September 22 – York Minster

Barley Hall, Yorvik Dig and Clifford's Tower


Hello from 1066 – Medieval Mosaic

At 10 we left the Pinfold Cottage in Fulford and drove into York for the day. We soon realised that we should have just left the car behind and gone in by bus as it was £8.80 for four hours to park. Still, it had been a bit of an ordeal to find the Nunnery Lane parking and but the car parks all seem to be a similar price. We then realised that it was quite a walk into town, not to worry. Our target for today was the York Minster. It costs £10 each to go in but you do get free entry for a year afterwards. We got there just before the free tour starts so we happily joined the tour as you learn so much more that way. There was a good size group of about 30 and Mike Bradshaw was our guide. I took notes as we went as otherwise, I forget so easily. So much information in a short space of time.

The Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of Saint Peter in York, commonly known as York Minster and is one of the largest of its kind in Northern Europe. There have been several churches on this site since 627, the second was built after a fire in 741. There was a series of Benedictine archbishops, including Saint Oswald of Worcester, Wulfstan and Ealdred, who travelled to Westminster to crown William in 1066. Ealdred died in 1069 and was buried in the church. After the cathedral was damaged during the harrying of the North, Thomas of Bayeux became the first Norman Archbishop and he organised repairs. It was damaged and repaired several times until in 1215 Walter de Gray, a favourite of King John, who was present at the signing of the Magna Carta, was made archbishop and ordered the construction of a Gothic structure. The building, in Tadcaster limestone, took place around the original structure doing one area at a time and continued until the 15th century. Walter has an impressive tomb inside the minster. but never lived to see the final cathedral. Walter also built Bishopthorpe Palace, where he lived. The current Archbishop also lives there. The Wikipedia account of York Minster is well worth a read. There was also a Roman headquarters on the site before the churches, where the administration of the legion and religious ceremonies took place. Constantine was proclaimed Emperor of the Roman Empire here. He tolerated Christianity then became Christian and after his death, it became the religion of the Empire in 306AD.

There are 128 stained glass windows in the Minster and many are Medieval Glass. The West window of 1330 is called ‘the heart of Yorkshire’ and depicts Mary and Jesus at the top, below are bible stories, blow that are the apostles and below that the Archibishops. Below this is a modern sculpture of headless characters spelling out ‘Christ is here’ in semaphore. There was a fire in 1840 which took at the roof at the West end as it was made of wood. The carvings across the roof were lost but drawings had been made so that they could be replaced as original except one. This one had previously shown Mary breastfeeding. In Victorian times when the rebuilding took place, this was unacceptable so it now shows Mary bottle feeding. One particularly huge window in the North transept is grisaille glass. This window is made from 100,000 pieces of nearly all grey glass except for one place which is a more recent mend. The older glass in this window dates from 1100 and it is 16 ft high in geometric designs.

The Chapterhouse is where the Dean and the College of 44 Canons meet to discuss and plan, the canons represent all the geographical areas that the cathedral covers. The Chapterhouse has a suspended ceiling instead of having a centre supporting pillar which was built between 1260 and 1280. The first female Church of England Bishop, Libby Lane, was consecrated here in 2015. Oliver Cromwell banned chapter houses and it was nearly sold at that time.

There is only one royal tomb in the cathedral which is Prince William of Hatfield, son of Edward III, who died in 1335. Although depicted as a teenager on the tomb he actually died aged only 5 months.

The tower is 60 metres high and has 275 steps going up to it, making it the highest place in York. The roof with the bells weighed 16,000 tons. It collapsed in 1407 due to the soft soil beneath its foundations. The bells were not replaced as the weight was too much for the structure. The tower was in danger of collapsing again in the 1960s before major structural work was carried out to reinforce its foundations – the space created during these works now houses the cathedral’s Undercroft attraction which is really interesting. The tower is big enough to hold the Statue of Liberty.

On 9 July 1984, a fire believed to have been caused by a lightning strike destroyed the roof in the south transept, and around £2.5 million was spent on repairs. The restoration work was completed in 1988 and included new roof bosses to designs which had won a competition organised by BBC Television’s Blue Peter programme. In 1986 Blue Peter ran a competition to find six boss designs with a modern theme for the Minster’s vaulted ceiling. Six designs were chosen from 34,000 entries including Neil Armstrong, Save the Whales and the Rasing of the Mary Rose.

The Kings’ Screen, also known as the Quire Screen, is one of the most famous parts of York Minster. Unusually, the screen is asymmetrical, featuring 15 carved statues of kings of England, which means the doorway leading to the Quire is off centre. The screen was designed around 1420 and features English kings ranging from William the Conqueror to Henry VI. It’s believed it was originally intended to feature 14 statues up to Henry V, but a hasty revision was needed when his reign was unexpectedly cut short in 1422 before the screen was finished, and it became necessary to include Henry VI.

The quire had a fire in 1829 and all the woodwork was lost.

The Great East window, which is the size of a tennis court and is the single largest expanse of medieval stained glass in the country, is currently undergoing a major restoration costing £20 million over 5 years. It was created between 1405 and 1408 by master glazier John Thornton and shows the start and end of all things. The cleaning and restoration will be completed by Easter 2018. The plain glass part at the top is the part still being worked on.

After the tour was over Mike Bradshaw came over to us and asked where we were from. When we said Geraldine, NZ, he exclaimed ‘that’s where the Giant Jersey is’. Small world!! He had even purchased our USB about the Medieval Mosaic. We talked to him and his colleagues for a while and they gave us contact details of the exhibitions and collections manager for York Minster so that we will be able to write to her about the possibility of holding an exhibition there.

After this, we visited Barley Hall and the Yorvik Dig as both of those we gained free entry with the Yorvik passport which we got yesterday at the Yorvik Centre. We also have free entry to all these three and two other exhibitions for a full year. Barley Hall is a reconstructed medieval townhouse in the city of York, England. Originally built around 1360 by the monks of Nostell Priory, it was later extended in the 15th century. It was very interesting and really well done allowing visitors to touch and sit and play with objects. The Medieval dining room was particularly interesting. It showed a peacock as the centrepiece for the meal. Apparently, the cooks would carefully remove the feathers and skin from the bird, the roast the bird before replacing the skin and the feathers to serve it as a complete peacock. Fantastic but highly dangerous from a health point of view.

The Dig is mostly a children’s exhibition where bones and artefacts found during the dig before the building of the supermarket complex and is one of the few places in the country that specialises in interactive archaeology. We found it very interesting though as their displays were excellent especially the part about Rowntree’s. Rowntree was an English confectionery business based on Quaker principles in York. Rowntree developed the Kit Kat (introduced in 1935), Aero (introduced in 1935), Fruit Pastilles (introduced in 1881), Smarties (introduced in 1937) brands, and the Rolo and Quality Street brands when it merged with Mackintoshes in 1969.

On returning to the car after moving it to the Castle car park we walked up the English Heritage run, Clifford’s Tower or York Castle. York Castle in the city of York, England, is a fortified complex comprising, over the last nine centuries, a sequence of castles, prisons, law courts and other buildings on the south side of the River Foss. It was built originally on the orders of William I to dominate the former Viking city of York.

We spent a wonderful 6 hours in York exploring, however, we barely scratched the surface as we didn’t visit the museum, railway museum, art gallery or either of the exhibitions situated on the city walls. So we will definitely return, quite possibly our favourite city yet.

We ended the day by driving to Bilborough Travel Lodge where we spent a comfortable night after having our first ever meal at Little Chef.