A cultural attraction ten years in the making that has been branded ‘the most important faith collection in the world’ has been unveiled in Bishop Auckland ahead of the official opening of the immersive experience.

The Faith Museum, which is part of The Auckland Project’s restoration of the town, will be officially opened on October 7 - but The Northern Echo got a sneak peek about what the new facility is about and how it will benefit the people of Bishop Auckland and the wider North East.

As part of Auckland Castle, the new museum explores faith in history and how it shaped lives and communities across Britain through rarely-seen objects, national treasures, personal testimonies, and contemporary commissions.

Read more:  Auckland Project reveals £25k Bishop Auckland art commission

The museum sits at the heart of The Auckland Project’s investment, backed by philanthropist Jonathan Ruffer, which includes historic buildings, art galleries, gardens, extensive parkland, and a heritage railway.

Funded by a £12.4m grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, the museum comprises a series of gallery spaces with an active programme of rotating displays and temporary exhibitions.

The Northern Echo: The Lindisfarne Gospel panel in the new Faith MuseumThe Lindisfarne Gospel panel in the new Faith Museum (Image: SARAH CALDECOTT)

While the Faith Museum has come together over a ten-year period, Clare Baron, head of exhibitions at The Auckland Project, insists that more has been done behind the scenes.

She has also highlighted that faith is associated with a power bigger than ourselves.

The Northern Echo: The door through to the Faith Museum The door through to the Faith Museum (Image: SARAH CALDECOTT)

The head of exhibitions added: “We look forward to opening the doors of the Faith Museum to visitors this autumn. The objects and contemporary artworks on display tell the story of how people in Britain have expressed their faith throughout history, often in a very personal way.

“I’d like to thank all the lenders, artists, advisors and funders who have helped to create a space for us all to reflect on and discuss what faith means to us.”

The Northern Echo: The first part of the Faith MuseumThe first part of the Faith Museum (Image: SARAH CALDECOTT)

One-third of the artefacts that are in the museum belong to The Auckland Project, while the remainder of them are on long-term loans from other galleries and museums.

Forming part of the museum, the space is split into two parts, the ground floor traces a path through 6,000 years of faith, beginning in the Neolithic period with the powerfully tactile Gainford Stone and ending in the year 2000.

The Northern Echo: The museum will open on October 7The museum will open on October 7 (Image: SARAH CALDECOTT)

Starting as a ‘tunnel’ part of the gallery, objects in the first part of the museum include broken bronze weapons, jewellery, and a projection of the Lindisfarne Gospels.

Further into the museum, which is housed in the 14th-century Scotland Wing of Auckland Castle, a never-before-displayed object found less than a mile from the Castle is one of the smallest and most remarkable items on show: the Binchester Ring.

The Northern Echo: The museum has taken ten years to createThe museum has taken ten years to create (Image: SARAH CALDECOTT)

Excavated in 2014 at the Roman Fort Vinovium, the extraordinary silver ring with carved carnelian stone featuring images of an anchor and fish is rare early evidence of Christianity in Britain.

Other fascinating parts of the gallery include Jewish artefacts from 1290, which is unique, given that the Archbishop of York and Archbishop of Canterbury expelled the Jewish faith at that time.

The Northern Echo: Funded by a £12.4m grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, the museum comprises a series of gallery spaces with an active programme of rotating displays Funded by a £12.4m grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, the museum comprises a series of gallery spaces with an active programme of rotating displays (Image: Sarah Caldecott)

Elsewhere, the gallery moves chronologically on to cover Henry VII establishing the Independent Church in 1534 and a copy of William Tyndale’s English translation of the New Testament from 1536, one of only a small number to have survived.

The publication of Tyndale’s Bible was a key moment in English history, helping spread the ideas of the Reformation and serving as the basis for the King James Version.

The Northern Echo: Bishop Auckland's Faith Museum

The upper floor of the museum then houses works that reflect contemporary issues, including faith and sport, Grenfell, issues in the Middle East and faith in the last five years.

Dominating the Great Gallery upstairs, with its high-pitched ceiling, is a dramatic installation by Mat Collishaw, specially created for the space.

The Northern Echo:

The immersive piece depicts a projection of a flower in bloom that then sets on fire.

The artist behind it, Mr Collishaw, says that he was selected for this commission, due to his previous work of a robotic eagle at Ushaw College in County Durham.

The Northern Echo: Bishop Auckland's Faith Museum

Despite having six months to create the art piece, he says that there were several options for what the piece could be before he settled on the flower depiction.

Mr Collishaw, who grew up in a faith household himself, added that now he has created this piece for the Faith Museum, it has inspired a potential future piece that will follow the pattern of Dante’s Inferno.

The Northern Echo: Bishop Auckland's Faith Museum

The artist’s large-scale work is joined in the upstairs of the new venue by more intimate pieces in the adjacent galleries, inviting us to consider how faith can be both awe-inspiring and public, yet personal and private.

In a gallery looking out across the Castle’s walled garden, a collection of paintings by artist Roger Wagner depict Biblical scenes in modern landscapes, such as his journeys to the Middle East.

He has then accompanied each of his pieces with poems.

The Northern Echo: The contemporary part of the museumThe contemporary part of the museum (Image: SARAH CALDECOTT)

The final gallery space invites visitors to reflect on three central questions present throughout the museum: Where do I belong? How do I live? and Am I alone?

Among the artists featured are Newcastle-based artist Mani Kambo, Nicola Green, The Singh Twins, and Khadija Saye.

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Several nods to popular culture are also evident, including how football and sport can impact faith, and a poignant section dedicated to Grenfell and victims of the tragedy.

Jonathan Ruffer, the founder of The Auckland Project, has highlighted the difficulties of setting up the Faith Museum over the last ten years.

Mr Ruffer, who arrived in 2012, and has invested over £200m in Bishop Auckland so far, said: "The Faith Museum turned out to be the hardest piece of our jigsaw.

“We have tried to tell stories which put into context 6,000 years of human endeavour and the restlessness of the human spirit.”