Skip to main content Skip to Search Box
Summary Article: York Minster
From The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Cathedral in York, England. It is the cathedral and metropolitan church of St Peter, and one of the most famous of Europe's Gothic buildings. The first church on this site dated from the 7th century; parts of the present cathedral date from the 12th century, and its present form was established by the 15th century. The south transept was severely damaged by fire in 1984, but has been restored.

History Two churches were built on the site in the 7th century and are mentioned by Bede. The first was a tiny wooden church dedicated to St Peter, and erected for the baptism of Edwin in 627. The second was of stone and was finished in 642. In the 8th century Bishops Egbert and Albert, together with Alcuin, collected a great library for the cathedral school. When William I besieged York the existing church was severely damaged, and what was left of the library was completely destroyed.

In 1070 the first Norman archbishop of York, Thomas of Bayeux, first repaired and then rebuilt the Minster; the foundations of his choir remain under the present crypt. The choir and crypt were rebuilt in the 12th century by Archbishop Roger, and his crypt still exists. The present transepts were erected between 1220 and 1260 by Archbishop de Gray and the treasurer Romanus. The Norman nave was taken down and a new one built in the first half of the 14th century, shortly after the chapter-house was built. The west window was glazed in 1338. In 1354 a wooden vault was built, but this was replaced, after a fire, in 1840. The flying buttresses outside were added from 1905 to 1907, but may have been planned originally.

John Thoresby undertook the building of a new choir around 1380, for the enormous transept and nave had dwarfed Roger's structure. He had preceded it by building a new presbytery at the east end (1361–70). These changes made de Gray's Early English central tower unsuitable, and in 1400–23 this was rebuilt. The northwest and southwest towers were added between about 1430 and 1471. This completed the Minster, and in 1472 its appearance was almost the same as at the present day, although fires in the 19th century necessitated considerable repairs.

Features Outstanding features of York Minster include the west front, nave, crypt, chapter-house, stained glass, and a number of individual monuments. The nave is remarkable for its size and graceful piers. The crypt, mainly discovered after the fire of 1829, contains part of Archbishop Roger's cathedral and some ‘herring-bone’ work. The chapter-house (1280–1310) is remarkable both for its large windows and for its wooden Gothic dome.

Among English churches York Minster is preeminent in the amount, range, and quality of its surviving glass from around 1150 to the present century. A panel of glass from about 1160 occupies the foot of the middle light of the ‘Five Sisters’ window in the north transept. It represents the story of Habakkuk lowered into the lions' den by an angel to succour Daniel. Another 12th-century panel, now in the nave, formed part of a Jesse tree. In the gable of the south transept is a rose-window, inserted to mark the ‘union of the roses’ of York and Lancaster by the marriage of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York in 1486. The chief glory of the whole collection of medieval glass at York is the Great East Window (1405–08), the work of John Thornton of Coventry; it is 24 m/80 ft by 10 m/32 ft, and each of the 117 main panels measure almost 1 m/3 ft square. Its various panels represent scenes from the Old Testament and the Apocalypse.

Many of the tombs in the Minster suffered wholesale defacement during the Reformation, and the numerous medieval brasses were reduced to one (Archbishop Greenfield, 1315); there are other later ones. Interesting monuments include the tomb of Richard Scrope, archbishop from 1398 to 1405, who was executed outside the city walls (east end), and the tomb of Archbishop Walter de Gray (1215–55) (south transept). There are several curious gargoyles, and the choir screen (about 1475–1506) is a good example of Perpendicular work. The Minster Library contains a varied and ancient collection of manuscripts, archives, and 30,000 printed books.

From 1966 to 1972 excavations during the strengthening of the Minster's foundations, revealed the remains of a Roman basilica, Saxon tombs, and parts of the Norman church.


York Minster

© RM, 2018. All rights reserved.