The Man-Eating Dragon of Durham

A contemporary rendition of a dragon, perhaps similar to the Durham one. Public domain.
A contemporary rendition of a dragon, perhaps similar to the one brought to Durham. Public domain.

We’re counting down an ‘advent’ calendar of highlights from the exhibition Plays, Processions and Parchment: Discovering Festive Traditions in the North East of England, which launches on 19th April. This exhibition celebrates some of the forgotten folk traditions, religious rituals, performance history, and plays from the region.

Day 10 features a fearsome and ‘monstrous’ man-eating dragon from Ethiopia, sixteen feet long, brought to Durham by an Italian showman to thrill local people. According to the 1569 parish register of St Nicholas’ Church, the dragon

was taken & killed by speciall pollicie in Æthiopia within the Turke’s dominions. But before it was killed, It had deuoured (as it is credibly thought) more than 1000 persons And also destroyed a whole Countrey.

This may be embellishment put out by the person who brought the beast from foreign lands to show off to locals, but there is a rich seam of native dragon and worm stories found in the archives of the North East – the most famous of course being the Lambton Worm. Come along to the exhibition to find out more about these local legends, and how ‘dragons’ were presented on stage in plays of the medieval period.

Plays, Processions and Parchment runs from 19th April to 22nd May in the Chapel of Nine Altars, Durham Cathedral. Entry is free. Visit the website for more details, and to see the accompanying programme of weekly talks. The exhibition is curated by Records of Early English Drama North East

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