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York Minster is a Gothic cathedral in York, England and is
one of the largest of its kind in Northern Europe alongside
Cologne Cathedral. The minster is the seat of the Archbishop
of York, the second-highest office of the Church of England,
and is the cathedral for the Diocese of York; it is run by a
dean and chapter under the Dean of York. The formal title of
York Minster is The Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of
St Peter in York. The title "Minster" is attributed to
churches established in the Anglo Saxon period as missionary
teaching churches, and serves now as an honorific title.
Services in the minster are sometimes regarded as on the
High Church or Anglo-Catholic end of the Anglican continuum.
The minster has a very wide
Decorated Gothic nave and chapter house, a Perpendicular
Gothic choir and east end and Early English north and south
transepts. The nave contains the West Window, constructed in
1338, and over the Lady Chapel in the east end is the Great
East Window, (finished in 1408), the largest expanse of
medieval stained glass in the world. In the north transept
is the Five Sisters Window, each lancet being over 16 metres
(52 ft) high. The south transept contains a famous rose
York has had a Christian presence from the fourth
century. The first church on the site was a wooden structure
built hurriedly in 627 to provide a place to baptise Edwin,
King of Northumbria. Moves toward a more substantial
building began in the 630s. A stone structure was completed
in 637 by Oswald and was dedicated to Saint Peter. The
church soon fell into disrepair and was dilapidated by 670
when Saint Wilfrid ascended to the see of York. He repaired
and renewed the structure. The attached school and library
were established and by the 8th century were some of the
most substantial in northern Europe.
In 741 the church was
destroyed in a fire. It was rebuilt as a more impressive
structure containing thirty altars. The church and the
entire area then passed through the hands of numerous
invaders, and its history is obscure until the 10th century.
There was a series of Benedictine archbishops, including
Saint Oswald, Wulfstan, and Ealdred, who travelled to
Westminster to crown William in 1066. Ealdred died in 1069
and was buried in the church.
The church was damaged in 1069 during William the
Conqueror's harrying of the North, but the first Norman
archbishop, Thomas of Bayeux, arriving in 1070, organised
repairs. The Danes destroyed the church in 1075, but it was
again rebuilt from 1080. Built in the Norman style, it was
111 m (364.173 ft) long and rendered in white and red lines.
The new structure was damaged by fire in 1137 but was soon
repaired. The choir and crypt were remodelled in 1154, and a
new chapel was built, all in the Norman style.
The Gothic style in
cathedrals had arrived in the mid 12th century. Walter de
Gray was made archbishop in 1215 and ordered the
construction of a Gothic structure to compare to Canterbury;
building began in 1220. The north and south transepts were
the first new structures; completed in the 1250s, both were
built in the Early English Gothic style but had markedly
different wall elevations. A substantial central tower was
also completed, with a wooden spire. Building continued into
the 15th century.
The Chapter House was begun
in the 1260s and was completed before 1296. The wide nave
was constructed from the 1280s on the Norman foundations.
The outer roof was completed in the 1330s, but the vaulting
was not finished until 1360. Construction then moved on to
the eastern arm and chapels, with the last Norman structure,
the choir, being demolished in the 1390s. Work here finished
around 1405. In 1407 the central tower collapsed; the piers
were then reinforced, and a new tower was built from 1420.
The western towers were added between 1433 and 1472. The
cathedral was declared complete and consecrated in 1472.
The English Reformation led to the looting of much of the
cathedral's treasures and the loss of much of the church
lands. Under Elizabeth I there was a concerted effort to
remove all traces of Roman Catholicism from the cathedral;
there was much destruction of tombs, windows and altars. In
the English Civil War the city was besieged and fell to the
forces of Cromwell in 1644, but Thomas Fairfax prevented any
further damage to the cathedral.
Following the easing of
religious tensions there was some work to restore the
cathedral. From 1730 to 1736 the whole floor of the minster
was relaid in patterned marble and from 1802 there was a
major restoration. However, on 2 February 1829, an arson
attack by a Non-Conformist, Jonathan Martin, inflicted heavy
damage on the east arm. An accidental fire in 1840 left the
nave, south west tower and south aisle roofless and
blackened shells. The cathedral slumped deeply into debt and
in the 1850s services were suspended. From 1858 Augustus
Duncome worked successfully to revive the cathedral.
During the 20th century
there was more concerted preservation work, especially
following a 1967 survey that revealed the building, in
particular the central tower, was close to collapse.
£2,000,000 was raised and spent by 1972 to reinforce and
strengthen the building foundations and roof. During the
excavations that were carried out, remains of the north
corner of the Roman Principia were found under the south
transept. This area, as well as remains of the Norman
cathedral, can be visited by stairs down to the undercroft.
On 9 July 1984, a fire
believed to have been caused by a lightning strike destroyed
the roof in the south transept, and around £2.5 million was
spent on repairs. Restoration work was completed in 1988,
and included new roof bosses to designs which had won a
competition organised by BBC Television's Blue Peter
programme. In 2007 renovation began on the east front,
including the Great East Window, at an estimated cost of £23
Architecture of the
York Minster is the second largest Gothic cathedral of
Northern Europe and clearly charts the development of
English Gothic architecture from Early English through to
the Perpendicular Period. The present building was begun in
about 1230 and completed in 1472. It has a cruciform plan
with an octagonal chapter house attached to the north
transept, a central tower and two towers at the west front.
The stone used for the building is magnesian limestone, a
creamy-white coloured rock that was quarried in nearby
Tadcaster. The Minster is 158 metres (518 ft) long and each
of its three towers are 60 metres (200 ft) high. The choir
has an interior height of 31 metres (102 ft).
The North and South
transepts were the first parts of the new church to be
built. They have simple lancet windows, the most famous
being the Five Sisters in the north transept. These are five
lancets, each 16 metres (52 ft) high and glazed with grey
(grisaille) glass, rather than narrative scenes or symbolic
motifs that are usually seen in medieval stained glass
windows. In the south transept is the famous Rose Window
whose glass dates from about 1500 and commemorates the union
of the royal houses of York and Lancaster. The roofs of the
transepts are of wood, that of the south transept was burnt
in the fire of 1984 and was replaced in the restoration work
which was completed in 1988. New designs were used for the
bosses, five of which were designed by winners of a
competition organised by the BBC's Blue Peter television
Work began on the chapter house and its vestibule that links
it to the north transept after the transepts were completed.
The style of the chapter house is of the early Decorated
Period where geometric patterns were used in the tracery of
the windows, which were wider than those of early styles.
However, the work was completed before the appearance of the
ogee curve, an S-shaped double curve which was extensively
used at the end of this period. The windows cover almost all
of the upper wall space, filling the chapter house with
light. The chapter house is octagonal, as is the case in
many cathedrals, but is notable in that it has no central
column supporting the roof. The wooden roof, which was of an
innovative design, is light enough to be able to be
supported by the buttressed walls. The chapter house has
many sculptured heads above the canopies, representing some
of the finest Gothic sculpture in the country. There are
human heads, no two alike, and some pulling faces; angels;
animals and grotesques. Unique to the transepts and chapter
house is the use of Purbeck marble to adorn the piers,
adding to the richness of decoration.
The nave was built between 1291 and c. 1350 and is also in
the decorated Gothic style. It is the widest Gothic nave in
England and has a wooden roof (painted so as to appear like
stone) and the aisles have vaulted stone roofs. At its west
end is the Great West Window, known as the 'Heart of
Yorkshire' which features flowing tracery of the later
decorated gothic period.
The East end of the Minster
was built between 1361 and 1405 in the Perpendicular Gothic
style. Despite the change in style, noticeable in details
such as the tracery and capitals, the eastern arm preserves
the pattern of the nave. The east end contains a four bay
choir; a second set of transepts, projecting only above
half-height; and the Lady Chapel. The transepts are in line
with the high altar and serve to through light onto it.
Behind the high altar is the Great East Window, the largest
expanse of medieval stained glass in the world.
The sparsely decorated
Central Tower was built between 1407 and 1472 and is also in
the Perpendicular style. Below this, separating the choir
from the crossing and nave is the striking fifteenth century
choir screen. It contains sculptures of the kings of England
from William the Conqueror to Henry VI with stone and gilded
canopies set against a red background. Above the screen is
the organ, which dates from 1832. The West Towers, in
contrast with the central tower, are heavily decorated and
are topped with battlements and eight pinnacles each, again
in the Perpendicular style.
York as a whole and particularly the Minster have a long
tradition of creating beautiful stained glass. Some of the
stained glass in York Minster dates back to the twelfth
century. The 76-foot (23 m) tall Great East Window, created
by John Thornton in the early fifteenth century, is the
largest example of medieval stained glass in the world.
Other spectacular windows in the Minster include an ornate
rose window and the 50-foot (15 m) tall five sisters window.
Because of the extended time periods during which the glass
was installed, different types of glazing and painting
techniques that evolved over hundreds of years are visible
in the different windows. Approximately 2 million individual
pieces of glass make up the cathedral's 128 stained glass
windows. Much of the glass was removed before and pieced
back together after the First and Second World Wars, and the
windows are constantly being cleaned and restored to keep
their beauty intact.
In 2008 a major restoration
of the Great East Window commenced, involving the removal,
repainting and re-leading of each individual panel. While
the window was in storage in the Minster's stonemasons'
yard, a fire broke out in some adjoining offices, due to an
electrical fault, on 30 December 2009. The window's 311
panes, stored in a neighbouring room, were undamaged and
were successfully carried away to safety.
The towers and bells
The two west towers of the minster hold bells clock
chimes and a concertcarillon. The north-west tower contains
Great Peter (216 cwt or 10.8 tons) and the six clock bells
(the largest weighing just over 60 cwt or 3 tons). The
south-west tower holds 14 bells (tenor 59 cwt or 3 tons)
hung and rung for change ringing and 22 carillon bells
(tenor 23 cwt or 1.2 tons) which are played from a
batonkeyboard in the ringing chamber. (all together 35
The clock bells ring every
quarter of an hour during the daytime and Great Peter
strikes the hour. The change ringing bells are rung
regularly on Sundays before Church Services and at other
occasions, the ringers practise on Tuesday evenings. York
Minster became the first cathedral in England to have a
carillon of bells with the arrival of a further twenty-four
small bells on 4 April 2008. These are added to the existing
“Nelson Chime” that is chimed to announce Evensong around 5
pm each day, giving a carillon of 35 bells in total (3
chromatic octaves). The new bells were cast at the
Loughborough Bell Foundry of Taylors, Eayre & Smith, where
all of the existing Minster bells were cast. The new
carillon is a gift to the Minster. It will be the first new
carillon in the British Isles for forty years and first
handplayed carillon in an English cathedral. Before Evensong
each evening, hymn tunes are played on a baton keyboard
connected with the bells, but occasionally anything from
Beethoven to the Beatles may be heard.