Anybody who has visited York will be impressed by the magnificence of York Minster which (as we see it today) took around 250 years to build. It is the largest medieval Gothic cathedral in Europe. Within and beneath the Minster are traces of every age from the Roman occupancy onwards. The Minster was originally Roman Catholic but converted to the Church of England after the break from Rome, which was initiated by Henry VIII in 1534. Mynster was the Anglo Saxon name for a missionary church, a church built as new centre for Christian worship. In addition to being a Minster the church at York is a Cathedral. A cathedral is the church within a diocese which houses the “cathedra” or ‘chair’ of the bishop.
The first Minster was wooden and built for the christening of the Anglo Saxon King Edwin of Northumbria in 627. A few years after his christening Edwin ordered that the church be rebuilt in stone. A small stone church was erected on the site of the original wooden structure, which over time was enlarged. The new structure managed to survive the Viking age only to be damaged by fire in 1069 when the Normans took control of the city.
The Normans decided to build a new Minster in a different location. In 1080 Thomas of Bayeaux became Archbishop and started to build a cathedral which was completed after his death in around 1100. The columns from this structure can be seen today in the undercroft beneath the current Minster. I will come back to the undercroft later.
During the mid twelfth century the Norman church was enlarged to the East and the West. Walter Gray became Archbishop in 1215 and was responsible for transforming the Norman church into today’s Minster and over time the nave, Lady Chapel and quire were added.
The central tower collapsed in 1407 and was not completely rebuilt until 1433. Following the rebuilding of the tower the western towers were added, completing the Minster in 1472.
The Minster has suffered other damage over the years. In February 1829, Jonathan Martin deliberately set fire to the quire. The fire destroyed the east end roof and timber vault and also all of the wooden furniture within the quire. Then, just eleven years later and accidental fire destroyed the nave and roof vault. In more recent times (1984) another fire broke out in the south transept. This time it was natural causes; a lightning strike. It took 4 years to repair the damage.
The Minster is currently part way through the five-year ‘York Minster Revealed‘ project. The Heritage Lottery Fund has issued a grant to enable expansion of training in the specialist skills of stone-masonry and stained glass conservation. These skills are being used to repair and restore the stonework and stained glass on the east front of the Minster.
When I visited the Minster recently I was able to see the stonemasons working away at their craft, outside the Minster in the stone yard. On my previous visit last year there was a display of some of their detailed work within the Minster. I am sure by now this has been incorporated into the newly repaired parts of the Minster’s stonework.
There are many stained glass windows within the Minster. The oldest complete one dates back to around 1260. The great east window which has been removed as part of the current restoration is the world’s largest area of medieval stained glass in a single window. It depicts the beginning and the end of the world using scenes from the biblical books of Genesis and Revelation. Whilst it is being restored it has been replaced by a nearly full-sized digital photograph which is the largest of its kind in the world.
I mentioned that I would talk more about the undercroft, which has some fascinating historical displays. In the 1960s the central tower was in danger of collapse and required work to shore up the foundations. The workers carrying out excavations in the undercroft found remains of the buildings that had previously existed on the site, along with artefacts, which are now on display alongside the archaeological remains of both the Roman principia building and the Norman cathedral. The undercroft also houses the treasures and jewels of the archbishops. The crypt is still used occasionally for special church services.
Such an impressive sight Cherry. I loved going to visit churches and cathedral when I was living in France and your photograph gives me such a great sens of the size of this Minster. I cannot imagine the painstaking effort it took all the workers involved to build such a masterpiece. Thank you for all the history that came with this photograph 🙂
November 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnyes – Far Away in the Sunshine
First of all, Cherry, your image takes my breath away. We’re just not used to such edifices in America, so when I see them in Europe, I’m still speechless.
Secondly, when you said this one took 250 years to build, I immediately thought that’s how old this cathedral was. WRONG! It all boggles the mind. That kind of age…and look how beautiful she still looks. This is when you can say her beauty IS her age! HA. I’ll have to remember that.
I know you love history like this, Cherry. Thank you for sharing it so lovingly with us.
November 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGinnie
I’ve been to the York Cathedral…and was completely awestruck. That it took centuries of hard labor to build and re-build – made it all that much more amazing to me. I believe it was the book ‘The Pillars of the Earth’ (which I couldn’t put down) that told its story in the context of life at the times.
Love your image..and thank-you for the history behind it. It takes me right back to being there.
November 20, 2011 | Registered CommenterMarcie
i am never disappointed when i drop by the blog to see what’s what, and today, i am awestruck by the history lesson and the image. there is so much to see and do in new york, and i have never taken the time to meander into churches, but you took me there this morning, and i thank you.
November 20, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterhoney
A glorious image to illustrate a fabulous history lesson for this lovely building. It’s hard to imagine the time and effort it took to complete the building, re-building and preservation of such a wonder.
November 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMarie
It’s been many years since I was able to visit some of the magnificent cathedrals of Europe, but my memories include being in awe of the rich beauty and history — like you have shared with us today, as well as feeling the ‘chill’ of the cold stone and the hearing the empty echoes and reverberations of the sound.
November 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSue
Anyes – I have visited some of the cathedrals in France and found their history very interesting. On my to visit list is Chartres. I had intended to go this year but it didn’t quite work out. It was very difficult to choose an image that shows the immense size of the Minster, I am glad it worked for you.
Ginnie – I am in awe of these big old cathedrals too. I wonder about all the people of the years who have collectively contributed to their building.
Marcie – How lovely that you have had a chance to visit York Minster. I have the book Pillars of the Earth, I really should get round to reading it. I have a board game of the same name too, it is based on the book.
Honey – I am so glad you enjoyed the virtual visit.
Marie – I am glad you enjoyed the image and the history.
Sue – We were lucky to hear music on our visit. The organist was practising and the sound was glorious. Then a bit later on we heard the choir practising in one of the side rooms.
November 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCherryPie
Awesome – in the literal sense of the word. Can you imagine what it would be like to be married in that setting? I think I would almost be afraid that I couldn’t live up to the expectations!
November 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNancy Roman
What an absolutely gorgeous and history building. thank you for the wonderful history as well!
November 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPuna
This brings back memories of trips made to the Minster in my school days and being totally overwhelmed by that wonderful Rose window. I was there last year and the wonder of it all was there all over again.
November 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnne
Nancy – To be married in that building would be quite awesome an humbling in equal measures.
Puna – I am glad you enjoyed the history and the building. It was quite difficult to condense so much history into so few words and still give it justice. It was also difficult to choose a single picture that would give a good impression of York Minster.
Anne – The Rose window is wonderful. So far I have been unable to take a photograph that does it justice. An excuse for another visit maybe 😉
November 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCherryPie
Your image is terrific, Cherry, and it brought back memories of my visit to York. I loved the cathedral, but I also have to mention here that I am a big admirer of the English cathedrals, my favorite being Wells. I loved York for its beautiful cathedral, but also for the towns medieval center with its narrow lanes and alleys. It was just a wonderful place to visit.
November 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCarola
what a beautiful picture – the light and shade is just perfect!! i visited it years ago, lovely to see it again!
November 21, 2011 | Registered CommenterEliza
wow! just incredible. there is something so magical about places that are filled with such history. when i went to germany we visited trier, and the incredibly old church there, i have never forgotten the feeling i had while standing there. a wonderful photo!
November 21, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterkelly
I love the angle of the shot and how you were able to capture so much of the interior. That’s one thing that really struck me about Europe was the history that was held in the buildings, roads, and villages. We don’t have anything like it in the states and never will. I ditto Ginnie’s comment about remember that age is what makes the cathedral so beautiful. I think I value how strong such a building must be to hold up through time. And the human creativity and heart that went into creating something so inspiring.
November 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMaery Rose
Carola – I am glad you like the image, it was difficult to find one that even began to show how impressive the Minster is.
It is many years since I visited Wells Cathedral, but I can still remember the amazing feeling I got when I stood underneath the scissor arch and looked up.
Eliza – Thank you.
Kelly – I have visited some very old small churches that have given me the same feeling as the big cathedrals.
Maery – It is the age, the history, the people and the loving care that makes these places beautiful.
November 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCherryPie