York Minster-the heart and soul of York

Advantages: magnificent architecture reflecting over a thousand years of history and religion.

Disadvantages: none that I can see.

As the King George VI said “The history of York is the history of England. I don’t know how right he was, but I would like to say the history of York Minster is the history of York indeed.

General information

York Minster is Northern Europe's largest remaining medieval church, also one of the world's great masterpieces in design and construction.

Back in AD 627 York's first Minster was built to christen the Anglo Saxon King, Edwin of Northumbria. It was originally a small wooden church, and then later rebuilt to be a bigger stone one. However it was badly damaged by fire in the year 1069 during the Norman period.

Around the year 1080 Normans started building a cathedral, which was completed 20 years later. It was built on the very site of the Saxon church. Incidentally near this place Constantine the Great was proclaimed Roman Emperor in AD 306.

In the 13th century people started to build the South and North transepts, and then the East end with the building of the Lady Chapel and the Quire. In 1472 the Western towers were added and the Minster finally completed to be the one we know today. That said the Minster had taken about 250 years to take its final shape.

It was a Catholic church until 1534. Now it is an Anglican working church as well as a popular tourist site. It is open daily except for the service times. As a tourist you can enter the Minster, Undercroft, Treasury, Crypt and Tower. Currently the entry prices to all these sites are £9.50 for adults, £3.00 for children and £8.00 for concessions. You can also choose single site or mixed sites to visit. Of course individual site prices will be lower. Do remember children under the age of 8 may not climb the Tower and people who suffer from vertigo should think twice.

What you can see

York Minster is very important within the Church of England. It is the seat of the Archbishop of York, who is the most prominent bishop after the Archbishop of Canterbury. As the second largest Gothic cathedral in Europe, it is 158 metres long and 60 metres high. Besides admiring the magnificent buildings there are certainly a lot of things to see. Here I have selected just a few that attracted me the most.

1. The Rose Window

The Rose Window is something that no visitor can fail to miss. It’s just at the front entrance and a stained glass window, which is considered to be the most beautiful window of the minster. It tells the story of the houses of York and Lancaster, who historically had fights for the crown and control of England and eventually were united under Henry VII.

2. The Great East Window

The Great Eastern Window is the largest single piece of stained glass in the world. It depicts the beginning and the end of the world based on biblical stories. It is almost the size of a tennis court and dates back to between 1405 and 1408. You really have to see it to believe it.

3. The Great West Window

The Great West Window is next to the nave, and is also known as the ‘Heart of Yorkshire’. This is due to the heart shaped scenes in the centre. It was constructed in 1338.

4. The Five Sisters Window

The Five Sisters Window is in the north transept and is made up of five rectangular glasses. It is over 16 metres tall and the earliest window to be built in the church.

5. The Screen

It’s the most impressive screen I've ever seen. Instead of religious figures the screen displays statues of 15 English kings; from William I to Henry VI.

6. The Undercroft, Treasury and Crypt

Walking down the stairs of the minster you will find skeletons of buildings that were on the site of the minster before it was built. These include the remains of a Roman fortress as well as evidence of Viking and medieval constructions. You can also have a look at the collection of treasures.

7. The Tower

It is the largest church tower in England. That means you have to climb 275 steep steps to get the top. The views from the top by all means are breathtaking and outstanding. Walking along the tower you can see almost all of York, even more if the sky is clear. Not to mention the medieval streets and horse carriages down below that can take you back in time.

My opinions

Needless to say I’m very impressed with the beauty of the Minster, in particular the windows I mentioned earlier, the Screen and the Nave. In my inexperienced opinion York Minster and Westminster Abbey are of equal magnificence.

However when I was there in the late night I came across the visit of the Relics of St Thérèse of Lisieux. Mingling with the thousand visitors and pilgrims in the spacious and bright palace I was really fascinated by the power of religion. It became the clearest memory of my trip to the Minster and the city of York.

Summary: A vital medieval cathedral strongly impressed me.