Locations and activities covered in this blog
Sunset walk on the Walls
Walk around York
Our first stop after leaving Scotland was in York. Not that we were fortunate to visit York but, we chose this location because of its approximate distance from St. Andrews and Northern Wales which was our next major destination. Sometimes your itinerary just drops an unplanned gem in your lap.
One of the things we will remember about York was the size of the Airbnb garage. Even after we informed the owner we were driving a Volvo XC60 SUV, they assured us the garage would come in handy since finding parking in York proper can be difficult. Both of us tried maneuvering the SUV through the opening for 30 minutes and then fittingly a neighbor came out to chuckle at us ... we gave up and found a parking lot 10 minutes away.
Archaeological evidence suggests that Mesolithic people settled in the region of York between 8000 and 7000 BC, although it is not known whether their settlements were permanent or temporary. In general, York’s history began with the Romans. The city was founded in about 71 AD when the 5,000 men of the Ninth Legion invaded the lands of the Brigantes (Northern England). They remained in York and built a fortress that covered over 50 acres to house the soldiers. The site of the fortress headquarters lies under the foundations of York Minster.
The Roman world was governed from wherever the emperor was located. The Emperors Hadrian, Septimius Severus and Constantius I all held court in York during their various campaigns. After Constantius I death at York, his son Constantine the Great was proclaimed Emperor by the troops based in the York fortress. A statue in in the York Minster grounds commemorates the event. But by the end of the 5th century, the Romans had all but abandoned York. In the preceding centuries, the Anglicans and Vikings controlled the city. However it was during the Viking rule in the late 800s that the city underwent a rebirth and Jorvik as they referred to York became a bustling marketplace. Although occasional down times continued, York became an established center of trade, wealth, and power.
Since Roman times, York has been defended by walls of one form or another. However, very little remains from the Roman, Viking, and Dane walls. Most of the walls today that encircle the whole of the medieval city date from the 12th to 14th century.
The walls are on average 13 feet high and 6 feet wide. Additional defense were provided by a 60 ft wide and 10 ft deep ditch that ran along the length of the walls. During our first night in York, we caught sunset while walking on the walls.
We also experienced some amazing view of York Minster lighted by the setting sun.
Walk around York
Our Airbnb was only a 10-minute walk to the Micklegate Bar. The four main gatehouses, or 'bars' (Bootham Bar, Monk Bar, Walmgate Bar and Micklegate Bar), restricted traffic in medieval times; were used to extract tolls; and served as part of the city defenses. The Micklegate Bar was the most important of York’s four main medieval gateways. The name comes from 'Micklelith', meaning great street. At least half a dozen reigning monarchs have passed through this gate and by tradition they stop here to ask the Lord Mayor's permission to enter the city. The lower section of the bar dates from the 12th century, the top two stories from the 14th.
A few more pictures taken along the wall.
A nice early morning view of York Minster's towers.
York's Cathedral Church is one of the finest medieval buildings in Europe. The Minster is also known as St. Peter's, its full name being the 'Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of St. Peter in York' is one of the largest of its kind in Northern Europe. There have been churches on or near the site where the Minster now stands for nearly 1400 years, with the first record in 625 referencing a wooden church which provided the setting for the baptism of Edwin, King of Northumbria. During the next 5 centuries, each new conqueror destroyed and then rebuilt the church to stamp their legacy on the city.
The Gothic cathedral we see today was started in 1220. Work finished around 1405, however in 1407 the central tower collapsed and a new tower was built in 1420. The western towers (visible in the picture below) were added between 1433 and 1472. The cathedral was declared complete and consecrated in 1472.
Why 'minster’? Minster was what Anglo-Saxons named their important churches. Here are some numbers to put the size of this medieval cathedral in perspective:
Length: 525 ft Width: 239 feet
West Towers: 184 ft each Central/Lantern Tower: 233 ft
A look back at the entrance to the Minster and the Great West Window. This impressive stained glass windows was completed by 1340 and is nicknamed the 'Heart of Yorkshire’ due to the shape of its upper stonework.
The nave was built between 1291 and 1350. It is the widest Gothic nave in England and has a wooden roof that is painted so as to appear like stone. Medieval builders couldn't figure out how to span such a width with stone. Most of the nave vault was rebuilt following the destruction of the original nave roof by fire in 1840.
High in the gable of the South Transept is the Rose Window, one of the best known stained glass windows in England. The stonework of the window was completed in the mid 13th century but the stained glass was added around 1515. After fire destroyed the South Transept roof in 1984, inspection revealed that the stained glass in the Rose Window was severely cracked. The 73 panels, containing 7,000 pieces of stained glass had shattered into about 40,000 pieces! Miraculously it was all still in place. The stained glass restoration process and the restoration of the roof, took about four years and cost $4 million. The picture below shows the transept wall with lancet stained glass windows below the Rose Window.
A close-up of the Rose Window; the outer panels contain two red Lancastrian roses, alternating with panels containing two red and white Tudor roses. This alluded to the union of the Houses of Lancaster and York through the marriage of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York in 1486, and may have been designed to commemorate the end of the War of the Roses and honor the Tudor dynasty.
The South Transept entrance with the intricate Rose Window tracery.
In the North Transept is the Five Sisters Window. It is the oldest complete window in York Minster and dates from around the year 1260. Each lancet window is 53 feet long making them the longest lancet windows in the world. The windows are filled with Grisaille glass which was typically formed by painting foliage patterns on grey monochrome glass. In total the window contains over 100,000 individual pieces of glass.
Maintaining the Minster's amazing medieval windows is a full-time job. There are 128 stained glass windows, containing about 2 million individual pieces of Medieval glass. Each window must be taken apart so that each piece of stained glass can be individually cleaned. Then the windows are reassembled and re-leaded. Each window is cleaned about once every 125 years.
In 1941 during WW2, more than 80 windows were removed from the Minster and hidden in bomb proof shelters around the city.
The last and greatest stained glass window in York Minster is the Great East Window painted between 1405 and 1408. It contains the largest single expanse of medieval stained glass in the world measuring 73 ft high and 31 ft wide. It contains 117 panels in rows of nine. The panels depict the beginning and end of the world. The altar and the person standing by the chairs put the immense size of the window in perspective.
Historians consider the East Window one of the great artistic achievements of the Middle Ages. In 2007 renovation began on the east front, including the Great East Window, at an estimated cost of $30 million. The 311 glass panels were removed in 2008 and fully returned when the project was completed in 2018.
The exterior walls of the Great East window.
The Central Tower, also known as the Lantern Tower has a troubled history. In 1407 the original tower collapsed in on itself. A new tower was begun in 1420 but by 1470 the decision was made to stop further construction leaving the incomplete, cut-off straight appearance of the Central Tower that we see today.
Fast forward to 1967 when it was reported that York Minster was in peril and the Central Tower was close to collapsing. The tower which weighs about 25,000 tons, was slowly sinking under its own weight, twisting and cracking as it did so and putting huge strains on the rest of the building. Large cracks had also been discovered in the western towers, and the east end of the Minster was leaning outwards and 3 feet out of plumb. A massive 5-year engineering project was undertaken to underpin the tower with huge collars of concrete and stabilize the building foundation.
For a small fee you can climb to the top of the Central Tower and get amazing views of the Minster and surrounding neighborhoods. As you might expect much of the the 275-stair climb is through a narrow spiral staircase.
After 108 stairs you reach the first viewing area located on the roof of the South Transept. You can appreciate the skills of the architects and stone masons who over 700 years ago built the west towers, decorative roof pinnacles, flying buttresses and stained glass window tracery.
From the transept roof, you follow a narrow walkway that leads into the Central Tower and the final 167 stairs. From the 230-foot high tower roof top you get a chance to see some of the Minster's incredible stone work of the Western Towers.
There are some interesting tombs in the Minster. The tomb of Walter de Gray is located in the South Transept. Gray was appointed as archbishop in 1215 and ordered the construction of a Gothic structure to compare to Canterbury Cathedral, work began in 1220. His remains were interred in 1255.
Memorials and tombs of other Archbishops of York.
The ancient sarcophagus believed to contain the remains of York’s Patron Saint William Fitzherbert, is located in the Western Crypt of York Minster. Fitzherbert was Archbishop from 1141 to 1147 and from 1153 to 1154.
After spending the entire morning touring York Minster, we headed to the 'Shambles' for a bite to eat. The Shambles is one of the best-preserved medieval shopping streets in Europe. Although none of the original shop-fronts have survived from medieval times, some properties still have exterior wooden shelves, reminders of when cuts of meat were served from the open windows. The street was made narrow by design to keep the meat out of direct sunlight.
We took a break from 'touring' and stopped in the York Castle Museum. The museum walks you through history, blending education with a touch of nostalgia. From Kirkgate, the living Victorian street with sweet shops and all, to the eerie Castle Prison, First World War exhibition, and collection of 60s memorabilia.
Another busy day followed by dinner and packing up the car for our drive to Northern Wales. Although it was a quick stay we enjoyed the opportunity to visit the city walls and tour of York Minster.