English Churches - North Yorkshire
Some history, the outside and its surroundings
tall towers of York Minster dominate the historic centre of
York. It is one of the largest and perhaps most splendid
Gothic buildings in Northern Europe. Built of pale oolitic
limestone, it glows in the sunshine.
There has been a Christian Church here since the C7th, built on the ruins of the Roman basilica. By the time of the Norman conquest there was a splendid Saxon Minster here dedicated to St Peter. The formal title of the Minster is "The Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of St Peter in York". The Minster was badly damaged during William the Conquerorís Harrying of the North and a new Norman church was constructed to emphasise the power and control of the King.
In the mid C12th the Gothic style of architecture spread across Europe. The Norman church was regarded as old fashioned and work began on building a new Gothic Minster in 1220. This took nearly 250 years. The north and south transepts were the first to be built and have the tall lancet windows typical of the Early English style of Gothic architecture.
The central tower followed, but this collapsed in 1407 and had to be rebuilt. Work began on the nave which was built over the foundations of the Norman church. The chapter house was built in the late C13th and has much larger windows with beautiful tracery.
This can also be seen in the windows of the tower and the chancel which was built at the end of the C14th.
The western towers were the last to be built with the massive west window, crocketed pinnacle and niches for statues which were removed during the Reformation. The carving on the west doorway is particularly good.
The Minster was surrounded by a walled precinct entered by four gateways. Only Goodramgate survives. The houses of the Archbishop, Dean, Treasurer and canons were inside the precinct. After the Reformation many of these were pulled down, leaving the large grassy area of Deanís Park. All that remains of the original Archbishopís Palace is the chapel, now the library and an arcade of pillars.
The Treasurerís House is now owned by the National Trust.
St Williamís College was the home of the chantry priests and was sold after the Reformation.
When we visited in April 2015, the east end of the cathedral was covered in scaffolding, part of one of the largest conservation and restoration projects undertaken. The Oolitic limestone used for building the cathedral is soft and has suffered badly from erosion. Stone masons can be seen at work in the Masonsí Lodge on the south east lawn, where they are replacing nearly 3500 stones. A very eroded figure above the east window has been replaced by a new carving of St Peter. The panels of the great east window have been removed for restoration. A new exhibition centre has been opened in the undercroft tracing the history of the Minster with the remains of the Roman Forum and foundations of the Norman church.
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