Home / Solutions / Case Studies / Urban Life / Thorn shines new light on iconic Durham Cathedral

Thorn shines new light on iconic Durham Cathedral


  • Durham Cathedral lit by Thorn
  • Durham Cathedral lit by Thorn
  • Durham Cathedral lit by Thorn
  • Durham Cathedral lit by Thorn
  • Lamp efficacy

    Lamp efficacy

    Ensuring the lamp efficiently converts electricity into light (lm/W).

  • Ballast classification

    Ballast classification

    Controlling the electricity supply to the lamp (Energy Efficiency Index).

  • Luminaire distribution

    Luminaire distribution

    Controlling light emission using optics which bend and shape the light to the correct location.

  • System efficacy

    System efficacy

    Combining optical and thermal control within the luminaire (luminaire lm/W).

  • Presence/absence detection

    Presence/absence detection

    Presence: Lights automatically turn on/off with movement. Absence: Lights automatically turn off and must be manually switched on.

  • Daylight detection

    Daylight detection

    Artificial lighting which responds to the natural light conditions.

  • Constant illuminance

    Constant illuminance

    A function designed to produce correct light levels for the duration of the maintenance period.

  • Task-scene setting

    Task-scene setting

    Allowing the user to set scenes and adapt the lighting to different tasks.

  • Timed off

    Timed off

    Automatic cut-off can be installed to turn all lights off during unoccupied hours.

  • Task lighting

    Task lighting

    Lighting task areas with the correct amount of light.

  • Zoning of lighting

    Zoning of lighting

    Lighting is zoned according to area use.

  • Maintenance schedule

    Maintenance schedule

    Maintenance must be performed in response to product age, performance and environment.

  • Waste light

    Waste light

    Eliminating waste light which does not hit the intended target.

  • Reflectance


    Taking advantage of light which is reflected from the surface within the space.

  • Visible smart metering

    Visible smart metering

    Results of actions can be quickly seen as increased or decreased energy use to encourage responsible energy consumption.

Locally manufactured floodlights from leading manufacturer Thorn Lighting sympathetically showcase the historic Durham Cathedral in all its glory once again.

Click here to watch the case study video. 

Described as the 'best cathedral on Planet Earth' by author Bill Bryson, Durham Cathedral was built in 1093 to house the Shrine of St Cuthbert and The Venerable Bede.

Renowned for its magnificent Romanesque architecture and the spectacular location at the heart of the Durham World Heritage Site, pivotal scenes for the first two Harry Potter movies were filmed throughout the cathedral. Alongside regular museum tours, it has been a place of pilgrimage for over a thousand years, with daily worship for more than 900 years.

Thorn Lighting, a leading manufacturer of innovative, performance-driven, and dependable indoor and outdoor lighting and controls solutions, worked with Durham County Council and Durham Cathedral to replace the site's current external lighting system.

Maya Polenz, chief officer: property at Durham Cathedral, explains: "While the current system was installed only ten years ago, it was in much need of a refresh due to as the lights kept failing’.”

As a local business, Thorn lighting has an excellent working partnership with Durham County Council and currently provides luminaires for street lighting projects as a one-stop-shop lighting contract. The Council wanted to replace the current lighting with a new scheme that could offer them integrated RGBW, resulting in a reduction in maintenance callouts.

Previously they had to attend the site to manually install colour gels to each fitting every time they wanted to represent a charity day or a special event. This was a labour-intensive requirement, and as such the new system makes it much easier as it enables you to facilitate light colour changes and control at the touch of a button.  

The project team worked carefully to develop a new lighting scheme that would be more efficient and reduce carbon emissions by employing the latest LED technology.

“Working with a Cathedral presents challenges with regards to installation” Sam Berry Thorn Lighting's Head of Outdoor Sales - UK & Ireland, details, "We had to work with the existing lighting design so as not to cause any issues with Heritage England. Also, the Cathedral has archaeological responsibilities on site that must be adhered to. So, we kept the existing positions, replacing the fittings and providing new bracketry."

The high-quality creative scheme has been developed using Thorn's new Contrast, energy efficient floodlights, and state-of-the-art control system.

The Contrast family offers a distinctive, long-lasting modern design, ideal for sympathetically lighting historic architecture. It’s main benefit for Durham Cathedral is its RGBW option with wireless DMX and RDM (Remote Device Management). Cathedral staff can now change the colour remotely to mark certain ceremonies and events throughout the year, such as Remembrance Day.  

Contrast’s RGBW multichip LEDs are mixed in a single lens to give a homogeneous, perfectly blended colour output, with no multi-shadow effect on lit surfaces, meaning operators will be able to control the colour of the lighting, but with increased functionality and efficient sequencing.

Contrast is available with multiple beam angles and shapes, a combination of narrow, medium and elliptical beams were used for the Durham Cathedral project.

For the lighting of the central tower, four high output floods with sixteen low output narrow beam Contrast luminaires have been installed. This provided a precise beam control focussed directly onto the tower helping to minimise stray light. All wide beam floods were replaced with either narrow or medium beam optics to provide greater control and intensity of the Cathedral’s architectural features.

The optical control is especially important on projects where RGBW is used to minimise overlap of beams where the purpose is to accentuate features of the building. For the Cathedral, medium beams were used on the walls and 10 x 40 elliptical beams to project light up, supporting the buttresses and increasing the definition and contrast of these features.

By using sophisticated 3D modelling software Thorn were able to check all the intensities to provide a balanced lighting scheme.

Furthermore, the floodlighting is very energy efficient with an efficacy of up to 100 lm/W.

Cllr John Shuttleworth, Durham County Council's Cabinet member for rural communities and highways, comments: "Durham Cathedral and Castle is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is an integral part of not only the city but County Durham as a whole. A project like this has to be carefully managed and sympathetic to such a magnificent structure.

“It is a beacon across the world and a vitally important part of our culture, which plays a central part in our bid to be named UK City of Culture 2025. The new lighting will allow people to appreciate the Cathedral at night with a new perspective, while it also enhances the current structure and ensures the lights will be kept on for years to come."

Maya continues, "This new system will once again showcase the Cathedral in all its glory, as an icon of worship, history and heritage on Durham's landscape. 

We are grateful to Durham County Council for the investment, which will enable a reduction in our carbon footprint whilst enabling the building to be fully illuminated again. It will allow the Cathedral and the wider county to mark moments of national significance, such as the upcoming celebrations for The Queen's Jubilee."

Matthew Boucher, Managing Director at Zumtobel Group UK & Ireland, comments, “As a local manufacturer, we are delighted to have collaborated with Durham County Council and Durham Cathedral for lighting the iconic Durham Cathedral. We are proud to have been involved on this project and look forward to seeing the Cathedral lit up in all its glory”.