York Minster is the largest medieval Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe and is custodian to some of the most important and irreplaceable art from this period. The current building is around 800 years old and is at least the second minster to stand in this location, however the history of the site actually dates back almost 2,000 years.
Today, the grand building stands at over 150 metres (500 feet) in length and over 30 metres (100 feet) high. The construction of the current cathedral took over 250 years to complete and it is now the most visited Cathedral in Britain.
Since the 7th century, the minster has been at the centre of Christianity in the north of England and today it remains a thriving church. The Roman Emperor Constantine, now credited with converting the Empire to Christianity, was proclaimed Emperor while in York, possibly on the very spot where the minster now stands.
The pillars in the Nave mark the line of the outside walls of the Norman cathedral. Above the west doors the Great West Window, also known as the Heart of Yorkshire, can be seen. This window was built between 1338 and 1339 at a cost of 67 pounds.
The South Transept is the earliest part of the current building, construction of which began around 1220. Following the devastating fire of July 1984, which is suspected to have been started by lightening, the wooden roof of the transcript was rebuilt. The Rose Window reflects a kaleidoscope of patterns and colours across the South Transept. Its stonework, dating from 1240, contains later glass from the early 1500s which represents Lancaster and Tudor roses.
The North Transept is dominated by the Five Sisters’ Window, which is filled with grisaille glass, hand-painted and set into intricate geometric designs. The window, which dates from the mid-1200s, was restored and rededicated between 1923 and 1925, making it the only memorial in the country dedicated to the women of the British Empire who lost their lives during the First World War. It was removed during the war to protect it during the Zeppelin raids.
The minster is also home to a unique memorial dedicated to the men of the Royal Air Forces of the Commonwealth and their allies who, operating from bases in Yorkshire, Durham and Northumberland, gave their lives in the Second World War. The Astronomical Clock consists of a large convex disk that represents the horizon, as seen from an aircraft directly over York flying south. The clock’s ‘sun’, which is represented by a gold disk, rises and sets on the horizon at the actual time of sunrise and sunset throughout the year. It crosses the vertical, south pointing wire at noon. From day to day its path along the silver band, which represents the ecliptic, varies so that it rises higher in the summer than in the winter. The dials at the bottom show Greenwich Mean Time and the sidereal or star time. The dial on the other side shows the North Circumpolar Stars visible from the latitude of York circling around the Pole Star.
The Kings’ Screen is one of the most famous parts of the Minster. It is carved with fifteen statues of the Kings of England who were on the throne during York Minster’s Norman and Gothic phase, from William the Conqueror to Henry VI.
The Chapter House hosted Edward I’s parliament in 1296. It is an octagonal building with a soaring vaulted roof and, unusually, no central pillar to support the ceiling which was acclaimed as revolutionary at the time. The Chapter House’s walls contain some of the Minster’s finest carvings. They include characters such as cats, dogs, mice, a jester and characters pulling amusing faces.
The Chapter House was built circa 1285 and features a lamb and flag on its central boss. The king post was constructed from three huge oak trees spliced together. Its weight is held by the whole structure, primarily supported on four horizontal beams crossing in the centre. Almost every timber is numbered, indicating that the roof was pre-made at ground level, dismantled and reassembled in situ. At the entrance to the Chapter House stands a model, showing the elaborate construction of the roof.
At the far East end of the building stands 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. It was created between 1405 and 1408 by master glazier John Thornton and shows the start and end of all things, from the world as described in the book of Genesis, to the events that will presage the end of the world and the the second coming of Christ as told in the visionary Book of Revelation, known in the Middle Ages as the Apocalypse.
The remains of the Roman barracks from the city of Eboracum were uncovered beneath the Minster in the 1960s and 1970s and can now be seen in the cathedral’s Undercroft attraction. The Undercroft is also home to a range of priceless and irreplaceable treasures of international significance including the Horn of Ulf and the York Gospels.
Visitors can also purchase a ticket that allows them to climb the 275 steps up the 61 metre (200 feet) tall central tower to enjoy the best views of the city of York from its highest point.
Entrance 10€ per adult. Free guided tours run Monday – Saturday between 10:00 and 15:00. Opening hours Monday to Saturday from 9:00 and Sundays from 12:45. Last entry is at 15:00. Tickets are valid for 12 months after purchase.
- Visitor leaflet – Welcome to York Minster
- Information signs at York Minster