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Saint Marys Abbey York


York Minster


There has been a religious building on the site of York Minster since 627 with the first stone structure being constructed in 637. Having been destroyed by fire and rebuilt over the years it is now the second largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe and contains the largest Gothic nave in England. It was on its site, during Roman times in 306 AD, that Constantine was proclaimed Emperor of the Western Roman Empire and a statue commemorates that event just outside of the Minster.

Located in the historic city of York, The Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of Saint Peter in York, or York Minster, is the second largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe.

There has been a religious building on the site dating back to 627 when a wooden church was built for the baptism of Edwin, King of Northumbria. This was replaced by a stone structure which was completed in 637 by Oswald, King of Northumbria and was dedicated to Saint Peter. Having fallen into disrepair significant work was carried out on it at the beginning of the 8th century. 

In 741, it was destroyed by fire but was rebuilt, the new structure containing 30 altars. That building was to survive despite a number of invasions over the years.  In 1069, during the Harrying of the North by William the Conqueror, it was damaged, but was repaired in 1070 by Thomas of Bayeux, the first Norman archbishop.

In 1075 the building was destroyed by the Danes but in 1080 was rebuilt in the Norman style of architecture. Fire once again was to damage the building in 1137 but repairs and additions were carried out. The choir and crypt were remodelled, and a new chapel was built in 1152, all in the Norman style.

Significant building work began in 1220, in the Gothic style, a style which had arrived from Northern France in the mid-12th century.   The north and south transepts were constructed, and these were completed in the 1250s. Also completed was a central tower with a wooden spire. In the 1260s the Chapter House was begun and that was completed by 1296. 

Construction on the nave began in the 1280s using the Norman foundations. Its roof is constructed of timber but is painted so as to appears to be stone: The aisles have vaulted stone roofs. The nave itself was completed in the 1330s, although it took until 1360 for the vaulting to be completed. Decorated in the Gothic style it is the widest Gothic nave in England.

In the 1390s the choir, the last of the Norman structures, was demolished for the construction of the eastern arm and chapels.  Work on these finished around 1405. In 1407 the central tower collapsed. This resulted in the piers being reinforced, and from 1420, a new tower was constructed. The western towers were constructed between 1433 and 1472.

The minster - a title that is attributed to churches established in the Anglo-Saxon period as missionary teaching churches - was completed in 1472 when it was consecrated.

During the English Reformation (1509-1547) - which took place when the Church of England broke away from the authority of the pope and the Catholic Church - the building was looted and many of its treasures were stolen, and much damage was done to the building.

During the 18th and 19th century much work was done on the minster to restore and preserve it.

The building itself has a cruciform plan, which is based on the shape of the cross. To the north, it has an octagonal chapter house attached to the north transept, a central tower and two towers at the west front. Constructed in magnesian limestone - which is a creamy-white coloured rock quarried locally - The Minster is 524.5 feet (159.9 m) long and the central tower has a height of 235 feet (72 m). The choir has an interior height of 102 feet (31 m).

Entering from the West Front visitors enter into the Nave which consists of three aisles and they get an idea of the size of the Minster. Taking 60 years to complete it is 80 meters in length and 30 meters wide it has a height of 29 meters making it the largest Gothic nave in England. Apart from service this is also used for events. Looking back, over the portal is The Great West window which is known as the heart of Yorkshire. The upper stonework having been completed in 1340.

The Nave leads to the north and south transepts with the Central Tower rising above the centre of the transept, this is also known as the Lantern Tower, and is an amazing feat of 15th-century engineering. Built between 1407 and 1433, it stands more than 230 feet, the height of a 21-story building. Visitors can climb the 275 steps to the top and get close-up views of York Minster's pinnacles, gargoyles, and carvings.

The north and south transepts were the first parts of the new church to be built. They have simple lancet windows, including the Five Sisters in the north transept. These consist of five lancets, each 16.3 metres (53 ft) tall and five feet wide glazed with grey (grisaille) glass which is entirely in shades of grey or of another neutral greyish colour. rather than narrative scenes or symbolic motifs that are usually seen in medieval stained-glass windows. The window dates from the mid-1200s but was rededicated in 1924 to all the women who lost their lives in the first world war and is the only such dedication in the country.

Leading from the North Transit is the passageway that goes to the Chapter House. The beautiful and airy octagonal room of the Chapter House was begun in 1260 and completed in 1286 and is one of the oldest parts of the Minster.

Created as a meeting place for the Dean and Chapter of York Minster, it is still used for the same purpose. Although the Minster is the seat of the Archbishop of York, its day-to-day running and most of its daily worship services are governed and organized by the Dean.

The ceiling of the Chapter House is unsupported by a central column and is vault free, which is unusual for its period. The ceiling has a central boss that connects the radiating ribs, which features a number of Christian symbols. 

Around the walls are a series of carvings and each wall has six seats, to emphasize the equality of the Chapter members, no one can sit in the centre. The eighth side of the octagonal room is the archway of a passage leading from the nave.

In the South Transit is The Rose Window, which consists of 73 panels, containing 7,000 pieces of stained glass, this was nearly lost after lightning struck the Minster in 1984 causing a fire in its wooden roof and the window to shatter.

Although the stonework of the Rose Window was completed in the mid-13th century the stained glass wasnít added until near the end of the 15th century to commemorate the end of the War of the Roses and honour the Tudor dynasty.

Just past the Transit is the Quire. This was built between 1361 and 1420 and was the main area used for worship. It was not until the 19th century that services were held in the main body of the Nave. The original Quire was destroyed by fire in 1829 by an act of arson which destroyed the roof, vault, the organ and all internal woodwork. The replacement did, as far as possible, recreate the original Medieval work.

At the side of the Quire is the organ consisting of over 5000 pipes. This dates from the 1830s and underwent a major refurbishment programme in 1903..  This replaced the organ dating from the 1600s which was destroyed in the fire deliberately started in 1829. 

Below the organ is the Kingís stone screen which separates the nave and the Quire. Built in the 15th century it has 15 near sized sculptures of the kings of England from William the Conqueror to Henry VI. 

At the far, east end of the Minster is the Lady Chapel. The 1923 altar screen (reredos) is dedicated to Queen Victoria and shows a colourful nativity scene complete with Magi (left) and shepherds (right). The chapel was badly damaged by the 1829 fire and was not reopened for worship until 1883.

Overlooking the chapel is the Great East Window which is the largest expanse of medieval stained glass in the country. This was created between 1405 and 1408.  This underwent considerable preservation work in the 1960s and between 2005 to 2018. It is now protected by UV-resisting external glazing. The minster in fact has the greatest collection medieval stained glass in the country, some of which dates back to the 12th century.

The Crypt is located under the main altar and stretches under the quire to the crossing. It is accessed via stairs from the side aisles.

Dating from the 12th century it contains the remains of the 11th century Apse from  the earlier cathedral, as well as the bases of Roman columns on the site in 400 AD. Also to be seen are a number of tombs including that of Saint William, the Patron saint of York, as well as Roman and Norman carvings, although it also includes some modern stone altars.

Many of the artefacts found during the work to shore up the cathedralís foundations carried out in the 19th century are displayed in the undercroft museum which is located in the crypt. 

Located outside of the cathedral is a statue of the Roman emperor Constantine due to Constantine being proclaimed Emperor of the Western Roman Empire in 306 AD while in York, which was at the time called Eboracum. The Romans controlled Eboracum from 71 AD until around 400 AD.

In 313 AD, Constantine proclaimed religious tolerance throughout the Roman Empire, later he was to become the first Christian Emperor.

It has been suggested that the proclamation may have taken place in a Roman basilica the remains of which lie beneath York Minster. The basilica was discovered, along with the foundations of the Norman church, in 1967 during works to shore up the foundations of the Minsterís Lantern Tower. These early finds are exhibited in the Undercroft Museum of the cathedral which displays many artifacts from the minster.

York Minster still maintains a small staff of craftsmen, including stonemasons and glaziers and they have a workshop next to the building.


              All  Photographs were taken by and are copyright of Ron Gatepain

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