Monday, February 13, 2017

Rees family trip to Europe - part 6: York Minster

It was Elf’s idea to spend 4 days in York, because it’s such a historic place, and we all love history. She was attracted partly by the chance to visit Jorvik, the Viking history centre. Unfortunately after being seriously flooded, it is closed until April this year. However there is still so much to see that I’m really delighted we spent the time there.

After spending Friday at Whitby, Saturday was to be all about York Minster. It was only a five minute walk from the B&B, and we could see it over the low rise buildings. We walked through Monkgate Bar, one of the two big gates in the city walls. There were steps up onto the top of the wall (you can walk right around it) so we popped up briefly just to look at the view.

York Minster from the city wall. The steep roof on the right is the chapter house.

Walking under Monkgate Bar. There's a Richard III museum in there.
Inside the wall the street changes name to Goodramgate. It's narrow and full of restaurants and touristy sorts of things as well as usual English high street shops, but all squeezed into old buildings, many of them half-timbered. They are also narrow, and quite irregular with sloping frontages and slightly drooping overhangs. Despite taking a phenomenal number of photos I don't have any of this street scene so here is a StreetView you can explore.

Hidden behind the tree in the Streetview is the Minster - this is the eastern side, and hence the main window. It tells in stained glass the story of creation, and has an incredibly detailed cast of characters; which are just much too high for any mortal parishioner to have made out with medieval-standard eyesight. Luckily there is a touchscreen interactive kiosk to explore the whole thing, and that is where Michael spent a lot of time.

Now, stand by for a ton of Minster photos.

Reasonably nice backdrop for a coffee and a natter.
The individuality of all the carvings is marvellous. This one is possibly a warning against the sin of gossip.

We walked around to the main door on the south side - all stunned by the beauty of this wonderful building, lit up on a perfect Yorkshire autumn morning. There is a statue outside of Constantine, the Roman emperor.

Emperors seemed to like York (it was called Eboracum then). Hadrian and Septimus Severus spent time here while emperor, and Constantius I was visiting when he died. Constantine was his son, here commanding a regiment under his father. Young Con's troops proclaimed him emperor and he was crowned right here.

South face of the Minster with Emperor Constantine in bronze.
Main west door - the actual entry is a smaller door to the left.
I was quite concerned that our trip would be one church/museum/gallery after another. My feet were sore in advance just thinking about it. And even while blown away by this church, every photo I took I was thinking "uh, church photos". But it was flippin' spectacular, and all of us loved it. So much that we went back the next day and even briefly the day after that. 

So to the inside. One of the first intriguing things we saw was this series of headless saints. It's a contemporary sculpture by Terry Hamill done in 2004. The semaphoring saints are saying CHRIST IS HERE. I like that they are signalling with haloes.

The headless saints are semaphoring a message.
Honestly I forget all the terminology about buttresses etc but just look at it!
Under the central tower is the loveliest place in the minster. The light pours in on you. In the picture above you can see in the distance a screen between the congregation and the altar. On it are 16 lifesize statues of English kings, from William I to Henry VII I think.

There is so much delightful heraldry, calligraphy, stone carving and iconography everywhere. But I reckon what you'll love most is the memorial sculptures. The Relaxing Bishops are pretty great. It seems to be a tradition that they are depicted resting, after their earthly labours are at an end. To me they all look as though someone has said they'd ring this afternoon and it's now getting on for teatime. This is also me when a Premier League match is 0-0 after 20 minutes.

I could look up who these groovers are but pardon me if I don't.

Then you've got the wealthy donors who get smaller statues, and their relatives get even smaller statues. These ones have a very endearing awkwardness to them. There were coats-of-arms everywhere in the various churches we visited, which gave Michael and I an extra point of interest, being the family heraldry buffs.

We were incredibly lucky to be visiting York Minster while the London Sinfonia rehearsed for a performance that night. Their heavenly music punctuated our tour. 

The boys and I were keen to do go up the main tower, while Elf felt she would prefer to have a close look at some things nearer the ground. While the boys and I ascended the tight spiral staircase, 275 steps to the top, little bursts of Handel (I think) wafted around us. It was really one of those Moments that make the occasional angst of travelling worthwhile.

Halfway up.
At the top of the central tower, looking east…
and looking west.

Marcus took this pic, which is my favourite from the climb.

We don't have this anywhere in Australia - an urban area with one dominant set of building materials
and variations on one colour. It's really beautiful. (See also Cuzco and Siena).
And that was our day. We stepped out at some point for lunch at Costa Coffee or something like that. And on our way home we had pizza. The pizza place seemed to be run by the same people that ran 'The Viceroy' on our first night in York. Weird.

There are heaps more Minster photos coming in the next instalment, when we… return to see more Minster.

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