York, the York Minster and The National Railway Muesum

York is a medieval city that is enclosed by a series of 13th century walls that were built by Rome.  It also has one of the oldest, and largest Gothic Cathedral's in the world known as the York Minster.  And, as a bonus it is the home of one of two National Railway Museums.  I was able to accomplish everything I wanted to do here in a jammed packed day and a half.

I think a little history is due here because it is so rich and also because a lot of it is still visible today.

In 71 AD the Romans built a garrison called Eboracum, and in time a civilian settlement grew up around what became a large fort. The Roman emperor Hadrian used it as the base for his northern campaign, while Constantine the Great was proclaimed emperor here in 306 AD. When the Roman Empire collapsed, York was taken by the Anglo-Saxons who renamed it Eoforwic and made it the capital of the independent kingdom of Northumbria.

In 625 the Roman priest, Paulinus, arrived and managed to convert King Edwin and all his nobles. Two years later, they built the first wooden church here and for most of the next century the city was a major center of learning, attracting students from all over Europe. In 866 the Vikings invaded, and renamed York, Jorvik. It was their capital for next 100 years, and during that time they turned the city into an important trading port.

King Eadred of Wessex drove out the last Viking ruler in 954 and reunited Danelaw with the south.  However, in 1066 King Harold II fended off a Norwegian invasion at Stamford Bridge, which is east of York, but was defeated by William the Conqueror a few months later at the Battle of Hastings.

After William’s two wooden castles were captured by an Anglo-Scandinavian army, he burned cities of York and Durham as well a the surrounding countryside. The Normans then set about rebuilding the city, including a grand new minster. By the way if you don’t know what a minster is the dictionary defines it as a large church, typically a large and important church in Northern England that was built as part of a monastery   I mention this because later I spent almost a day at the York Cathedral officially known as York Minster.  

Over the next 300 years York (a contraction of the Viking name Jorvik) prospered through royal patronage, textiles, trade and the church.

Throughout the 18th century the city was a fashionable social center dominated by the aristocracy, who were drawn by its culture and new race course. When the railway was built in 1839 thousands of people were employed in the new industries that sprung up around it, such as confectionery.  For my friends at Purina and Nestle there is a Nestle factory about a mile from the city center.  No, the factory was not part of my itinerary.

It was a short train ride, about 45 minutes from Durham to York.  Since it was a short ride I decided to take a second class train which was crowded by I managed to secure a place for my luggage in one of the luggage racks that are always at either end of every coach on European train.  I arrived in York at about 1:30 and as my host at the guest house suggested I took a taxi to the guest house at a cost of about $8.00.  I confirmed that decision with someone at the tourist counter to see if there was a bus that got me closer at less cost but alas there wasn’t.  It’s not a long walk into town about, about 20 minutes, but long enough when pulling and carrying what I think maybe about 50 pounds of freight.  So I took the taxi.

As soon as I checked into a very clean, but tiny room with a double bed, (much too big a bed for such a tiny room) and no desk, I grabbed my camera and headed out the door to the National Railway Museum where I spent the rest of the afternoon.  There is not a whole lot more I can say about the museum except that there were two steam locomotive's I was particularly interested in seeing.  The main one being the Flying Scotsman.  The Flying Scotsman was an express train that traveled from Edinburgh to London.  I wanted to see it because by the time I arrive in London on Monday I will have traveled about 95 percent of the route the original Flying Scotsman traveled. The third locomotive to pull trains on that route and was the first locomotive to break the 100 miles per hours speed record on the trip from London to Leeds.   However, the Flying Scotsman steam locomotive is not in the museum at this time.  That’s the bad news.  The good news is the locomotive was removed is being fully restored to operating condition and will operate again when the restoration is completed.  The other engine I wanted to see was the Mallard (All steam locomotives had names back in the day).  It was built by the same man who designed the Flying Scotsman steam locomotive.  His name was Dr. Nigel Gresley he not only wanted to design a high-speed locomotive but he wanted to design one that would be an eye-catcher and would tempt more people to travel by train.   You will be able to see pictures of the Mallard and a lot of the other locomotives, passenger and freight cars in the National Railway Museum photo album.

Yesterday morning I was up early in order to spend the day seeing York Minster and to take at least an hour to walk the wall surrounding the city.  Now some parts of the wall are gone but most of the wall still remains and you can walk on top of them.  There will, of course be pictures in the York photo album.

First, however, I spent the morning and part of the afternoon at the York Minster.  This is Yorkshire’s most important historic building,  and it is also the largest medieval cathedral in all of Northern Europe. It is the seat of the archbishop of York, primate of England, it is second in importance only to Canterbury, home of the primate of all England.  The separate titles were created to settle a debate over whether York or Canterbury was the true center of the Church of England.

York Minster is a massive but beautiful Gothic cathedral/building.

The first church on this spot was a wooden chapel built for the baptism of King Edwin of Northumbria on Easter Day 627.  It was replaced with a stone church that was built on the site of a Roman basilica, parts of which can be seen in the foundations. The first Norman minster was built in the 11th century.  There is a large museum in the undercroft where many surviving fragments in the foundations and crypt are on display.  It is very interactive and informative.

The present minster which was built mainly between 1220 and 1480, encompass all the major stages of Gothic architectural development. The transepts (1220−55) were built in Early English style; the octagonal chapter house (1260−90) and the nave (1291–1340) in the Decorated style; and the west towers, west front and central (or lantern) tower (1470−72) in Perpendicular style.  

“In 1967 a series of large cracks began to appear in the walls of the minster and the there was a great threat that the central tower was going to collapse a massive effort began to shore up the foundations which took five years to complete working twenty four hours a day, seven days a week.  While engineers worked to save the building, archaeologists uncovered Roman and Norman remains.  One of the most extraordinary finds is a Roman culvert, still carrying water to the Ouse.

The crypt contains fragments from the Norman cathedral, including the font showing King Edwin’s baptism that also marks the site of the original wooden chapel. 

There were two large fires in the minster’s history.  The first was started in 1829 in the Choir by a Jonathan Martin when he hid after Evensong, took all of the hymnals and Book’s of Common Prayer, set them on fire and escaped through a window.  The fire wasn’t discovered until dawn the next morning when the entire Choir was destroyed.  The seats, which you will see when I publish the photos, are of that era and since there were no plans that showed what the Choir was supposed to look like it is uncertain whether these stalls represent what they would have looked like before the fire.  However, let me assure you that the present stall are beautiful which you will soon see.

The second fire occurred in 1984 when a lighting storm struck the South Transept roof and caused the roof to burn. 

Most recently, in 2008 restoration began on the East End of the Minster and the Great East Window.  The whole cathedral is made of very soft limestone and centuries of rain, wind and pollution have taken it toll on the Minster.  Currently the entire East End is covered in scaffolding and each stone on the East End is being repaired or replaced with new limestone that is being treated to ward off the effects of our current climate.  There is a nice exhibition outside where you can see the stone masons at work.  Pretty cool.

The Great East Window was made between 1405 and 1408 by by John Throrton of Coventry, the foremost master glazer of his day.  It is known to be one of the finest and largest  medieval stain glass window in the world.  It is larger than a tennis court, and contains 117 panels in rows of nine, in addition to the tracery at the top.  The panels towards the upper middle of the window , depict the seven days of Creation and the events from the first book of the Hebrew Bible, and the two sections of panels below is graphic representation of the Book of Revelation, which is the last book of the New Testament .  Some six years later the Great East Window is still under renovation.  However, in its place, since 2008, is the world’s largest high resolution digital graphic of the window, which is nearly life size.  It was made by EPS of Leeds and was hung in 2008 before dismantling the Great East Window for restoration.  

Before lunch I climbed the 275 steep and very narrow steps (a couple of time one of the straps on by backpack got stuck in between the railing and the wall and caused me to come to a rather abrupt halt on my decent down.  The views are really nice as you will see when I post the pictures.

After the tower climb and lunch, I headed to the wall and walked on top of all of the wall its entire length.

I then headed back to the York Minster for Evensong which was sung by the men’s choir last evening.

I am now enroute to Cambridge and should arrive there in about an hour.  I’m excited to visit this city because Cambridge University is located in Cambridge and of course King’s College Chapel is in Cambridge as well.  I will attend Evensong again this evening and church at at the chapel on Sunday.

Last night I passed a major milestone in this journey.  I washed my last pair of under ware and socks by hand.  I now have enough clean under ware to get me to London and my apartment which is supposed to come with a washer and dryer.


1.Louis.skypala@verizon.net © Louis M. Skypala 2014