Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Y is for York Minster

Y is for York Minster


Today we travel to Yorkshire


York Minster

Transept and crossing tower of York Minster from the south East

Minster is a noun 

  • A large or important church, typically one of cathedral status in the north of England that was built as part of a monastery: York Minster


York Minster is a cathedral in York, England and is one of the largest of its kind in Northern Europe.   It 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 Very Reverend Vivienne Faull.

The Minster has a very wide decorated gothic nave and chapter house, a perpendicular gothic quire and East end and early English North and South transepts.  The nave contains the West window which was constructed in 1338 and over the Lady Chapel in the East end is the Great East window which was finished in 1408 and is the largest expanse of medieval stained glass in the world

Part of East window

Conservators working on the restoration of the Great East Window at York Minster have completed the conservation of half of the panels in the stunning medieval window which depicts the story of the Apocalypse.

York Minster’s Great East Window contains the largest expanse of medieval stained glass in Britain, and was designed by one of the ‘grand masters’ of glass art, John Thornton. Started in 1405 and completed in 1408, the main part of the window depict the Apocalypse, and is recognised around the world as being some of the finest medieval stained glass still in existence. The restoration of half of the Apocalypse panels is now complete thanks to the tireless work of the York Glaziers Trust.

York has had a verifiable Christian presence from the 4th century. The first recorded church on the site was a wooden structure built hurriedly in 627 to provide a place to baptise Edwin, King of Northumbria. 

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 30 altars. The church and the entire area then passed through the hands of numerous invaders, and its history is obscure until the 10th century. 

The church was damaged in 1069 during William the Conqueror's harrying of the North.  The first Norman archbishop, Thomas of Bayeux, arriving in 1070, organised repairs. It was destroyed by the Danes 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.

In the mid 12th century Walter de Gray was archbishop in 1215 and ordered the construction of a Gothic structure to compare to Canterbury and 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.

Interior of York Minster

The cathedral suffered from looting during the English Reformation and much of its treasures and lands were lost.  Under Elizabeth I there was a concerted effort to remove all traces of Roman Catholicism from the cathedral with the destruction of tombs, windows and altars.

In 1644 during the English Civil War the city was besieged and fell to the forces of Cromwell but further damage to the cathedral was prevented by Thomas Fairfax. 

As religious tensions eased work was done to restore the cathedral.  The whole of the floor of the minster was relaid in patterned marble 1730 – 1736 and from 1802 a major restoration was carried out.  

On 2nd February 1829 there was an arson attack by a non-conformist, Jonathon Martin which inflicted heavy damage on the East arm of the building.  Then in 1840 an accidental fire left the nave, South West tower and South aisle roofless and blackened shells.  The cathedral slumped deeply in to debt and by the 1850’s 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 (headquarters of the Roman fort, Eboracum) were found under the south transept. This area, as well as remains of the Norman cathedral, re-opened to the public in spring 2013 as part of the new exhibition exploring the history of the building of York Minster.

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 million. 

Wikimedia Commons.

Aerial view


Towers and bells

The two west towers of the minster hold bells, clock chimes and a concert carillon. 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 baton keyboard in the ringing chamber (all together 35 bells.)

The clock bells ring every quarter of an hour during the daytime and Great Peter strikes the hour.

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" which is chimed to announce Evensong around 5.00 pm each day, giving a carillon of 35 bells in total (three chromatic octaves). 

The new bells were cast at the Loughborough Bell Foundry of Taylors, where all of the existing minster bells were cast. 

Preparing the moulding case for Great Peter of York Minster –
notice the man on the ladder - that's a big mould!

Tuning the newly cast bell on Loughborough's large bell tuning lathe

10 ton Great Peter of York Minster finished and hanging in its tower

The new carillon is a gift to the minster. It will be the first new carillon in the British Isles for 40 years and first hand played 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. 

The clock bells ring every quarter of an hour during the daytime and Great Peter strikes the hour.

He said met me by the Minster 

Perhaps you’ll give me your answer

It will be an historic day 

As the bell comes our way
Misty rain can't dampen my heart

I hope that nothing will keep us apart

Great Peter all ten tons 

Made of cast iron

Will ring out from the North West tower

Every hour on the hour

Great Peter arriving at York Minster, 1927


  1. What an amazing history. Just shows you can't keep a great cathedral/minster/church down. I'd love to hear those carillon bells but I wouldn't want to be standing too close to one!
    Wendy at Jollett Etc.

  2. I visited York in 1982 and thought it was a wonderful place. I remember the wall more than the minster but your pictures bring back many memories.