York Minster is an imposing Anglican Gothic cathedral in York, Northern England. It is the seat of the Archbishop of York, and cathedral for the Diocese of York. This church is the largest Medieval church in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth of Nations.
It has a very wide Decorated Gothic nave and chapter house, a Perpendicular Gothic choir and east end, and Early English north and south transepts. The nave contains the West Window, constructed in 1338, and the Great East Window (finished in 1408) over the Lady Chapel in the east end. In the north transept is the Five Sisters Window, each lancet being over 16 metres high. The organ in the choir has been destroyed by fire on two occasions; the current instrument dates from 1829 and was substantially restored in 1993.
York has had a Christian presence from the 300s. The first church on the site was a wooden structure built hurriedly in 627 to provide a place to baptise Edwin, King of Northumbria. Moves toward a more substantial building began in the 630s. A stone structure was completed in 637 by Oswald and was dedicated to Saint Peter. The church soon fell into disrepair and was dilapidated by 670 when Saint Wilfred ascended to the see of York; he put in place efforts to repair and renew the structure. The attached school and library were established and by the 8th century were some of the most substantial in northern Europe.
In 741 the church was destroyed in a fire. It was rebuilt as a more impressive structure, containing thirty altars. The church and the entire area then passed through the hands of numerous invaders, and its history is obscure until the 10th century. There was a series of Benedictine archbishops, including Saint Oswald, Wulfstan, and Ealdred, who travelled to Westminster to crown William in 1066. Ealdred died in 1069 and was buried in the church.
The church was damaged in 1069, but the first Norman archbishop, arriving in 1070, organised repairs. The Danes destroyed the church in 1075, but it was again rebuilt from 1080. Built in the Norman style, it was 365 feet long and rendered in white and red lines. The new structure was damaged by fire in 1137 but was soon repaired. The choir and crypt were remodelled in 1154, and a new chapel was built, all in the Norman style.
Gothic style in cathedrals had arrived in the mid 12th century. Walter de Gray was made archbishop in 1215 and ordered the construction of a Gothic structure to compare to Canterbury; building began in 1220. The north and south transepts were the first new structures; completed in the 1250s, both were built in the Early English Gothic style but had markedly different walls. A substantial central tower was also completed, with a wooden spire. Building continued into the 15th century. The Chapter House was completed in the 1260s. The wide nave was constructed from the 1280s on the Norman foundations. The outer roof was completed in the 1330s, but the vaulting was not finished until 1360. Construction then moved on to the eastern arm and chapels, with the last Norman structure, the choir, being demolished in the 1390s. In 1407 the central tower collapsed; the piers were then reinforced, and a new tower was built from 1420. The cathedral was declared complete in 1472.
The Reformation led to the first Protestant archbishop, the looting of much of the cathedral's treasures, and the loss of much of the church lands. Under Elizabeth I there was a concerted effort to remove all traces of Catholicism from the cathedral; there was much destruction of tombs, windows, and altars. In the English Civil War the city was besieged and fell to the forces of Cromwell in 1644, but Thomas Fairfax prevented any further damage to the cathedral.
Following the easing of religious tensions there was some work to restore the cathedral. From 1730 to 1736 the whole floor of the Minster was relaid in patterned marble, and from 1802 there was a major restoration. However, on 1829-02-02 an arson attack by non-conformist Jonathan Martin inflicted heavy damage on the east arm, and an accidental fire in 1840 left the nave, south west tower, and south aisle roofless, blackened shells. The cathedral slumped deeply into debt, and in the 1850s services were suspended, but from 1858 Augustus Duncome worked successfully to revive the cathedral.
During the 20th century there was more concerted preservation work, especially following a 1967 survey that revealed the building was close to collapse. £2,000,000 was raised and spent by 1972 to reinforce and strengthen the building foundations and roof. A fire in 1984 destroyed the roof in the south transept, and around £2.5 million was spent on repairs. 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.
York Minster has three towers, the two west towers holding bells and clock chimes. The north-west tower contains Great Peter (216 cwt or 10.8 tons) and the six clock bells (the largest weighing just over 60 cwt or 3 tons). The south-west tower holds 14 bells (tenor 59 cwt) hung for change ringing and 11 chiming bells (tenor 23 cwt) which are rung from a clavier in the ringing chamber.
The clock bells ring every quarter of an hour during the daytime and Great Peter strikes the hour. The change ringing bells are rung regularly on Sundays before Church Services and at other times, the ringers practice on Tuesday evenings. The chiming bells are occasionally rung before services .
York as a whole and particularly the Minster have a long tradition of creating beautiful stained glass. Some of the stained glass in York Minster dates back to the twelfth century. The 76-foot tall Great East Window, created in the early fifteenth century, is the largest example of medieval stained glass in the world. Other spectacular windows in the Minster include an ornate rose window and the fifty-foot tall "five sisters" window. Because of the extended time periods during which the glass was installed, different types of glazing and painting techniques that evolved over hundreds of years are visible in the different windows. There are approximately 2 million individual pieces of glass that make up the cathedral's 128 stained glass windows. Much of the glass was removed and pieced back together for the first and second world wars, and the windows are constantly being cleaned and restored to keep their beauty intact.
In November 2002 York Minster was illuminated in colour for the first time in its history. The occasion was televised live on BBC1 Look North and was devised by York-born Mark Brayshaw who runs an event management company. The illuminations were also covered in the national press by The Guardian and The Independent as well as locally and regionally. Similar illuminations were projected onto the western facade as part of the Christmas illuminations in November 2003 and November 2004.
The interior of the crossing tower
An individual stained-glass window depicting King Solomon
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