York Minster Today

Last week I mentioned that two events caused major restoration projects to be carried out on York Minster during the latter part of the 20th century. The second one was a fire in 1984 that destroyed the south transept roof. Lightning started the fire in the old roof timbers. If it wasn’t for firemen pulling away the affected timbers, with the risk that the whole section of the ancient building might collapse, then the whole lot could have gone up in flames. Smoke damage and rubble meant that major repairs had to be undertaken.

New ceiling in the south transept, with the bosses designed by school children.

One result is the new ceiling in that section of the Minster. School children were invited to create the decorations now used on the bosses Six designs won the competition and craftsmen made the copies which we now see.




He’s made himself comfortable

I think he had two wives. Not together of course









No extras, so he’s probably a priest or bishop

Like all, or at least most old cathedrals, important people have been buried inside the building and fancy tombs, generally including effigies of themselves, created above or around them. Church hierarchy and royalty, or at least local lords, are the usual suspects, but in York Minster I didn’t recognise any of the names. Worldly goods and earthly status appear to hold more sway here than in most of the great religious buildings I’ve visited, but as the religious institutions around York were frequently allowed to fall into disrepair, I suppose wealthy citizens had to be called upon to pay for the necessary repairs and maintenance. One could theoretically buy one’s way into heaven back then.



I can never understand why the choir in an Anglican church is at the front, in a section that is separated from the participating congregation. Choir stalls, up stairs, at the rear of the church, seem to me to make a lot more sense. Everyone can see the action on the altar, and at the same time, enjoy the music and singing. In the York Minster this separation, called a pulpitum, consists of a wall, decorated in the upper half, with statues of the kings of England, from William the Conqueror to Henry v1. No chance of the plebs getting near the action.


Two other things I find puzzling, are the inclusion of a clock (we saw this in Italy too) and a display of flags. The flags are colourful, and I presume they are meant to represent particular families or groups  who give lots of support to the church. A definite mixing of church and lay people, if not state.

Perhaps some of my English friends can explain these two inclusions in what is supposed to be a religious building.



As with all great old churches the stained glass windows in York Minster are quite stunning, but without being there on a day when the sun shone through them (it was a wet, dreary day, so no such luck there) we couldn’t really capture them at their best. And I’ve shown you loads of other stained glass, which I think is far more impressive. (See Notre Dame in Paris for one of my favourites – under the blog called Paris in Two Days, as part of our 2014 holiday.)

After all that history, culture and spiritual food, we were in need of some earthly nourishment. Walk out the front of the Minster, wander over the road and you’ll come to this very English cafe.

You might notice that I’m wearing ear muffs and under the coat, several layers of warm clothes. June in York that week was very cold but the scones with jam and cream were delicious.



York Minster: Tales and Treasures from the past

Visiting churches might look like a religious interest, and for many I suppose that’s all it is, but for me, being able to step back in time, particularly when I can step DOWN in time, to see the layers of history hidden underneath the present day structure, is a much more interesting reason for visiting old church buildings and the older the better.

York Minster, as we see it today, underwent two massive restoration projects in the second half of last century. The first one required going deep below the structure in order to strengthen and restore the foundations that were put down for the Medieval part of the building. As a result of uncovering those problems, evidence of the original Roman settlement can be glimpsed through small holes in the floor of the undercroft.

Looking at a map of the Roman settlement, called Eboracum, I am fascinated by the fact that today’s minster is situated at least partly, on top of it. Back in the first century AD, when Romans marched into what is now York, deciding to establish their first ‘British’ post there, they chose this same spot. This happens quite a lot throughout history I’ve found. Sometimes the reason is obvious – the highest spot for miles around, therefore good viewing and readiness to defend against attack, or a central place where two or three rivers meet, that sort of thing. With York, this exact spot is not so obvious. Sometimes I wonder if there’s an ancient, mysterious power at force, that the ground is regarded as sacred from ancient times, before history. Whatever the reason, York Minster is built on one of these ‘blessed’ sites.

part of a Saxon gravestone found during the excavations

While digging down in order to remedy the foundations problem, they also uncovered evidence of Saxons who lived in the area but unfortunately no remains have been found of the wooden church that was built in the 7th century. We only know about Christianity’s importance in the area during the 7th and 8th centuries, because of the writings of Bede and Alcuin. To be able to see something made by people who lived that long ago, gives me such a thrill. A Saxon gravestone. Not exciting in itself, but the fact that it was carved by someone who lived and worked and raised his family, hundreds of years ago, makes me want to know about him and the sort of life he led. History is such a fascinating subject.

Next came the Vikings, who raided Eoforwic in 866, taking over the area and calling it Jorvic (hence York) but their settlement was closer to the river and they don’t seem to have had much interest in the church, probably because the whole area had fallen into disrepute. Vikings and Anglo-Saxons intermarried, and soon a new, different community was established. Christianity was adopted by many of the newcomers, but generally the appointed archbishops concentrated on the alternative see of Worcester, rather than battle against the Viking’s pagan practices.

Of course, it was common practice for men of wealth to make valuable donations to the church.( I hope you can read the writing below.) I had thought of the Vikings as warring uncivilised land grabbers, but they also brought wealth and trade, turning Yorvik into a centre of manufacture and commerce. I thought this display of a non-religious artefact in the undercroft of the minster, was a good example of how laymen and the church hierarchy worked for the advancement of each.









In 1069 the old cathedral was burnt and a new, much larger one was built, using Norman principles. Realising that the Romans had chosen the best position in the area for their settlement, the church authorities decided to build this new York Minster on that same site.  The Normans, like the Romans, took care to build well.  Their layered timber foundations have lasted very well. It was the next lot of builders, for the Medieval extensions, who didn’t do such a good job. Some of the Norman  stone work is now on display in the crypt and we could see that it was strong, meant to last for hundreds of years.

Piers used in the Norman cathedral

















Part of a Doomstone which was originally on the external wall of the Norman cathedral, is also now in this museum. Note that the fear of hell fire was a constant threat to be used on sinners (and everyone was a sinner) at the time. The power of the church and its leaders was enormous and unquestioned.










While underground we also found these interesting reminders of the Medieval York Minster. The missal below isn’t very clear I’m afraid, but it shows the sort of fancy print that was used by clerics in creating these books for use in the mass.









After our underground explorations we went back to the main body of the cathedral, which I’ll show you in my next posting.






Chewing Gum to the Rescue

 This short story will be included in the Memoir I’m writing. It’s all true, even down to the names as I see no need to hide the identities of my fellow gum-chewing partners.

For those of you who don’t know, Alan and I were married in 1961. We traveled around Western Australia with a caravan and a utility, camping for a week or more wherever he had work, surveying new farmland east of Narrogin. I was only on the road with him for a few months,but I have some ‘interesting’ memories  from those days.

Chewing Gum to the Rescue

We left the camp near Wave Rock at Hyden at about four o’clock on that October afternoon. The boss lived in Narrogin, so we allowed time to collect the men’s pay cheques on our way and be back in Perth in time to sleep in a proper bed at my parent’s house that night.

All went well until the radiator started boiling. On a Saturday night in 1961, when even the pubs were probably closed, three miles out of town, nothing moved. Hoping to find something  open, Alan sent Lou, his assistant, back to the nearest little blip of a town, to buy chewing gum—as much as they could supply.

Never having regarded the chewing of gum as an enjoyable activity, I hoped that my husband’s plan would not involve my participation. I realised that the local garage, if there was one, would be closed and out of action until Monday. The chance of them stocking a replacement for our radiator was remote anyway and with only a measly pay cheque and little cash, we couldn’t have paid for it even if one was available. Alan was pretty good at thinking up new ways to overcome problems but I wondered how chewing gum might help us with a leaky radiator.

As we were all accustomed to bush safety, we had several cans of water on board, so if the leak could be patched up we should make the journey home.

About an hour later, Lou returned and handed over a bag full of Wrigley’s chewing gum in little packets.

‘Right, start chewing,’ our leader instructed. ‘As much as you can, to get it malleable.’

We all emptied several packets of gum, popped it into our mouths and chewed away as fast as we could. It was hard work. I don’t think our jaws are designed to chomp on stuff at such a rapid rate. We did have one thing in our favour though—a full moon. Thanks to its bright light, Alan could see well enough to paste our combined efforts over the leak spot on the radiator. He got Lou to start the engine and was relieved to see the gum stay in place.

With two big men and one pregnant woman squeezed into the front of the ute, and our intrepid Labrador puppy on guard in the back, we set off again.

‘Keep chewing. That lot won’t last long and we’ll need lots more if we’re going to make it back to Perth.’ Alan didn’t sound exactly confident that his idea would be successful, but we all chewed away, hoping that it would.

I think I must have dozed off. Well, I was pregnant, so trying to stay awake would have taken some sort of miracle. I don’t know how far we travelled before the radiator boiled again and the next coating of that very useful gum was needed. My jaws ached and my tongue felt numb, but I had dutifully chewed my way through several packets of the stuff, despite the dozing.

After the second round of repairs we squeezed back into the ute and repeated the performance but didn’t get far this time. The guys were really too tired to be driving and I was suffering from motion sickness so Alan decided that we should try to get some sleep. He and I propped each other up in the cabin, hoping that our breath and body heat would eventually warm the space, because, although the daytime temperature had been uncomfortably warm, we were still far enough inland for the nights to be cold. Lou was relegated to wherever he could lay his head outside. He had brought all his clothes with him, so the bulky green jumper his Gran had knitted, came in very handy. Our dog was already sound asleep, curled up on the tray of the utility. Lou headed off into the bushes and must have found some soft growth because at sunrise he knocked on the window, grinning like the teenager that he was, claiming that he’d had a good sleep.

I don’t remember what we ate for breakfast, but as we were leaving the camp for about a week, I had emptied the perishables from the caravan fridge so we probably had a lump of cheese and a tomato each; washed down with a swig of water from one of the large bottles.

Anyway, civilisation was not far away, and surely, even on a Sunday, we’d find something open soon. That was wishful thinking.

More chewing gum, hours of chewing gum, until my jaw was stiff and my mouth so swollen, I felt as if there was no room for my tongue, but still I chewed more packets of the stuff and helped keep the old ute going.

Heading for Armadale we were delighted to see signs of human activity. A couples of policemen got out of their vehicle and waved us down. Thinking that they must be desperate to catch drunk-drivers with hangovers from a Saturday night out on the town, we pulled over.

‘What’s your name? Where are you going? Where have you been? Why are you driving along here at this time of the morning?’

All of these questions, fired at Alan and then Lou, didn’t make a lot of sense at the time, although, after a sleepless night, with the men needing a shave, a shower and a change of clothes, they probably could be mistaken for unsavoury characters. Perhaps there’s a murderer on the loose, I surmised.

The police then started on me. ‘Who are you? What are you doing here, with these two?’

Dumbfounded, I stuttered over my answers and in the end the older police man tapped the young officious one on the shoulder with, ‘It’s not them,’

‘You can go,’ he said to Alan, ‘but watch yourself. Don’t stop for anyone.’

Do we really look like criminals, I wondered. Checking in the mirror, I saw a pale and frightened face, not one that should cause suspicion. The guys, on the other hand, looked decidedly scruffy.

It was about eight o’clock when we rattled up the driveway to my parent’s house in Kalamunda, having dropped Lou off at a train station along the way. As they’d been expecting us the night before, they hadn’t slept well either; we received reprimands as well as relieved hugs. We were delighted to have made it home, thanks to the chewing gum.

I was hungry but my mouth didn’t want to take another bite of anything, so after a good scrub under lots of hot running water (such luxury after our bucket washes) Mum gave me a bowl of delicious fruit salad. Alan, of course, ate a proper full breakfast.

Later that day we listened to the news on the radio and heard about the escaped prisoners, two young men, who had been sighted in a utility with a pregnant woman, thought to be the partner of one of them and presumed to have assisted in their getaway. One of the men was of Italian descent, of medium height with black hair and facial stubble; just how I’d describe Lou. They were armed and dangerous according to the report.

There was still a lot of surveying for Alan to do, as the government was opening up areas for farming in the eastern wheat belt, but that was the last of my trips for a while.

Music for Piano and Cello: Altstaedt and Madzar

This week I am writing about my other love – classical music, and the concert which thrilled us last Saturday night at the Perth Concert Hall.

Being Grand Final day for the AFL (Australian Football League for my non-Australian readers) meant that the audience was the smallest I’ve ever seen for a concert of this standard. That meant that we, and many others, could move to better seats and enjoy the performance even more.

Anything composed by Claude Debussy has me in the clouds, so when Nicolas Altstaedt touched his bow to his cello and Aleksandar Madzar  ran his fingers over the keys of that grand piano, I sat back and let the music they created, carry me away.

The novel I am currently writing is about a former concert pianist who loses his right hand in a motor accident, so I am always keen to sit where I can study the movement of fingers, hands, arms and even the shoulders of a maestro, while listening carefully to the music they make. The Russians tend to over-dramatize, using large, flourishing lifts and pounces, while some pianists seem to use their whole upper torsos in a sequence of movements up and down the keys. I am a fan of Simon Tedeschi, having followed him since he was doing gigs as a teenager (maybe a bit older but he looked like a teenager) but his performances, although spectacular, remind me of an athlete as he pounds the keys with so much energy that I feel quite exhausted and he certainly looks worn out. I haven’t seen him lately so, maybe that’s an outdated comment.

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