The imposing York Minster - the name means a monastic church - commemorates the monks who converted those living in the surrounding countryside to Christianity. York Minster is dedicated to St Peter and is worthy of its important diocese, whose bishops sat on the council at Arles in 314. After this its history became shrouded in silence. It was not until the turmoil of the period of migration of the peoples that the oldest documented (wooden) church was built here for the baptism of King Edwin of Northumbria in 627. Succeeding Saxon and Norman constructions were destroyed, and the present cathedral was built in the Gothic style after the 13th century.
York Minster Map
Official site: www.yorkminster.org
Address: Visitors Department, St Williams College, 4-5 College Street, York YO1 7JF, England
Opening hours: Jan 1 to Dec 31: 7am-6pm; Sun: 1pm-6pm
York Minster Highlights
In the north (left-hand) aisle the chapel door, decorated with 14th century sculptures, in the second bay is notable. A little further along, the Pilgrimage Window (about 1312) can be found above the dragon's head. It shows Peter surrounded by pilgrims, and has some unusual details, such as a cock reading and the funeral of a monkey. Next to this is the radiant 14th century Bellfounders' Window with its relevant motifs. The Jesse Window (about 1310) in the third bay of the south (right-hand) aisle is also remarkable. It depicts the forerunners of Jesus, including David, Solomon and prophets.
The triple-naved choir aisle was built in the English early Gothic style between 1220 and 1280. The back wall of the north transept features five narrow lancet windows (about 1260). Named the Five Sisters Window by Charles Dickens, its decorative grisaille glass continually fascinates visitors. Continue across the crossing, with its 15th century vaulted tower, to the rood-screen. This masterpiece of late Gothic sculpture contains statues of 15 English kings, starting with William I on the left and finishing with Henry VI on the right.
The cathedral's Norman choir was rebuilt in the late 14th century. After a fire in 1829 destroyed the roof and the woodwork (including the choir stalls) they were replaced by copies of the originals. The high altar dates from 1938. St William's Window (1422) in the south gallery depicts scenes from the life of St William, whose shrine in the sacristy was worshipped in the Middle Ages. William Fitzherbert was created Archbishop of York by Pope Eugene III in 1143, was unfairly relieved of his office in 1147, but was reinstated in 1153. During Fitzherbert's triumphal return to York in 1154 the bridge across the Ouse broke under the weight of the spectators, but as no one was injured this was taken as a sign of the holiness of the archbishop and he was canonized in 1227. St Cuthbert's Window (about 1435) in the north gallery of the choir forms a counterpart to St William's Window. It portrays events in the life of this saint who was consecrated as archbishop in 685 in the Saxon minster. Behind the choir is the Lady Chapel, with its magnificent east window (about 1408). Possibly the largest medieval stained glass window in the world, it illustrates parts of the Old Testament. When entering the south transept, which was very badly damaged by fire in 1984, note the marvelous rose window (about 1500). This commemorates the ending of the War of the Roses, fought between the Houses of Lancaster and York for the right of succession to the throne, with the marriage of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. The tomb of Archbishop Walter de Gray (d. 1255) in the middle chapel is a dignified baldachin tomb featuring a reclining high Gothic figure.
The 12th century Norman crypt of York Minster is entered from the presbytery. Here can be seen the remains of the 11th century apse of the preceding cathedral, as well as parts of the Eastern Crypt (14th century). The crypt's valuable contents include the York Virgin (12th century madonna), the Doomstone (purgatory relief, late 12th century), decorated 12th century capitals, the 15th century font used for the baptism of King Edwin by Bishop Paulinus in 627, and the shrine of St William of York (archbishop, d. 1154), which was brought here in 1972.
The vestibule of the Chapterhouse is reached from the north transept. On entering this part of the cathedral visitors will immediately notice to their left a window (about 1300) depicting kings and queens, and the richly decorated capitals. The flaying of St Bartholomew can be seen on a capital to the right of the 13th century door with interlaced decoration leading to the octagonal Chapterhouse (1260-1285). The painted wooden vaulted roof (65.6ft/20m in diameter) is self-supporting and was renewed first in 1798 and again in 1976. The fine stall-canopies are impressive, as are the tracery windows, whose glass dates partly from the 13th/14th century and through which much light pours.
Among the interesting buildings to be found in York-Minster close are half-timbered St William's College (15th century, exhibition on the history of the Minster), the Treasurer's House (17th century house belonging to the cathedral's treasurer containing numerous antiques) and the Minster Library, which is housed in a 12th/13th century chapel and has many valuable books and manuscripts. On the south side of the Minster is the church of St Michael-le-Belfrey (rebuilt 1536), which has interesting stained glass windows. A fourth century Roman column standing behind it commemorates the day when Constantine was proclaimed Roman emperor in York in 306.
Excavations carried out from 1967 to 1972 to strengthen the foundations of the cathedral around the central tower revealed extensive Roman and Anglo-Saxon structures. After the completion of the work this area was fitted out as a museum and a treasury, containing numerous precious objects including the Horn of Ulf (about 1020) and liturgical utensils dating from the Middle Ages and early modern times.
York Minster's main door in the west front leads into the nave, begun in 1291 and completed after 1350 in the high Gothic style. One of Europe's widest Gothic naves, its wooden vaulting imitates the stone vault which was intended. The central axis is embellished with carved keystones depicting scenes from the lives of Christ and Mary. The impressive eight-columned tracery window (1338) in the west front is inset with a sacral heart (Heart of Yorkshire), the work of the master Robert Ketelbarn, and portrays scenes from the New Testament, as well as apostles and bishops. The shields fixed along the walls of the nave commemorate the nobles who supported Edward I and Edward II in their wars against Scotland. The dragon's head projecting from the gallery is part of a levering device used to raise the cover of the font.The mid-13th century window in the north transept is the largest grisaille window in England.
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