York Minster is one of the finest medieval cathedrals in Europe. Towering over the city of York, in the county of Yorkshire, its real name is Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of Saint Peter in York.
It more common name of York Minster reflects its previous joint role as a monastery.
Let’s look in more detail at this spectacular place.
History Of York Minster
The City of York is over 2000 years old, starting out as Roman settlement.
There’s been a Christian Church – and monastery until Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century – there since the 7th century, when the Saxons built a church in 672. This, surprisingly, survived the invasion of the Vikings in the 9th century.
But it wasn’t as lucky after the victorious Norman troops arrived after William the Conqueror’s victory at the Battle of Hastings. It was significantly damaged.
William rebuilt the Church in the Norman style, but it wasn’t until the 13th Century that the present structure was started.
A new Archbishop of York, Walter de Gray, decided to rebuild the church in the new Gothic style, partly to rival Canterbury. He even persuaded the Pope to canonise St William of York, whose tomb the Minster was built around.
The main building was started in 1220 and was built from local magnesium limestone. Although the Nave, Quire, central tower and transcepts were completed within 60 years the whole building wasn’t completed fully completed until 1472. It has remained largely unchanged ever since.
Like many churches of the era, the Minster has a cruciform plan – ie shaped like the Christian cross – comprising the Nave and Transcepts. Let’s look at these constituent parts in more detail:
An East-West central aisle forms the long middle of the cross.
The longest Western part of the aisle is the ‘Nave’ a spectacular cavernous area where special services are held. It contains some of finest examples of stained glass in the Minster.
York Minster is famous for its stained glass windows, with an estimated two million pieces of coloured glass used to create these stunning pieces of art.
Two great examples, the Great East and West Windows are at either end of the central aisle containing the Nave.
Most sung services take place in the Quire (notice its similarity to the word ‘Choir’).
This is like a chapel area within the central aisle of the Minster containing several stalls for the Minster’s choristers.
The ’arms’ of the cross – the ‘transcepts’ – also contain some great stained glass.
The North Trancept contains the ‘Five Sisters’ window; the South Transcept contains the recently restored ‘Rose Window’ (see later).
The Central Tower was originally built between around 1220 and 1253. It is the only part of the current cathedral to have collapsed, which happened in 1407.
Under the Nave lies two Crypts containing the graves of many of the past Archbishops of York, amongst others.
It also houses the tomb of St William of York, who was canonised in 1227.
A small octagonal Chapter House is attached to the North Trancept.
It’s the main meeting room for the Cathedral Chapter, the governing body of the Minster.
The Fire Of 1984
On the morning of 9 July 1984, the citizens of York awoke to the sight of flames shooting from the Minster’s South Transept. A lightening strike had set fire to the roof and was threatening to engulf the whole building.
Over 100 firefighters fought to save the Minster – just like the more recent Notre Dame fire its survival was touch and go for a while. This was was only achieved when firefighters deliberately collapsed the roof using gallons of water to prevent the fire’s spread.
As well as the roof being destroyed, the Rose Window was badly damaged. All the glass was shattered, but thankfully the lead frame was mostly unharmed.
A repair and restoration process was started in 1988 and both the roof and Rose Window were fully restored.
Visiting York Minster
The Minster is open to visitors 7 days a week but, as a working church, it is sometimes necessary for it to close to tourists (for services for example).
Admission is, of course, free for worshippers (and you would be welcome at most of the Minster religious ceremonies) but is £11.50 per adult for general visitors. Or £16.50 if you wish to climb the Tower. Children with a paying adults are free (or £5 to climb the Tower).
Getting the Minster is tricky by car given its position in the centre of car unfriendly York. Indeed you should leave the car in one of the many ‘Park & Rides’ on the outskirts and take one of the many frequent buses to the centre of town.
The easiest way to get there is by train. York’s central station is just a short walk away.
However you get there, you’re sure to be blown away by the magnificent stone and stained glass of this spectacular building.