History & Heritage

The People's Minster

York Minster is many things to many different people, but collectively to York locals and beyond, you can’t help but feel that this Minster is as God intended it to be, for everyone.

APRIL 9th, 2020

Photogrpahy supplied by © Reed Gallery

York Minster - © Reed Gallery


hroughout the World there are some places that just capture the imagination. For some unspoken reason they leave you amazed, enamoured and captivated. Whether it be for their historic significance, grandeur or even majestic heritage; these places form a special annex within communities and society. No building exudes this definitive description more, than York Minster.

What is most notable about this iconic staple of York’s skyline, is the Minster’s immense size – it is one of the largest of its kind in Northern Europe. Built as a place to exercise faith, it is apt that the Minster’s Towers seemingly reach towards heaven. But once inside, you quickly realise York Minster is much more than a dedication to God.

The Nave of York Minster - © Reed Gallery

It is the beating heart of York, and it has been so for over a thousand years. But the elaborate and awe-inspiring Minster we see today started out as a simple wooden structure in 627. The wood was eventually replaced in 637 by stone, and the subsequent building was dedicated to Saint Peter. With the church falling into disrepair by 670, Saint Wilfrid renewed the structure by attaching a school and library. For a while afterwards the church remained one of the most substantial for education in Northern Europe. But in 741, the church would suffer its first of many devastating fires.

Rebuilt into a more impressive structure, the Minster would see itself under the control of many differing invaders, and much of its history throughout the 10th century remains a mystery. In 1069 the Minster was heavily damaged during William the Conqueror’s ‘harrying of the North’. This resulted in the first Norman archbishop, Thomas of Bayeux organising repairs.

Throughout history the Minster would be destroyed and rebuilt. A fire in 1137 would result in a remodelled choir, crypt and chapel being completed in 1154. And by the mid-12th century, the Minster would transform into the earliest gothic structure we see today. Eventually declared complete in 1471, the emerging Minster would be consecrated, and from here onwards it would see numerous changes, from new towers, marble floors and major restoration work. But once again, this time a deliberate fire by Jonathan Martin in 1829, heavy damage would be inflicted to the east arm of the building. A mere eleven-years later, a final inferno in 1840 would destroy the nave, south-west tower and leave the south aisle without a roof.

In the ensuing years, the Minster would undergo major reconstruction and preservation works which continue today – most recently with the Minster’s Organ, choir and stunning windows. With this construction work, York Minster’s greatest secrets would be unearthed. Remains of the north corner of the Roman fort, Eboracum were found as well as the remains of the Norman cathedral. In 2013, the ‘Under-croft’ exhibition was opened and with it the history of York’s treasured Minster. And this history is celebrated and commemorated in many ways, most notably by a statue standing just outside the Minster’s giftshop, honouring the place where Constantine the Great was proclaimed Roman Emperor in AD 306.

One of the historic stained-glass windows of the Minster - © Reed Gallery

As you can see, York Minster has a varied and compelling history, one which gives a unique picture of Britain’s passage through time. But whilst the past forms the foundation of this impressive building, the future is taking York Minster into new realms.

It isn’t hard to understand the allure or interest, as more and more tourists flock to see York’s crown jewel. But the Minster has some pretty impressive plans for future developments, including restoring the many elaborate stain-glass windows, and as I mentioned earlier, the Minster’s Organ. And some work has already been completed, including the decade long restoration project on the Great East Window and East End. And, what is most impressive, is all of this work is solely funded by the Minster itself through donations and admissions.

But whilst the physical transformation of York Minster has evolved throughout the years, its spirit has remained absolute. Stepping into the great nave, with its tall archways resting mightily above, you come to realise the potent scale of the Minster – yet something else washes over you.

There is a serenity to York Minster, an exuding calmness and sense of peace. Whether you are religious or not, throughout each annex of this faithful building, there is a wisdom of something bigger at work. It is a place touched by history, faith and most importantly, people. You can see it in every stone carved corner; you can feel it with every step. It is a symbol of York’s complex history, and in extension, the Nations’.

The Main alter of the Minster - © Reed Gallery

Walking through this building and seeing the reaction of those who visit it, you can still observe the powerful impact York Minster still commands. Is it due to its sheer magnificent scale, history or unique architecture? Or, like the thousands before us, has it become a place of pilgrimage for those seeking council, hope or community? The answer is all of the above. Though for many, they seek the tomb of Saint William of York as a destination of worship. Situated in the crypt beneath the choir, the tomb has since become a place of quiet reflection.

As you stroll across Dean’s Park and take in the Minster’s sumptuous and lavish design, fully revealed is the sheer spectacle of the place and the successful results of the numerous restoration projects. The grand windows and archways, the numerous religious carvings and skilled masonry are prime examples of how the building’s architecture can be transformed into a work of art. And the same can be said for the inside of York Minster. The effigies and tombs honouring the many Bishops and Deans who have paved the path of York’s history, look almost new and are a visual representation of a time gone by.

There are places in the World that stand the test of time more than most and have seen history unfold on their very doorstep. But as if like a Phoenix rising from the ashes time and time again, York Minster has consistently emerged as a symbolic reminder of the power to overcome. Battles, invasion and fire have failed to dim this glorious building’s light.

It is known as a place of peaceful worship, a melting pot for those with an inquisitive interest in history or grand architecture. Ultimately, York Minster is many things to many different people, but collectively to York locals and beyond, you can’t help but feel that this Minster is as God intended it to be, for everyone.

Thanks to York Minster and all their wonderful staff for their help!

If you want to experience York Minster, you can book tickets on York Minster's Website here.

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