MORE details are emerging over plans to turn a North-East castle into a Church of England centre of excellence for art and Christian history.

The Rothschild Foundation has pledged £1m to kickstart a project to "restore" Auckland Castle, in Bishop Auckland, County Durham, and turn it into a heritage tourist attraction.

Exactly what form the restoration will take remains to be seen but the project will undoubtedly bolster the castle’s position as the historic seat of the Bishops of Durham.

In addition, the project aims to enhance the castle’s cultural significance as a potential "outpost" for the National Gallery and the British Museum.

Alice Rothschild, from the Rothschild Foundation, said the National Trust has already joined a partnership which is seeking further funding for the project.

She said: "It’s still very much in the planning stage and it all has to be agreed.

"What the castle is going to be is obviously far in the future but the idea at the moment is to tell the history of Christianity at the castle."

As The Northern Echo reported on Friday, the project will be overseen by Jonathan Ruffer, an investment manager who saved the Zurbaran paintings, in May, following a campaign to prevent the Church Commissioners auctioning them.

Mr Ruffer, chairman of the partnership, bought the £15m paintings through a charitable trust set up to benefit people in the region.

The 8ft-high portraits of Jacob and his sons hang in the Long Dining Room of Auckland Castle, which has been the home to the Bishops of Durham for more than 800 years.

The restoration will give greater public access to more of the castle but the Church of England said, in May, that the castle will no longer be used as the home of the Bishop of Durham.

Rowena Hackwood, a former deputy chief executive at Chesterfield Borough Council has been appointed chief executive of the restoration project.

A scheme to restore Auckland Castle was shelved, in 2009, when millions of pounds of funding were withdrawn from the Heritage Lottery Fund and One NorthEast.

Although neither the National Gallery and the British Museum have formally signed up to the partnership Nicholas Penny, director of the National Gallery, is supportive of increasing public access to the Zurbarans. and has said that his organisation may be prepared to lend paintings to Auckland Castle.