Bek, Prince Bishop of Durham from 1284 to 1310.

Despite it being larger than the king’s own chapel at Westminster, the chapel’s exact location has remained a mystery since its destruction in the 1650s, following the English Civil War.

The Northern Echo:

After years of archaeological excavations, the siting and full scale of Bek’s Chapel has finally been discovered.

Digs revealed that the chapel's walls were 1.5m thick, 12m wide and 40m long internally. Archaeologists also found huge bases for internal columns, the buttresses along the chapel’s sides, part of the floor and more than 300 pieces of elaborately carved stone – from fragments the size of a fist up to those the weight of a small car.

The evidence suggests the original chapel was a vast structure, reaching towards the size of continental chapels such as Sainte-Chapelle in Paris and featuring a timber ceiling and huge pillars with decorated stonework.

The Northern Echo:

Archaeologists believe the chapel’s size, scale and decoration would have been a statement of the status of Bishop Bek, who held remarkable powers to mint coinage, raise armies and rule on behalf of the king.

A new reconstruction image of the building will be displayed at a special exhibition at Auckland Castle from March 4 to September 6, alongside finds uncovered by archaeologists from Durham University and The Auckland Project, the charity that owns and manages the castle.

John Castling, archaeology and social history curator at The Auckland Project, said: “It’s difficult to overstate just how significant this building is, built by one of the most powerful Prince Bishops as a statement of his power.

“Finally 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 sheer scale of the chapel and it’s great to be able to share the reconstruction image which shows a building that would have stunned visitors, from all walks of life.”

School holiday art and craft activities at Auckland Castle, in Bishop Auckland