The seal of Antony Bek, bishop of Durham, as patriarch of Jerusalem represents pretty well the apogee of power and influence of the bishops of Durham. Bek was appointed patriarch of Jerusalem by Pope Clement V in 1306. The position made Bek in effect the senior clergyman in the kingdom. It was a distinction that no member of the clergy in this country had held before or has held since. Whilst it was an honour that was somewhat lacking in power in itself as Jerusalem was then in Moslem hands, it did bring Bek some perks as the patriarch still had some possessions in Mediterranean islands, and the use of a church in Rome, and, perhaps more pertinently, it brought Bek personal exemption from obedience to his immediate superior, the archbishop of York.
Never one to let slip a chance for proclaiming his status and position, Bek made use of his new title in his documents and had a new seal made, which uniquely combines images of his two high ecclesiastical offices. It is a stunning example of the seal-maker’s art, one of the finest in the cathedral’s extensive collection of many fine seals. It is redolent with imagery of Bek’s new elevated rank. The central portion of the obverse of the design reflects Bek as patriarch. At the top is Our Lord on the Cross flanked by the Blessed Virgin Mary and St John. Below that is Our Lord’s sepulchre with an angel seated on it, announcing the Resurrection to the 3 women, with 3 soldiers dozing on their shields in the tomb’s recesses below. At the bottom is Bek, in his mass vestments, kneeling, and praying. He is flanked on each side by a patriarchal cross, beautifully shaped and with a pin in the foot for planting it beside the patriarch, rather than being borne before him processionally. The two side panels reflect Bek as bishop of Durham, with the crowned Blessed Virgin holding the Christ child on one side, and on the other St Cuthbert fully robed and mitred. His right hand is raised in blessing, and he is holding the crowned head of St Oswald in his left hand, with his mitre in the crook of his elbow. In a roundel below each of these niches is an ermine mill-rind cross, part of Bek’s personal arms, and reflecting his military career on Crusade with Prince Edward in the early 1270s and then commanding part of the then King Edward I’s troops at the Battle of Falkirk in 1298.