Jun 19, 2009
|We woke up to a blustery day, with grey clouds scudding across the sky. Here in York it seems that, if you don’t like the weather, wait a half hour! The garden outside our room was so pretty in the intermittent sun, though, and the birds were singing away.
Today we decided to see York Minster, the largest Gothic cathedral in northern Europe, and whose twin bell towers dominate the York skyline. It was only about a 20 minute walk through York, pretty much the same route as we went through the previous night for our ghost walk.
There were many school groups out and about, and most groups were kids in primary school, from ages 6 to 10. Some groups wore reflective yellow vests, some had red ball caps, and many had children paired up holding hands – ‘the buddy system.’ The teachers looked a little frazzled, but it was so cute, like mother ducks herding their ducklings down the street.
We went through the area known as ‘The Shambles’, the narrow street of original medieval buildings that lean in toward one another, with timbered facades framed in heavy, dark patina beams and lintels and leaded glass windows, many which have bowed outward over the centuries as the buildings have settled and sagged. Some of the shop fronts still had the meat hooks over the large front windows, as this area is where many of the butchers hung out their wares. The street, being cobbled, has channels running down either side – perhaps to ferry away the awful sludge of blood and who knows what else?
We came out the other side of the narrow streets of the Shambles to the enormous pale stone façade of York Minster, and marveled that they took 250 years to build it. We went inside, and I had no words – the sheer scale and magnificence of its interior took my breath away. The intricacies of the stone carvings alone was awe-inspiring; every corner could’ve warranted closer study to see the fine workmanship. The stained glass windows, many as tall as a four story building, were wonderfully detailed in their medieval splendor. Each one told a different story, some of the family tree of Jesus, and one even that was festooned with bells, donated, of course, by a bell founder.
Also marvelous were the many sarcophaguses with stone effigies, many lying in repose, hands folded in prayer. Marble tablets on the walls praised the virtues of those who had died, some quite verbose! There were also some very fine tapestries, and apparently the Minster still has an embroidery guild, and there were some modern pieces detailing coats of arms and Christian symbols.
We decided to go on a tour of an hour with a volunteer guide. Her name was Helen, and I liked her tour, mostly because she said right from the start she wasn’t going to inundate us with names or dates, but rather unique features of the Minster itself. She did give a brief history, but it was interesting, and she related it to the features she pointed out. She described the story behind some of the stained glass windows, and how the Minster was constructed.
We ended the tour in the Chapter House, a large circular room with a tiled floor and vaulted ceiling, where the clergy meet and discuss matters. Although the ceiling was not original, and had been replaced in Victorian times, it was still a stunning room. Marble columns circled the room and held up intricate stone carvings of faces, not just human, but some of pigs, dogs, green men, and gargoyles. Each one was different, and Helen said that this was her favorite place, as every time she looks, she sees something she hadn’t seen before.
I spent some time taking pictures in there and other places around the Minster, and then we decided to leave and find some lunch, then come back later to visit the undercroft, treasury and crypt.
We walked again through the Shambles, and went down a side alley to a courtyard to a pub (I think it was called Ye Olde Starre Inn and Pub), which claimed to be the oldest in York, from the 1600s. We had some sandwiches for lunch, then did a little poking around in the shops.
Then, we went back to the Minster to take a tour of the lower level, which houses an exhibition on the history and construction of the Minster. When one of the huge columns of the Minster was found to be on slightly unstable foundation in the 1960s, excavation was done to stabilize it. It turned out to be serendipitous, as they also uncovered Roman remains of an encampment/settlement which lies beneath the Minster, and found wonderful artifacts, such as intact clay vessels and bone items like needles and dice (Time Team!). So, archaeologists were able to do some research at the same time as the foundations were reinforced.
As the Roman ruins lay about 10 feet below the present floor of the Minster, there was also a Norman Cathedral that lay halfway between the Roman and present building, about five feet beneath the floor. It wasn’t quite as large as the Minster, but still pretty impressive, nonetheless.
Finally, the exhibition concluded by outlining the conservation necessary to maintain the Minster, such as repairing the roof after a fire, re-carving the roof bosses, and the biggest project at present, the repair and re-glazing of the enormous east window, which will take 10 years at a cost of ₤10,000,000! Because the window will be taken down for this work, and the outside is covered with scaffolding, they have commissioned an enormous, life-sized photograph to cover the hole, in order that people may see what it looks like. It was pretty impressive in and of itself.
The other parts of the underground labyrinth contained items from the Treasury, such as pewter and silver vessels like chalices, patens, flagons and ciborium. They also had a crypt, but much to my disappointment, wasn’t very ghoulish!
Since my feet were starting to hurt, we decided to walk back to the hotel and relax. We took a slightly different route back and even walked along the city walls to Michelsgate, the closest gate to the street where our hotel was. The views from the wall very good, although I found some of them a little vertigo-inducing. We crossed the river again at a different bridge, and saw two rowers making their way down the river. Also interesting were the tollbooths on either side of the bridge; both were now little cafes.
We came back to the hotel, and I had a nice hot bath, which felt great. Later on, we went to the lounge and had a pint. We went into the dining room for supper, and sat beside the windows overlooking the garden. There were a few more people in the dining room this evening – guests staying over the weekend, I suppose.
For starter, I had a delicious crispy duck salad with sweet chili sauce, smoked herring with a poached egg and a kind of hollandaise sauce and vegetables for my main course, then a dessert called toffee lumpy bumpy for dessert, very similar to a cheesecake, although with toffee bits and chocolate sauce on top. It was scrumptious!
We relaxed in our room that evening, and I watched a little television, while Doug played solitaire on the laptop. We turned out the light about half past ten.