A Testament in Stone1
Wednesday, 1st June
Amy the Ant had a busy day scheduled so we made an early start from her flat in Leeds. We took the bus into the city centre and walked through some of Leeds' upscale shopping areas en route to the train station. The day before I had noticed some excellent coal carvings in a shop near the train station. I popped in and bought two of them to take home with me, a train engine for my brother-in-law, who carves in wood and a miner for myself. I intended it for my desk at the library, but decided, considering the normal messy state of my desk, to keep it at home.
I was extremely pleased with our itinerary for the day. We were off to York, one of England's oldest and most interesting cities. Of all the cities I visited outside of London, York was my favorite.
Our visit began with a wonderful surprise. We were at the train station in York at just the right time to see the most famous steam locomotive in the world, the Flying Scotsman. It was making it's first journey of the season from York to a seaside resort. The name of the resort escapes me, but I remember Amy saying it was once very posh but is now past its prime.
There was quite a crowd of spectators of all ages waiting for the engine to steam into sight. When it finally made it's appearance we were delighted to notice that the Hogwarts car was attached. I got a good photo of it to show to my young Harry Potter fans back home. The downside was that some of the cars had been vandalized and sported graffiti. Amy and I were indignant on behalf of historians and train
It had started to rain, so rather than heading for the famous ancient walls that enclose the city, we went directly to York Minster. I fully intend to visit all of England's great cathedrals before I die, but this was the only one I managed to fit in during this trip.
Our visit sparked quite a lively debate at Lil's atelier about the increasingly common practice of being charged admission to visit the major cathedrals. I was pleased to learn that local residents who actually use the cathedral to worship are exempt from the fees. And speaking strictly as a tourist, I didn't mind paying the admission charge for the opportunity to see the cathedral. I'm sure taking care of hoards of tourists puts a major financial strain on the diocese.
York Minster is the largest of England's Gothic cathedrals. The Minster was the victim of a devastating fire in 1984. Considering the extent of the blaze and the size of the area involved, I expected to see
signs of damage. To my amazement the restoration was so skilled that had I not known about the fire, I would never have suspected there had been such extensive destruction.
The site where the cathedral is constructed has been occupied for nearly 2,000 years. It is located on the site of Eboracum, founded by the Romans in 71 AD. This was the great northern headquarters of the
Roman army and the place where Constantine was proclaimed Emperor in 306. There is mention of a Bishop Eborious in records of those attending the Council of Arles indicating that the Christian community in York predates 341. The first York Minster was probably a small wooden church
constructed in 627 for the baptism of King Edwin and his court by Saint Paulinus. This building was replaced in 640 by a stone structure which was destroyed in 1069 by William the Conqueror. Construction of a Norman cathedral took place between 1080 and 1110. A major addition, a new quire, was added in the mid twelfth century.
Remains of some of these early structures, including portions of a Roman road, are visible in the Undercroft, which requires a second admission fee. These were uncovered in 1967-73 by civil engineers who were strengthening the foundations of the massive building to prevent its collapse. If you are in the Minster and have the time, then I highly recommend a visit to the Undercroft. The self-guided tour is fascinating. In addition to the archaeological treasures there, you will also see a large collection of church silver and statuary and the crypt, which has some nice mosaics and is the final resting place of Sir William of York.
The Gothic cathedral that we see today was begun in 1220 by Archbishop Walter Gray and took over 250 years to complete. It was consecrated in 1472. Much of the original ornate decoration was
removed during the Reformation in the sixteenth century. By the nineteenth century the interior was but a shadow of its former glory. Then two fires, the first in the quire in 1829 and a second in 1840 in the nave destroyed both roofs and the woodwork in the quire, made major interior restoration necessary. As well as repairing the immediate damage from the fires, the redecoration of the cathedral began.
The Minster has several well-known features. Probably the most famous are three of the cathedral's many stained glass windows. The Great West Window which is the 'Heart of Yorkshire' was commissioned in 1338 and contains a heart in its tracery. The Rose Window was installed around
1500 and commemorates the union of the royal houses of York and Lancaster. And the Great East Window, created in 1405-1408, has more medieval stained glass than any other single window in the world. The Chapter House is also famous. It is absolutely gorgeous. It has been in use since the thirteenth century and has some excellent carvings.
We left the Minster and strolled along of one of England's most famous streets, 'The Shambles'. The fifteenth century buildings that line the street lean inward and almost meet in the middle. The Shambles is York's oldest street and the best preserved medieval street in Europe. It is mentioned in the Doomsday book, which means that it is at least 900 years old. It takes its name from the medieval word shamel which meant a booth. The street was lined with butchers and the shops had very wide, low window sills on which meat was served. The pavement is raised on either side, creating a trench like effect that was used to channel blood down the streets and away from the shops. Today the Shambles has shops catering to tourists. You can also take tours of the area after dark. One company offers a ghost walk.
We were joined by Ben and made our way to another Yorkshire landmark, Betty's Tea Room. We had a brief wait for a table. I learned that it is unusual not to have a wait at Betty's. It is a lovely, old fashioned establishment that takes you back to the 1920's. They offer several varieties of tea and coffee and a large selection of pastries. It was at Betty's that I tried Fat Rascals, a Yorkshire specialty. And, continuing my account of UK toilets, I want to announce that the one at Betty's is nicer than most. There is a gift shop where you can buy pastries and other tea related items to take home. Amy made a few selections on our way out.
Ben went to get her car to drive us back to Leeds, and Amy and I walked to Clifford's Tower. The tower was originally built by William the Conqueror, one of two motte and bailey castles built by him in York in an attempt to secure the area. The wooden fortress was burned twice, in 1069 and in 1190. It was replaced by a stone keep in 1270. It was the only castle in England to employ a quatrefoil design. The tower was named for Roger de Clifford, who was hanged there in 1322.
Ben picked us up at Clifford's Tower and drove us to Leeds. We had arranged to meet one of my first friends on h2g2, thelostgeographer, for fish and chips. Fortunately I ordered a small portion of fish. It covered the entire plate. I wondered at the time what a large piece would have looked like. It was flaky and moist, just like fish is supposed to be, and the batter was crisp. So, a good choice. I also tasted mushy peas for the first and hopefully last time. Granted my sense of taste was impaired by my virus, but they reminded me of tough field peas rather than the tender garden peas I'm used to eating. The
texture was unpleasant to me. They must be an acquired taste.
With two more items crossed off my 'foods to try' list, we made our way to a nearby pub for a drink and some long overdue visiting with thelostgeographer who is a student at Leeds University. Ben dropped
thelostgeographer off near his flat on campus and took Amy and I back to The Nest. Once again it had been a very enjoyable day.
- York Minster in the rain - ink and pastel.
- 13th Century fragment from original Chapter House ceiling - pastel and conte crayon
- Clifford's Tower - pastel