York Minster. Church in England, United Kingdom

York Minster

Church in England, United Kingdom

York Minster Photo © Derwisz

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York Minster

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	Minster - York Minster
York Minster - York Minster. Photo by Ben Keating
In England, a Minster is a large, or otherwise, important church building such as Westminster Abbey in London, and that also dates from Anglo-Saxon missionary times. Many are located in the northern parts of England. York Minster is a superb example of an English cathedral built in grand Gothic style. Its pedigree includes being the seat of the Archbishop of York (who is the second most important person in the Church of England) and being a place of sake-keeping of the high end of Anglo-Catholic liturgy.

Venerable History

According to tradition, missionaries arrived in York from Rome in the year 180 AD to sort out religious differences. However, the first Church only dates from 627. It was a wooden structure, thrown up hastily to baptize Edwin, who became King of Northumbria. A stone structure followed a few years later, although within a few decades this had also fallen into disrepair. In 674, a fire destroyed what remained of it, leaving only ashes and broken stones. Records suggest a grander building replaced it with 30 altars commemorating various saints.
William the Conqueror (Wikipedia Article)’s armies damaged it in 1069, and Danish invaders destroyed it in 1075. In 1080, Thomas of Bayeaux rebuilt the remains in Roman style with rounded arches. By the middle 12th-century, the Gothic style with pointed arches was in vogue, and so the ambitious archbishop, Walter de Gray, ordered it to be torn down and rebuilt to compete with Canterbury Cathedral which was setting an example. The project was completed by 1472, following structural difficulties involving the tower that took some time to resolve.

York Minster - York
York Minster. Photo by andy

A skyline from York
	Minster - York Minster
A skyline from York Minster - York Minster. Photo by The Mask and Mirror

The Reformation

During the Protestant reformation under Queen Elizabeth 1st, much of the church’s treasures were looted in the hope of removing all traces of Roman Catholic tradition. Cromwell’s army laid siege to York in 1644, although his horsemen thankfully did not cause further desecration. All that remained was the structure itself, and decorations beyond reach without scaffolding. The glories of the past were gone forever.

Attempts at Restoration

Between 1730 and 1736, there were attempts to restore the building following an easing of oppression of the Anglo-Catholic tradition. This included reflooring it in patterned marble. In 1840, disaster struck when a fire left the nave, the south west tower and the south aisle roofless, blackened shells. Religious services were suspended until 1858 when the damage was repaired.

Disaster Strikes Again

In the 1970s, severe cracking developed in the central tower which was in danger of collapsing and bringing the entire building down. Workmen went deep below the foundations. They discovered that some of these were a Roman fort, built on a raft of rotting timbers on a bog. A diver swam through pitch dark mud, laying bags of concrete. He saved the cathedral. All that remains of his work are gigantic steel bolts set in the crypt, and a plaque in his memory.

York Minster Nave - York
York Minster Nave. Photo by C & N

Main Features of the Building

	- York Minster
Vault - York Minster. Photo by Tony Hisgett
The best way to appreciate York Minster is to lie on the floor on your back and look up at the Central Tower. The architect had a vision of heaven and depicted this in stone. As you trace the structural members, you begin to appreciate the engineering logic. Few other buildings succeed in combining this with the sheer beauty for which York Minster is renowned.

The pattern continues as you proceed down the nave (Wikipedia
	Article). Before the Reformation, the walls had rich embellishments depicting the Saints. Perhaps the reformers did us a favor when they stripped the detail away and revealed the architect’s vision, freed from added decoration.
Allow time to venerate the altar and the grand organ pipes, before walking beyond to the Chapter House behind. Here are the graves of saints and sinners. This is an opportunity to reflect on the folly of pride, and perhaps to wonder what lies beyond the grave.

The Best Time to Visit

York Minster really only comes to life when you experience its liturgical traditions. This is when the tower resounds to the pealing of bells, and the deep diapason organ pipes cause the floor to vibrate. When you experience this, you partake in the worship of God. If you do not, you miss the point of cathedrals and all you experience is a pile of stones.

If You Decide to Go

York Minster is a jewel on the heart of walled, medieval York (Wikipedia Article) where the streets are pedestrianized precincts and you have to walk. This is a blessing in disguise as you see so much more. Plan your visit on a Sunday when a carillon of bells announces a service. Find somewhere quiet to sit and observe the ancient rituals. Wonder at the sound of voices resounding off the stone ceiling. This is what cathedrals are all about, and York Minster is a superb example.

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Author: robric. Last updated: Mar 03, 2016

Pictures of York Minster

York Minster Choir 3 - York Minster
York Minster Choir 3 - Photo by Richard Penn

York Minster - York Minster
York Minster - Photo by Karl

York Minster - York Minster
York Minster - Photo by C & N

York Minster. Early morning, autumn - York Minster
York Minster. Early morning, autumn - Photo by John Robinson

York Minster 18 - York Minster
York Minster 18 - Photo by Richard Penn


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