Fantastic Facts About York Minster (2023)

York Minster is one of England's most popular attractions.More than two million people pass through it annually from all over the world. And no wonder why: This architectural and artistic masterpiece took more than 250 years to build. It is filled with unique and fantastic carvings and the greatest collection of intact, Medieval stained glass windows in the world.

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Northern Europe's Biggest Gothic Cathedral

Fantastic Facts About York Minster (1)

Its Size Is Also Fantastic

  • Length - 525 feet (160 meters) - That's 165 feet longer than an official, NFL football field.
  • Width - 249 feet (76 meters) - Slightly wider (by about 7 feet) than a UK soccer pitch.
  • Height to vault - 88.5 feet (27 meters) - The interior of the main part of the cathedral is about the height of an 8-story building.
  • West towers - At 184 feet each (56 meters), they are nearly as tall as a 17 story building.
  • Lantern tower - 233 feet (71 meters) is about the same as a 21 story building. It's a 275 step climb up a winding staircase to reach the highest spot in the city of York. At 16,000 metric tons, it weighs about the same as 40 jumbo jets.

As Northern Europe's largest consecrated Medieval Gothic space, York Minster is also one of the world's largest Medieval Gothic Cathedrals. Only Chartres, in the Loire region of France, is larger.

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What Is a Minster? York Minster's 2,000 Years of History

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Minster is a very old term for a collegial church, established as a community, to spread Christianity and Christian learning. Besides York Minster, only Westminster Abbey still retains this title, representing England's oldest type of ecclesiastical center. Its use in York is tied to this cathedral's long and complex history.

York Minster is, at the same time:

  • A church where worship services are regularly held
  • A cathedral, seat of the Archbishop of York
  • A minster

The Original Minster

Before construction even began on the current cathedral, around 1215, York was already a minster. It was built for the baptism of Anglo Saxon KingEdwin of Northumbria, on Easter Sunday in 627. In order to marry the sister of the Christian King of Kent, Edwin, a Druid worshipper, agreed to convert. A wooden church, the first York Minster, was built for the occasion, and later replaced by a stone church.

About 1100, the Normans replaced that with a much larger church, which forms part of the foundation of the current York Minster.

An Earlier, Roman History

Constantine was proclaimed Emperor of the Western Roman Empire while in York—then called Eboracum. York had been an important Roman stronghold from about 70 A.D. and, between 208 and 211 A.D., the Emperor Septimus Severus ruled the entire Roman Empire from York.

In 313 A.D., Constantine proclaimed religious tolerance throughout the Roman Empire, later becoming the first Christian Emperor.

The proclamation of Constantine as Emperor may well have taken place in a Roman basilica that lies beneath York Minster. The basilica, part of the long established Roman settlement, was only discovered, along with the foundations of the Norman church, in 1967 during works to shore up the foundations of the Minster's Lantern Tower. These early finds are exhibited in the Undercroft.

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(Video) York Travel Guide - Minster, Ancient Walls, Shambles & Clifford's Tower

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Why Admission Charges? Isn't the Minster a Church?

Of course, York Minster is a place of Christian worship, and if you are there for religious services or to pray, entrance is free. But running the Minster, catering to the various needs of worshippers, sightseers, individuals, and school groups—up to 2 million people a year—plus maintaining the building's ancient fabric and providing for the occasional Anglican Synod—requires deep pockets and a hefty budget.

There's a staff of 150—including those working as carvers and stonemasons in York Minster's own stone yard, glaziers who look after York's amazing stained glass, 500 volunteers who need to be organized and trained, and even a police force of nine constables. The only other church to have its own police force is St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.

All of this, as you might imagine, costs a pretty penny. In fact, it costs York Minster more than:

  • £10,000 per day
  • £415 per hour
  • £7 per minute

Amazingly, neither the UK government nor the Anglican Church contribute toward the maintenance of the beautiful and historically unique York Minster. That's why visitors have to. Reluctantly, in 2003, York Minster began charging entrance fees for non-worshippers.

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Mistletoe on the High Altar

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York Minster is the only Cathedral in the UK that puts mistletoe as well as holly on its high altar at Christmas. This ancient use of mistletoe, connected with Britain's Druid past, is also linked to York and the North of England.

In the North of England, mistletoe grows on lime, poplar, apple, and hawthorn trees. Druids believed it had the power to ward off evil spirits. They also used it as a sign of friendship—thus the custom of kissing under the mistletoe.

Because of mistletoe's connection with the Druids, the early church associated it with sinners and evil and banned mistletoe for use and display in churches.

But they have always been a pretty independent lot in York. Mistletoe at Christmas remained popular there after the Druids were long gone. For a while mistletoe was incorporated into a service of repentance and pardon. York Minster held a winter Mistletoe Service where York's miscreants and evil doers were invited to seek forgiveness.

(Video) Tour Historic York Minster - One Of England's Oldest Cathedrals

Holding up a branch of mistletoe, the priest would declare, "public and universal liberty, pardon and freedom of all sorts of inferior and wicked people at the minster gates, and the gates of the city, towards the four quarters of heaven."

Today, the Mistletoe Service is no longer offered in quite that way. But a sprig of mistletoe still decorates the high altar during the holiday season as a reminder of ancient customs and the spirit of forgiveness.

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York Minster's Tower

Fantastic Facts About York Minster (5)

York Minster's Central Tower, also known as the Lantern Tower, is an amazing feat of 15th-century engineering. Built between 1407 and 1433, it stands more than 230 feet—the height of a 21-story building, and weighs 16,000 metric tonnes—the weight of 40 jumbo jets!

Anyone up to climbing the 275 steps to the top can enjoy close-up viewsof York Minster's pinnacles, gargoyles,and carvings.

Climbing to the highest point in York, by a wide margin, visitors at the top of the tower can see across the rooftops to make out the city's medieval lanes and snickleways. The view also takes in miles of countryside, extending, on a clear day, to the Yorkshire Wolds.

Children under 8 years old are not permitted to climb the Tower. Children under 16 years old can only climb accompanied by an adult. Groups of more than 10 children under 16 must be accompanied by at least three adults. Smaller groups of children can be accompanied by two adults.

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The Rose Window—A Stained Glass Phoenix Rising From the Ashes

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The Rose Window, a stained glass masterpiece high in the South Transept of York Minster, was nearly lost after lightning struck the Minster in the 1980s causing a severe fire in its wooden roof.

(Video) York Minster and City Walls

The stonework of the Rose Window was completed in the mid 13th century but the stained glass was added near the end of the 15th century to commemorate the end of the War of the Roses and honor the Tudor dynasty.

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.

Craftsmen secured the stained glass with adhesive film before removing it, one section at a time. Special adhesives—which would mimic the refractive properties of the glass—had to be researched and were specially developed by 3M Corporation before the window could be restored. Each restored section is sandwiched between layers of clear glass—the restorers jokingly refer to it as a Tudor sandwich—and the whole is further protected by more sheets of glass.

The stained glass restoration process, along with the restoration of the roof, took about four years and cost $4 million.

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Polishing the Minster's Crown Jewels

Fantastic Facts About York Minster (7)

York Minster's collection of Medieval stained glass windows is among the finest and rarest in the world. Most of the important windows, including the Great East Window and the Five Sistersstill have their original, Medieval stained glass. Some of it dates from as early as 1270. More than half of all the stained glass in England is in York Minster.

The Great East Window was painted by a Medieval stained glass painter, John Thornton, between 1405 and 1408. One of the leading stained-glass craftsmen of his day, Thornton was paid about £56 for his three-year effort, in 1408. Some estimates suggest that the payment would be worth about £300,000 today. According to an article in the Yorkshire Post, the current cost of cleaning and restoring the Great East Window is about £6 million. The BBCreported that the job could take as long as 15 years. In 2015, after the windows hid behind scaffolding for 12 years, glaziers began returning the cleaned and protected glass to the 600-year-old stone framework. And in 2016, experts said it would be another three years before the restoration was complete.

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.

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The Chapter House—York Minster's Beautiful Octagonal Room

Fantastic Facts About York Minster (8)

(Video) Explore York Minster cathedral, including a special look at the bell tower

The beautiful and airy octagonal room is one of the oldest parts of the Minster. It was begun in 1260 and completed in 1286.

Created as a meeting place for the Dean and Chapter of York Minster, it is still used for the same purpose. Although the Minster is the seat of the Archbishop of York, its day-to-day running and most of its daily worship services are governed and organized by the Dean—a senior Anglican priest—and a six-member Chapter, today composed of three Clergy Canons and three Lay Canons appointed by the Archbishop.

The statutes that govern the Minster have changed very little since the first Norman minster was begun, in 1080 by Archbishop Thomas of Bayeux.

Each of the seven walls of the octagonal room known as the Chapter House has six seats to emphasize the equality of the Chapter members. No one can sit in the center. The eighth side of the octagonal room is the archway of a passage leading to the nave. There are also seven windows—among the oldest in York Minster, with Medieval stained glass dating from 1270. Above the archway on the eighth wall, the stonework of the seven windows is repeated.

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The Chapter House Ceiling—A Medieval Engineering Marvel

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The Chapter House Ceiling is a complex wooden vaulted structure. Created at the end of the 13th century, the ceiling is unusual for its period in that it is a free vault, unsupported by a central column. The decorative medallion in the center is hand painted with red, blue, green, ivory and gilt. And the central boss (the medallion-like circle connecting the radiating ribs), which would have been barely visible from below, is an elaborate, vividly-painted design featuring a lamb and other Christian symbols.

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York Minster Carvings—Unique Evidence of Each Stonemason's Personality

Fantastic Facts About York Minster (10)

Some of the York Minster's finest, most interesting, and oldest carvings decorate the walls of the octagonal Chapter House. Most were made by individual craftsmen between 1270 and 1280. Their ideas and sense of humor are reflected in the characters and gargoyles depicted, ranging from drunkards and shrews to souls in torment.

York Minster still maintains a small staff of craftsmen, including stonemasons and glaziers, whose skill and artistry is the equal of their 13th-century predecessors. And they are still adding their own humorous touches to York Minster's carvings in secret places around the Minster. Among the carvings of the Great West Doorway, two tiny corbels, each about the size of a fingernail, are carved with the heads of a Klingon and a Ferengi—Star Trek characters.

(Video) Arson and Insanity at York Minster

Elsewhere in York Minster, children have had a chance to contribute imagery for the ages. After an electrical storm set fire to the roof of the South Transept, the British children's television show, Blue Peter, invited its audience to contribute designs for bosses (the connecting medallions that join the ribs in a vaulted ceiling) in the new ceiling. Six were selected and can be spotted by the eagle-eyed—or with binoculars—in the ceiling, about 88 feet above. One of them shows Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon.


What is special about York Minster? ›

York Minster is one of the world's most magnificent cathedrals, a vision of heaven on earth crafted in stained glass and stone. For a millennia, people have been drawn to this sacred place but its story stretches back nearly 2,000 years to the birth of modern day Christianity in Roman York.

Why is it called York Minster? ›

The title "minster" is attributed to churches established in the Anglo-Saxon period as missionary teaching churches, and serves now as an honorific title; the word Metropolitical in the formal name refers to the Archbishop of York's role as the Metropolitan bishop of the Province of York.

What is a fun fact about York? ›

York: Facts and Information
  • York is considered to be one of the world's most haunted cities. ...
  • York Minster is one of the world's largest cathedrals, and took 250 years to build. ...
  • The Minster is 160 metres long and 76 metres wide. ...
  • The narrow street called the Shambles was once home to butchers shops.
Nov 1, 2013

How old is the York Minster? ›

What is the biggest minster in the world? ›

Ulm Minster (German: Ulmer Münster) is a Lutheran church located in Ulm, State of Baden-Württemberg (Germany). It is currently the tallest church in the world. The church is the fifth-tallest structure built before the 20th century, with a steeple measuring 161.5 metres (530 ft).

What is the largest cathedral in the world? ›

St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, the largest church in the world.

What was filmed at York Minster? ›

Notable British productions that have filmed here include BBC's Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell and ITV's Victoria. The cavernous marble-floored gothic Nave, the gilt-edged Quire and the 13th-century octagonal Chapter House are among the areas of the minster that you might recognise from TV and film.

What is the oldest cathedral in the world? ›

St. Peter's Basilica Vatican City

What saint is buried in York Minster? ›

The stone coffin of York's Patron Saint, William Fitzherbert, can be found in the Western Crypt of York Minster. William Fitzherbert was Archbishop from 1141 to 1147 and from 1153 to 1154. His appointment was controversial but it ended in miracles and sainthood.

What is the oldest thing in York? ›

The Norman House is one of York's hidden treasures, standing in a secluded courtyard accessed through an archway from Stonegate. The house was built of freestone about 1180, and it is the oldest house in York of which any substantial remains still stand in place.

Why is York so famous? ›

We already know that York is famous for its Viking and Roman roots, but did you know that this picture-perfect city is filled with a plethora of interesting facts that sees tourist flock from all over to discover.

What caused the fire in York Minster? ›

It took four years to repair the damage. Tests concluded the fire was “almost certainly” caused by lightning striking a metal electrical box inside the roof.

What Stone was York Minster made of? ›

The Minster is built of oolite, or olitic limestone, from the Tadcaster area. The building was consecrated on July 3, 1472.

Who owns the York Minster? ›

The minster is the seat of the Archbishop of York, the second-highest office of the Church of England, 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.

What is the largest cathedral in USA? ›

The United States is, according to some measures, home to the largest cathedral in the world: the Cathedral of St. John the Divine (Episcopal) in New York City.

How long did it take to complete York Minster? ›

The present Gothic-style church was designed to be the greatest cathedral in the kingdom. It was built over 250 years, between 1220 and 1472.

Why is it called York Minster and not cathedral? ›

York Minster is officially the 'Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of St Peter in York'. Although it is by definition a cathedral, as it is the site of a bishop's throne, the word 'cathedral' did not come into use until the Norman Conquest. The word 'minster' was what Anglo-Saxons named their important churches.

Which cathedral is bigger York or Lincoln? ›

The cathedral is the fourth largest in the UK (in floor area) at around 5,000 square metres (54,000 sq ft), after Liverpool, St Paul's and York Minster.
Lincoln Cathedral
Width24 metres (78 ft)
Nave height24 metres (78 ft)
Number of towers3
Tower height83 metres (272 ft) (crossing)
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What is the smallest church in the world? ›

The church, erected in 1989, is notable for its small size, measuring just four feet three inches by six feet nine inches and has been called "The Smallest Church in the World".

What are the 3 largest cathedrals in England? ›

Churches 200 feet or taller
RankName of ChurchLocation
1Salisbury CathedralSalisbury, Wiltshire
2St Paul's CathedralCity of London
3Liverpool Anglican CathedralLiverpool
4Norwich CathedralNorwich, Norfolk
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Are any kings buried at York Minster? ›

It would certainly have been unusual in 1485 for a king of England to be buried in York. The only medieval royal tomb in the Minster's collection is that of William, son of Edward III, who died just weeks after his birth at Hatfield in Yorkshire.

Is York Minster The biggest cathedral? ›

Commonly known as York Minster, the Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of Saint Peter in York is one of the finest medieval buildings in Europe. It is the second largest Gothic cathedral of Northern Europe and was completed in 1472.

Can you wear shorts in York Minster? ›

We do not have a formal dress code and welcome visitors dressed casually (but recommend warm practical clothing as the Minster can be cold even during the summer months!). All visitors are welcome to keep their hats on inside York Minster.

What is the holiest cathedral in the world? ›

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a church in the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem.

What is the oldest church in America? ›

Originally built around 1610, it is often referred to as the oldest church in the United States (excluding Puerto Rico).
San Miguel Mission.
San Miguel Archángel
Completedc. 1610
U.S. National Historic Landmark
Added to NRHPNovember 24, 1968
NRHP Reference no.68000032
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What was the first cathedral in America? ›

Basilica of the Assumption – America's First Cathedral.

Where is the oldest church in England? ›

It is recognised as the oldest church building in Britain still in use as a church, and the oldest existing parish church in the English-speaking world, although Roman and Celtic churches had existed for centuries.
St Martin's Church, Canterbury.
Church of St Martin
Governing bodyPCC St. Martin & St. Paul, Canterbury
UNESCO World Heritage Site
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What is the oldest church in York? ›

It is generally agreed that St Mary Bishophill Junior is the oldest surviving church within the city walls.

Which is the oldest cathedral in England? ›

Canterbury Cathedral, founded in 597, is England's oldest Cathedral, home to the symbolic leader of the Anglican Communion and the Church of England, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

What is the old name for York? ›

York is one of England's finest and most beautiful historic cities. The Romans knew it as Eboracum. To the Saxons it was Eoforwick. The Vikings, who came as invaders but stayed on in settlements, called it Jorvik.

What was invented in York? ›

Eight things Yorkshire has given the world
  • Yorkshire puddings. ...
  • Cricket legends. ...
  • Stainless steel. ...
  • The Brontë Sisters. ...
  • The first commercial steam train. ...
  • Wensleydale cheese. ...
  • Marks & Spencer. ...
  • The first ever football club.

What is the oldest row of houses in York? ›

Lady Row dates from 1316 and is the earliest row of houses surviving in the city.

Is York the oldest city in England? ›

Colchester. Colchester claims to be Britain's oldest recorded town. Its claim is based on a reference by Pliny the Elder, the Roman writer, in his Natural History (Historia Naturalis) in 77 AD.

What is a person from York called? ›

York Yorkies, Old Yorkers Yorkshire Tykes, Yorkies, Yorkie Bars.

Why is York called York? ›

As York was a town in Roman times, its Celtic name is recorded in Roman sources (as Eboracum and Eburacum); after 400, Angles took over the area and adapted the name by folk etymology to Old English Eoforwīc or Eoforīc, which means "wild-boar town" or "rich in wild-boar".

What is York historically famous for? ›

Used as a military base, a tax office and treasury, an administrative headquarters, a prison and a court, York Castle was once undoubtedly the centre of government for the north of England.

What's the difference between a cathedral and a minster? ›

A Minster is a Church that has priest(s) that administer to and visit the parishioners. It is open to the public for worship. A Cathedral is a Church in which the throne of an Archbishop is located. An Abbey was originally a Church that was used exclusively by monks.


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