Well, you knew it wouldn’t be too long before I found another cathedral to blog about. Today I’ll share with you York Minster, the crown jewel of York. I was so excited to visit the Minster – it is one of the grandest and most beautiful in England. Here’s what the website says about the cathedral:
“Since the 7th century, the Minster has been at the center of Christianity in the north of England and today remains a thriving church rooted in the daily offering of worship and prayer. The Minster was built for the glory of God. Every aspect of this ancient building – from the exquisite, handcrafted stone through to the unrivaled collection of medieval stained glass – tells the story of Jesus Christ. We invite you to discover this sacred place and the love of God at its heart, which has attracted people from across the globe for more than 1000 years.”
It could be considered a sister cathedral to Westminster, with both being extremely important centers in England and built roughly about the same. But I loved the feel of York Minster much better. This was probably because at Westminster you were kept on strict walking paths; at York, they invited you to explore the cathedral from top to bottom and you were free to roam about at will. And that’s exactly what we did…starting with the tower tour. This basically consisted of walking up hundreds of steps, punctuated with brief excursions outside along narrow walkways, and more stairs until you came to the top of the tower. Tellingly, there was a person at the top taking count of the people who emerged and making sure it tallied with the number of people who entered.
The views of the Minster up on the high walls, as well as the views of the surrounding city were breathtaking.
From the towers, we went immediately on a tour of the crypt and underground Minster. We were able to see fascinating aspects of architecture – such as remnants of the Roman buildings and early church foundations. In some of the storage rooms we visited were shelves and shelves of medieval stone carvings and remnants that they keep from previous excavations.
Once we had finished this tour we were free to explore the main cathedral. I’ll share some of the areas I found most interesting. First was the war chapel – I’ve mentioned in some previous posts that pretty much every cathedral we visited had a memorial to those in the community that had died in wars.
The one at York was especially beautiful. The main altar piece was created with celestial imagery and says at the top “As dying, yet behold we live” from 2 Cor 6:9, which I thought was especially meaningful in this context. The wooden wall paneling had been restored and was a perfect complement to the Gothic architecture. Inside the cabinets at the bottom are lists of all the women who perished on the war front.
We also visited the Chapter House, which historically was where the monks would meet for teaching and receiving instructions. Now they function as quiet, reflective areas. They are round rooms typically surrounded with stained glass or decorated stone work. The one at York was highly carved with columns, filigree, and decorative heads and animal-like figures. It added an unexpected touch of whimsy in this room – if you expand the picture, you’ll see a couple of head and a pig-like figure. The ceiling (also pictured) was exquisitely beautiful. One of the endearing memories I hold of this room was watching a group of visitors sit here and sketch the architecture.
Back out in the main cathedral, I was enamored of all the elaborate stone carving. It’s important to note, that while these buildings are ancient, they are living as well. So each generation has put its hands, heart, and touch on the building and made it relevant for the age. The picture above is a seamless example of how this is done. On a wall of medieval stone arches, is a ledge where modern-created figures stand. This group of stone saints was created in 2004 for an art exhibition and then donated to the cathedral. They stand at the west end of the nave and use halos in semaphore positions to spell the message of the cathedral: “Christ is here”
The cathedral is filled with intricate medieval glass.
Ironwork screens set off the Gothic arches and stained glass spectacularly.
And skilled woodcarvers also left their mark in the cathedral – with this breathtaking quire.
In all the cathedrals, memorials to revered people from the community can be found all along the outer walls. Here at York, these were exceptionally beautiful works of art as well. Here are a few of my favorites.
As if all this wasn’t enough, there was a museum of the Minster down in the crypt area too. The exhibits there chronicled the Minster’s history, and revealed ancient architecture elements deep in the foundation through windows in the floor. Also on display was the York Gospels, one of the oldest and most valuable books at the Minster.
After seeing all the ornate decorations of the main chapel, this ancient book was elegant in its simplicity. It came to the Minster in 1020 is the only Anglo-Saxon book to have survived the Norman Invasion here. It is a collection of the four gospels chronicling the life and words of Christ. It was a sweet way to end our time at the York Minster by focusing on its past, and the words of truth which still direct its future. I’d like to end the post with the words from a sign as you left the museum and entered back into the cathedral. It perfectly sums up the purpose of the Cathedral and how time is so meaningful here.
“Although ancient and fragile, the York Gospels and its eternal message have endured. So too, the Minster is a meeting point between the fleeting and the eternal. The building has stood for centuries, yet it is also fragile and in need of constant care. Everywhere there are reminders of the past and yet the Minster is a living church, a beating heart in the middle of the city. Through worship and prayer, or simply through wandering and wondering, within these ancient stones people can experience a sense of eternity.”
Blessings to you,