Address: Deansgate, York YO1 7HH

Website

Phone: +44 (0) 1904 557200

 

York Minster History

York Minster’s history goes back a long way and, as with many religious buildings, it’s fairly well documented and quite precise chronologically. It’s had its fair share of turmoil over the years, but remains one of the most beautiful religious buildings and one of the largest Gothic cathedrals in northern Europe.

The history of the site can be traced back to Roman times, with remains of the Basilica, the ceremonial centre of the Roman fortress, being found beneath the Minster.

The first Minster was erected in 627. It was a wooden structure and was built for Edwin of Northumbria, the Anglo Saxon king. He was persuaded by his future wife, Ethelburga of Kent, to convert to Christianity and this is where the baptism took place. Edwin was killed in battle and Oswald built a stone replacement in 637, dedicating it to St Peter. The Minster was destroyed by fire in 741 and the subsequent rebuilding gave it a glorious new look with 30 altars. It was attacked by the Vikings in 866, but survived.

For the next two hundred years the church fell into a state of disrepair and in 1069, when the Normans finally took control of York, they ransacked it. William the Conqueror appointed his own Archbishop, Thomas of Bayeux, and in 1070 he undertook the task of building a Norman cathedral. It was finished in 1100 and the remains of the 900 year old columns can be seen today in the undercroft.

The regular theme of fire damage and rebuild continued in 1137, which was the last major construction before the start of an important era. Norman cathedrals were now becoming out of step with the Gothic style that was sweeping Europe at the time. When Walter de Grey became Archbishop in 1215, he instigated a huge building programme that, over time, dismantled the existing Norman structure and replaced it with the Gothic style that was sought after. This was the most important point in the Minster’s history and resulted in the building we see today.

The octagonal Chapter House was built in 1260-86 and contains some of the building’s finest carvings. North and south transepts were added, but they now dwarfed the nave, so this was rebuilt in 1291, making it twice as wide. It was then the widest in Europe. From 1361 the Lady Chapel was added and the Quire was replaced in 1395. By 1400, the cathedral was completely Gothic.

The Central Tower collapsed in 1407 and it took until 1433 to rebuild it with the building being finally completed and consecrated on July 3rd 1472. Thus, the Minster was finished and had taken 250 years to rebuild.

Even though it was finished, problems continued. The English Reformation led to the loss of Minster land and looting of treasure, and the reigns of Edward VI and Elizabeth I saw the destruction and removal of much of the cathedral. These included chapels, tombs, altars, brasses, vestments and windows. One reason for the purge was to remove Roman Catholic traces.

Subsequent rebuilding continued in the 18th century and a major reconstruction took place in the early 19th century. There were then a further two major fires before the turn of the century.

This, pretty much, takes the Minster up to modern times, with 1967 seeing a structural survey revealing extensive defects and necessitating £2 million of restoration work. In 1984 a fire destroyed the south Transept roof and this again needed £2 million to restore it.

For a building this size and this structurally intricate, ongoing repair work is a regular occurrence. But with various grants, lottery money and the daily visitor income, the building is in safe financial hands which should ensure that the Minster is in permanently good condition.

 

York Minster Visit

The people that visit York Minster could fall into two categories – those that have a deep interest in the building, for whom the visit is a dream fulfilment, and those who visit simply out of curiosity. The first category would love it from the first moment and could spend a week looking around, whilst the curious may just walk around looking at stone walls, altars and various bits and pieces. I was probably in the second category and, after doing a bit of research when returning home, wished I’d done it before I visited. It would have made it a lot more interesting. It’s steeped in history to an amazing extent and all the bits are there in front of you. The museum downstairs has all manner of relics, some dating back two thousand years. Read about the history before you go and get familiar with the layout.

Basically, you pay your entrance fee and are given the option of paying an extra five pounds or so to go up the tower. The tower trip has nearly 300 steps and it quite a climb, but the views are good. The entrance fee allows you to also go down to the undercroft and the crypt.

When entering through the main entrance, you’ll find yourself in the south transept, where the admission booths are. Once past those, you’ll be in the nave, the large open area ahead and to your left.

There’s a huge amount of detail to see and there’s a awful lot of help at hand if you want to ask questions.

The grounds are a wonderful place to enjoy, especially in summer.