I’m cheating again with Travel Pic Thursday by
stealing borrowing a post from an old blog of mine that has long since gone to blog limbo. As I used to get far more detailed about my travels, this Travel Pic Thursday won’t have the usual quick facts, but don’t worry because York Minster is fascinating enough to keep you riveted to your screen for several paragraphs (or so I hope).
A Quick History, or As Quick As I Can Make It
Since the 600s, a church has been on the grounds where York Minster now stands. But prior to this, about 500 years prior, the Romans were using York (which they called Eboracum) as a military outpost. Among other things, this outpost included walls (remnants of which can still be seen) and a fortress. After the Romans left York (about 400 CE), the fortress fell into disrepair and eventually got covered over.
The first church on the Minster site was a little wooden job built in 627. Because the builders were in a hurry, the building probably wasn’t much to look at. Why the hurry? Because when the king wants to convert to Christianity and be baptised, you don’t dither over the problem of not having a church – you just build a damn church.
This building was shored up with stone a decade later and improved a bit over the years, but a fire in 741 leveled the place. so, building began again. This time, it was bigger and better (still no sprinkler system, though).
When William the Conqueror made his way to York in 1069, he wasn’t exactly welcome in the area (hence “Conquerer” rather than “Welcomed with Open Arms”). A nasty bit of fighting called the Harrying of the North damaged the cathedral (and also damaged a lot of people). When he was done harrying, Willy had the archbishop repair the church.
Well, this didn’t last long. The Danes were the ones who had been harried. They weren’t good losers and came back and destroyed the newly repaired church in 1075. But William took it all in stride and had a Norman church built in 1080. Again, with no sprinkler system.
About fifty years later, another fire gutted the church. More repairs, more remodeling all in the Norman style.
By the 12th century a fancy new style was in vogue for cathedrals: Gothic. This style featured not moody kids dressed in black, but elaborate stone work, flying buttresses, and towers. The archbishop didn’t want to be the last to adopt the fashion, so he ordered the cathedral to be rebuilt in the new style in 1215. It took until 1472 for the church to be “officially” complete (still no sprinkler system). Most of what you see today dates from this building period.
Although many treasures were taken and tombs were desecrated, the Minster survived the ravages of the Tudor efforts to rid England of Catholicism, and the battles of the Reformation. It did not however fair well against a disgruntled man named Jonathan Martin who, in 1840, locked himself in one night and set fire to the quire – an area filled with wooden pews, pulpit, decor, etc. He got out, but the church was in bad shape and remained in bad shape for 18 years until funds were found to restore the cathedral.
Paying a Visit
The Minster today is a must-see. The first thing you see when you walk in is the nave – a vast expanse of arches and stained glass. Continuing your way back to the center of the cathedral, you’re greeted by the Kings’ Screen – a line of stone carvings of the kings from William the Conqueror to Henry VI.
Moving all the way to the back of the church, you’ll pass the quire (now restored) and come to an area where workers are restoring the massive stained glass window at the back. This restoration requires the removal of each pane so it can be taken apart and fitted back together. Some of the panes are displayed in The Orb at the back of the church – this is the closest you will ever get to medieval stained glass so don’t miss it!
Heading back to the center of the church, you can go to the north transept and tour the chapter house – an octagonal structure with an array of intricate stone carvings above every bench – some of which make you wonder about what went on in there. On the other side, at the south transept, you can climb the tower or head to lower ground to see the Undercroft.
History buffs, do not miss this (no one else should either)! The Undercroft reveals the history of the Minster from Romans to Normans, Victorians to Georgians. Here you can see models of the former buildings and even take a peek at a section of the original Roman fortress.
I don’t like tight spiral staircases and am not a fan of heights, so I skipped this. My husband, however, made the journey up and up. While he was climbing, I took a guided tour and learned that in 1967, it was found the current tower was slowly subsiding into the ground. Comforting thought. I also learned that the original tower collapsed while they were building it in the 1400s and that the current tower was put up almost as an afterthought. This completely reinforces the point of why I don’t climb up medieval towers.
Still, the tower is (supposedly) stable now and if you enjoy climbing narrow spiral stairs, you should pay the extra 5 pounds and head on up.
The Minster, like many cathedrals, has a bell tower. The bells ding-a-ling throughout the day to call out the hour, but the real show is at about 4:45pm Tuesday through Saturday when a little concert calls people to Evensong. Even better, if you’re there on a Tuesday (which we were), you get to listen to a church bell practice session from 7:30 to about 9:00pm. It gets a little repetitive, but it sounds great (and you will hear it from anywhere in the core area of York – we heard it from our B&B, about a kilometer away).
York Minster is open to tourists Monday through Saturday from 9am to 5pm. On Sundays, you’ll have to wait until 12:45pm to get in. Currently (2015), it does cost 10 pounds to get in (tower climb is an additional 5 pounds). BUT that 10 pounds gets you admission for 12 months – not good if you’re leaving the next day, but quite handy if you’re staying a few days and want to pop back in. Admission includes a free guided tour. You can find out more on the York Minster website.
On certain days, charity groups bring homemade cakes, sandwiches, cookies and all sorts of yummy goodies along with tea or other soft drinks. They set up in the north transept and the prices cannot be beat. The only problem is trying to decide which treat to get.
Have you been to the York Minster? What was your favorite part?