York Minster before the Reformation

York Minster was dedicated in 1472 after two and a half centuries of building. L.W. Cowie describes how it still affords insight into medieval life.

‘Between us and the old English’, wrote J.A. Froude of the Middle Ages, ‘there is a gulf of mystery which the prose of the historian will never adequately bridge. They cannot come to us, and our imagination can but feebly penetrate to them.’ And he went on to suggest that ‘only among the aisles of our cathedrals’ could it perhaps be that ‘some faint conception floats before us of what these men were when they were alive’.

Among the English cathedrals, York Minster remains today in two important aspects much as it was in late medieval times. When the fifth building on the site with its Early English transepts and later Decorated nave, which had been begun by Archbishop de Grey in about 1220, was completed after some two hundred and fifty years’ work, the Minster assumed the aspect it has worn ever since.

Though the fabric suffered two disastrous fires in the nineteenth century, it was restored so carefully and with such slight alterations that the main features of the building are as they were when it was dedicated on July 3rd, 1472.

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