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Modern Britain

Gallery: Churches of the City of York

by Peter Kessler, 9 January 2011

Central York Part 1: York Minster

York Minster

York Minster occupies the land between Deangate and High Petergate in the centre of York. The minster began as St Peter's Chapel, a small, wooden Anglo-Saxon construction which was built especially for the baptism of King Edwin of Bernicia & Deira on Easter Sunday in 627. Almost immediately afterwards, Edwin ordered that the chapel should be rebuilt in stone on the same site. This work was probably completed during the reign of King (and Saint) Oswald (633-642).

York Minster

Over time it was enlarged, surviving the Viking occupation of the city in 867 and the subsequent Scandinavian kingdom which held Yorkshire until 954. It was badly damaged by fire in 1069 when the Normans finally took control of the city from its Anglo-Saxon defenders. Something is known of the early versions of York Minster, but so far no archaeological evidence of them has been uncovered. The Normans built a completely new minster, removing the old one entirely.

York Minster

The Norman minster was built on a fresh site to replace the old fire-damaged Saxon minster. Around 1080, Thomas of Bayeux became archbishop of York and started building a cathedral that would grow into the present minster. Work was completed around 1100, and the base of some of its distinctive columns can be seen today in the Undercroft. There was a fire in 1137, after which the church was enlarged at both ends, although perhaps not as a direct result of the fire.

York Minster

In 1215 Walter Gray became archbishop of York. He began transforming the Norman church into the present minster. The south and north transepts were added, although not completed before his death. In 1291 work began on the nave (at the western end), completed by about 1360. Then the Lady Chapel was added to the east end and the quire was completed by about 1405. In 1407 the central tower collapsed and work on its replacement was not finished until 1433.

York Minster

Between 1433-1472 the western towers were added and the work was finally completed. Between 1472-1829 the minster changed very little. In February 1829, Jonathan Martin deliberately started a fire in the quire which destroyed the entire east end roof and timber vault and all the wooden furniture. Eleven years later a second, accidental, fire destroyed the nave roof and vault. On 9 July 1984 fire broke out in the south transept after the minster had been hit by lightning.


St Mary-ad-Valvas probably lay alongside the early minster. Nothing is known of its foundation, and it is not mentioned until 1329, by which time the work on the modern minster was well underway and parish churches were proliferating throughout York. Perhaps considered more as a chapel at the minster doors (and hence perhaps the name, 'ad-Valvas'), it was demolished in 1365 'to enlarge the walks about the minster', and the benefice was united with St John-del-Pyke.

All photos on this page contributed by Colin Hinson. Sound file from 'Bells on Sunday' on BBC Radio 4, 2009.

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