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York Minster and St. Mary’s Abbey

York Minster

The cathedral’s full, official name is The Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of St Peter in York. But most people shorten it to York Minster. It’s visible from nearly every place in the old section of York, and I had so many pictures that it needed it’s own post. See my other post and pictures of York here. I’ll get to St. Mary’s Abbey in a bit.

York Minster from the City Wall

York Minster is the largest gothic cathedral in Northern Europe. It took more than 250 years to complete. The Lantern tower is the tallest spot in York and Mark climbed the 275 steps to get some great pictures from the top. (They said not to do the climb if you are claustrophobic, dislike heights, etc. I don’t remember the rest as that was enough for me to Nope out.)

View from the Lantern Tower, York Minster

Glorious Stained Glass Windows

York Minster is very proud of their windows. The Great East window is the largest surviving work of medieval stained glass in the world. In all, the cathedral contains more than half of the medieval stained glass in the UK. (Comparing it to the Reims Cathedral, it’s such a shame that there’s hardly any original glass left in Reims.)

The Great East window

Just Incredible

There’s a Saint in the Basement

St. William of York‘s tomb is in the crypt below the quire (by the stairs near the toilets). He has another interesting saint origin story. William, newly reinstated as Archibishop of York, was allegedly poisoned during Mass in 1154. He died, but soon after, miracles started happening and when the tomb was damaged by fire, the body had not decayed or burnt. That’s a recurring theme for the saints we encountered, the body not decaying. (Wait until you hear the story about Sainte Maxence!)

In addition to this fairly humble tomb, the Doom Stone stands in the crypt. It’s a carving depicting hell with demons torturing the souls of the damned. Cheery . The stone dates back to the 12th century and was part of the Norman-era church.

The Romans Were Here, Too

Before the Vikings and Normans, the Romans had a fort and settlement at York. York Minster was having some very worrying settling in the 1960s. When they dug down to the foundations, they found a Roman barracks, a 9th century Anglo-Saxon settlement, and 11th century Viking-era cemetery. Must of their findings are on display in the Undercroft Museum as well as the story of how they reinforced the 16,000 ton structure to keep it from collapsing. Absolutely worth the time.

Constantly Under Repair

As you might expect with a building where the “new” parts are nearly 600 years old, there is constant work to repair and conserve. There’s a lot of scaffolding inside and out. We walked by the masons’ work area where the “spare parts” are waiting.

York Minster is Great, What’s Up with The Abbey?

Across the UK, Mark and I have seen many churches, monasteries, and abbeys that were deconsecrated and sold off or destroyed at during Henry VIII’s reformation. How did York Minster survive nearly intact? According to the History of York, the Minster lost much of it’s silver, vestments, and altar frontals and the shrine to St. William was broken up. But the building and windows were largely left intact. Nothing I’ve been able to find gives a good explanation why Henry spared York Minster when many others were not.

One institution in York that was not spared was St. Mary’s Abbey. It was contemporary to the building of York Minster, and was one of the wealthiest and most powerful Benedictine monasteries in England. William the Conquerer started the abbey in 1066 and Henry VIII dissolved and mostly destroyed it in 1539.

Of the two buildings left standing, one is the Yorkshire Museum and the other is the King’s Manor (formerly the Abbot’s House). The York Museum Gardens are a lovely space with flowers and lawn and the remaining ruins.

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