Sitting in the heart of the city of York, few would argue that York Minster is a truly breathtaking sight.
Its spires reach high into the sky, whilst its bells can be heard chiming across the city. This stunning peice of architecture stands approximately 72m high and 160m long and greets over two million visitors every year. It is withoubt a doubt York's most iconic sight.
It's called a "Minster" and not a "Cathedral" as Minster is an honorific title specific to some churches in England. A Cathedral refers specifically to the church where a Bishop resides. York is the seat of the Archbishop of York, who lives at Bishopthorpe Palace. His is the third-highest office in the Church of England after the monarch and the Archbishop of Canterbury.
In 627, King Edwin of Northumbria was baptised in a small wooden church which had been built on the site of an old Roman fort. This church had been officially approved by the Pope. It's dedication to Saint Peter demonstrated its links with Rome and the Catholic Church.
This wooden church was later rebuilt in stone and saw completion by King Oswald. It was again renovated extensively in 664 and once again after a fire in 741. This building lasted a little longer but was destroyed during the Norman siege of the city in 1069.
York Minster is built in the Gothic style of architecture. It was once, like Durham, a Norman cathedral, but the building in York was started before Durham in 1070 by the Archbishop of York, Thomas of Bayeux. A Norman choir was added towards the end of the following century by Archbishop Roger of Pont L’Eveque. He seems to have been influenced by the style of Durham Cathedral. However, the only remains of the Norman Cathedral in York can be seen in the Minster crypt.
In the 13th Century, William Fitzherbert, Archbishop of York, was posthumously canonised and became St William of York. This encouraged pilgrims to visit York and helped the minster compete with other shrines such as St John Lee’s at Beverley Minster. Shrines being a useful and convenient source of revenue!
As the construction of the current building began in 1220, overseen by Archbishop Walter de Grey (1216-1255) and took over two centuries. It demonstrates just about every stage of the Gothic architecture from 1230 to 1475. This style is distinctive with its pointed arches and decorative adornements. As building progressed, the old Norman construction was taken down.
Walter de Grey replaced the Norman transepts with early English Gothic transepts and these completely dwarfed the Norman nave, so one of Grey’s successors, Archbishop John Romanus, replaced the nave with a new Gothic structure, with work on this starting in 1291. The Norman choir was then replaced by Archbishop Thoresby from 1361. Eventually, around 1400, York Minster was entirely Gothic.
The next stage of construction was the addition of the central tower, using funds donated by Walter Skirlaw, the Bishop of Durham. In the 20th century another Bishop of Durham would have a different kind of impact of the building's history - but that's a different story!
The western towers were added over a 40-year period from 1433 and, now completed, it was consecrated. The ceremony taking place on July 3, 1472.
York Minster is built of Oolitic limestone, sourced from the Tadcaster area and this material gives the Minster its distinctive white appearance. York Minster has the highest proportion of Medieval stained glass of any European cathedral and its major feature is the Rose Window, often referred to as the "Heart of Yorkshire." This commemorates the end of the War of the Roses, between the red and white roses of Lancaster and York.
York Minster is one of only two churches in the world to employ its own police force, the other being St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. It also employs a group of stonemasons and glaziers, who work on the building to this day, maintaining the style of their 13th century peers.
One of the more recent additions can be found outside the front entrance. This is a statue of a seated Emperor Constantine who, on 306, was proclaimed Emperor of the Western Roman Empire by his troops in York, then known as Eboracum.
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