The Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of Saint Peter in York, commonly known as York Minster, is the cathedral of York, and is one of the largest of its kind in Northern Europe. The minster is the seat of the Archbishop of York, the third-highest office of the Church of England (after the monarch as Supreme Governor and the Archbishop of Cannterbury), and is the mother church for the Diocese of York and the Province of York. It is run by a dean and chapter, under the Dean of York. The title “minster” is attributed to churches established in the Anglo-Saxon period as missionary teaching churches, and serves now as an honorific title. Services in the minster are sometimes regarded as on the High Church or Anglo-Catholic end of the Anglican continuum.

A bishop of York was summoned to the Council of Arles in 312 indicating the presence of a Christian community in York at this time; however, archaeological evidence of Christianity in Roman York is limited. The first recorded 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 decade of 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 Wilfrid ascended to the See of York. He repaired and renewed the structure. The attached school and library were established and by the 8th century were some of the most substantial in Northern Europe.

The church was damaged in 1069 during William the Conqueror’s harrying of the North, but the first Norman archbishop, Thomas of Bayeux, 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 111 m (364.173 ft) 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.

The English Reformation led to 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 Roman 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 2 February 1829, an arson attack by Jonathan Martin inflicted heavy damage on the east arm. An accidental fire in 1840 left the nave, south west tower and south aisle roofless and blackened shells. The cathedral slumped deeply into debt and in the 1850s services were suspended. From 1858 Augustus Duncombe worked successfully to revive the cathedral. In 1866, there were six residentiary canonries: of which one was the Chancellor’s, one the Sub-Dean’s, and another annexed to the Archdeaconry of York

During the 20th century there was more concerted preservation work, especially following a 1967 survey that revealed the building, in particular the central tower, was close to collapse. £2,000,000 was raised and spent by 1972 to reinforce and strengthen the building foundations and roof. During the excavations that were carried out, remains of the north corner of the Roman Principia (headquarters of the Roman fort, Eboracum) were found under the south transept. This area, as well as remains of the Norman cathedral, re-opened to the public in spring 2013 as part of the new exhibition exploring the history of the building of York Minster.

 

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