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Title: York Minster
Author: Purey-Cust, Arthur Perceval
Language: English
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[Illustration: York Minster]



The Very Rev. A. P. PUREY-CUST, D.D.
Dean of York

Illustrated by Alexander Ansted

London: Isbister & Co. Ltd.
15 & 16 Tavistock Street Covent Garden

York Minster

"Ut rosa flos florum sic est domus ista domorum" are the words which
some unknown hand has inscribed upon the walls of our Minster; and we
who love the habitation of His house and the place where God's honour
dwelleth venture to think that these are "words of truth and soberness"
even now, though we remember that when they were written there were many
features of art and taste adorning the great fabric which have long
since passed away. Still York Minster is "a thing of beauty" in spite of
ruthless improvements and fanatical zeal and Puritan Philistinism and
indiscriminating utilitarianism and ignorant restorations.

In spite of these, and in consequence of these perhaps, York Minster is
what it is; and if we cannot recall all that tradition tells us once
adorned its courts and enriched its sanctuaries, we can admire and
appreciate what has come into our hands, and thank God that it is our
privilege to worship in a house so worthy of His holy name. Yes, and it
is a pleasure and interest to recall the gradual development thereof
through so many generations of men; how it has come up like a flower,
from a very small and insignificant beginning, putting forth gradually,
as time went on, larger developments, like the seed, first the blade
then the ear; extending like the vine of old her branches unto the sea
and her boughs unto the river--each with some fresh and characteristic
novelty, as affected by the different schools of architectural taste,
which, like the different seasons of the year, have shed their influence
over it. And we love to idealise the scenes which have taken place
therein, and the persons, many not unknown to history, who have had
their share in the good work or whose lives and actions are associated
therewith, or to recall how, sometimes in accordance with, sometimes in
opposition to, what they most earnestly desired, it, at length, far
eclipsed the most sanguine anticipations of its founders, and in its
sober dignity and chastened ornamentation acquired a reputation second
to none of "the Houses of God in the land."

It is, of course, a mere speculation, but fancy will sometimes be busy
with vain surmises as to whether the present Minster is a development of
the original British church, a mere grain of mustard seed, no doubt, as
compared with its aftergrowth. But some primitive building did exist,
for, as far back as the year 180, Beda tells us, missionaries were sent
from Rome by Eleutherius at the request of the British chieftain
Lucius, not for the conversion of the people, but to settle controverted
points of differences as to Eastern and Western ceremonials which were
disturbing the Church, and tradition speaks of twenty-eight British
bishops, one for each of the greater British cities, over whom presided
the Archbishops of London, York and Caerleon-on-Usk. So that the Romans
probably found a Christian Church already established when Agricola took
possession of Eburacum, towards the close of the first century after
Christ's birth, and probably tolerated it with proud indifference for
many generations until the great persecution of Diocletian in 294, when
Constantius Chlorus, one of his associates in the empire, was in
command, who, Eusebius says, was nevertheless most liberal and tolerant;
though Beda tells us of numbers of martyrs and confessors, and how
churches were thrown down, while trembling believers fled for refuge to
the wilderness and the mountains. But certainly Constantius professed
himself favourable to Christianity in 305, when he divided the empire
with Galerius, and, after reigning for a few months, died, and his body
was probably burnt and buried here. Here, at York, his son, Constantine,
if not born, was saluted as Imperator by the army on his father's death,
and eventually deliberately adopted the Christian faith.

[Illustration: West Front]

This would lead us to expect that favour would be shown to the Christian
Church, and tradition has handed down the names of several prelates of
York about this date: Eborius, who was present with two others at the
Councils of Arles, 314, and Nicæa and Sardica and Ariminium; Sampson,
who was driven out of the city by the incursion of Pagans and fled to St
David's; Pyramus, Chaplain of King Arthur, that last tower of British
strength, and charged by him to restore the desolated and ruined
churches; and finally Tadiocus, who, when he saw the armies of Saxons
pouring in, joined Theonus, Bishop of London, and fled to Wales,
whither, as the Saxons did not tolerate Christianity, they were followed
by all those who desired to keep the faith in peace. However, in 597,
Augustine landed at Ebbsfleet in Kent, and eventually converted and
baptized Ethelbert, King of Kent, who had married Bertha, daughter of
the Frankish king, Charibert, and in 601, Pope Gregory, with a desire to
assist Augustine in his work amongst the Anglo-Saxons, sent over
Paulinus, as a likely person, should occasion offer, to resuscitate the
desolated Church of Northumbria, and restore the Metropolitan See of
York. It is said that "Paulinus" was the Latin title assumed by Rum, the
son of Urien, a British chief, who having opposed the Saxons in the
north had, on their supremacy, fled with his family from the country and
sought safety at Rome, and that, therefore, Augustine having endeavoured
in vain to persuade the British clergy in Kent to co-operate with him,
Gregory selected Paulinus as likely to be a useful coadjutor to him in
the evangelisation of Kent.

Subsequent events, perhaps unexpectedly, favoured this plan, for Edwin,
the legitimate heir to the throne of Northumbria, being driven away by
his brother-in-law, Ethelfrith, who had usurped the crown, sought for
security and protection in other kingdoms, and, in his wanderings, came
to the court of Ethelbert, where he became fascinated by Ethelburga, his
daughter, and sought her for his wife. Assent was given on condition
that she, being a Christian, should be allowed Christian worship, and
that he would consider the faith. This he promised to do, and Redwald,
King of East Anglia, having slain Ethelfrith in a battle near the
sluggish waters of the river Idle, Edwin was restored to his
inheritance, and proceeded to take possession of his kingdom accompanied
not only by his wife but by Paulinus as her chaplain, who had been
consecrated Bishop of the Northumbrians by Justus on July 21st, 625.
For two years Edwin remained uninfluenced alike by the entreaties of his
wife and the arguments of the bishop, but at length gave way, and on
Easter day, April 12th, 627, he was baptized in a little church or
chapel of wood, hastily constructed at his bidding, and dedicated to St.
Peter, right in front of the great heathen temple in the centre of his
capital, Eburacum.

Nothing is left of this primitive structure, but the well is still
pointed out from which the water used at the ceremony was drawn, and a
little beyond is a flight of stone stairs ending in a square stone slab
which tradition says were the steps and altar of the temple.

There are still traces, however, of the stone church which Archbishop
Albert built in its place (741), when it had been greatly injured by
fire. Part of the herring-bone walls is still to be seen, and after the
great fire in 1829, Brown, the antiquary, successfully traced out the
foundations, which, however, are now concealed. However, it remained
uninjured, in spite of incursions of Picts and Scots, until the
Conquest, when it shared in the universal destruction meted out by the
Conqueror to York and the surrounding country; and Thomas, the first
Norman archbishop, found little left but a few tottering roofless walls
which had survived the flames. He re-roofed and restored the church as
well as he could, rebuilt the refectory and dormitory, and in other
respects set in order the affairs of the establishment. And so it
remained until Roger de Pont l'Evêque succeeded to the archiepiscopate
in 1154.

Langfranc, on his accession to the See of Canterbury in 1073, had found
the cathedral of Christ Church, of which Eadmer has left a curious
record, almost consumed by fire; but in seven years he succeeded in
rebuilding the whole church from the foundation on the plan and
dimensions of St. Stephen's at Caen, the abbacy of which he had quitted
to become archbishop. A detailed and singularly precise account by
Gervase, the monk, is still extant. On the death of Lanfranc, 1089, the
see was bestowed on Anselm, who as soon as possible took down the short
choir and replaced it with one extending magnificently eastward,
provided with a crypt, an apsidal aisle, a processional path with
flanking towers, called St. Anselm's and St. Andrew's towers, and
radiating chapels, as well as with eastern transepts, all which was, in
fact, an imitation of the great Abbey of Cluny, entrusting the
superintendence of the work to the priors Ernulph and Conrad, eventually
his successor, who, in 1114, completed the choir with so much
magnificence that it was denominated "the glorious choir of Conrad." All
this, however, was destroyed by fire in 1174, which Gervase himself
witnessed, but in four years was restored and even improved by the great
French architect William of Sens.

In 1154, when Archbishop Fitzherbert died at York, this fair building
must have been in the zenith of its beauty, and we can well imagine the
anxiety of Robert the Dean and Osbert the Archdeacon to secure the
election by the Chapter of Roger, who had been Archdeacon of Canterbury
from 1148, and who had no doubt already given promise of that
architectural ability and liberality of character which eventually made
him the most munificent ruler that ever presided over the See of York.
Becket succeeded him in the archdeaconry until 1162, when, elevated to
the See of Canterbury, the two quondam archdeacons of Canterbury were at
the very helm of the Church of England.

[Illustration: Norman Piers in Crypt]

Roger seems at once to have commenced the reproduction at York of this
great work, by substituting for the short simple chancel of the Minster
a complex eastern building which, making due allowance for its want of
equal dimensions with Canterbury choir, was yet evidently planned on the
same system, with the aisles square ended instead of apsidal, and the
flanking towers made to perform the part of eastern transepts. Of this
choir, portions only of the crypt still survive. The base of the
beautiful western entrance doorway to the north aisle can still be seen
by adventurous explorers. The ordinary visitor can still admire the
substantial and elaborately incised columns, which once supported the
floor of the choir above, and see the arches, with the bold zigzag
mouldings, which once rested on them, but which were removed in the days
of Edward I. to support a stone platform behind the high altar, on
which was erected the shrine of William Fitzherbert, then canonised
as "St. William of York," to provide for the northern province a
counter-attraction to St. Thomas of Canterbury. If the arches were
replaced on the piers the pavement of the choir would be 15½ feet
above the pavement of the crypt, within 6 inches of that of Canterbury,
and if the present nave floor were reduced 4 feet to its original level,
the respective levels of the nave, crypt, and choir at York and
Canterbury would be the same. No doubt the arrangement of the different
flights of steps from the nave to the choir and to the crypt, broken in
the centre aisle with a broad landing which still remains at Canterbury,
was followed at York. But all this has passed away, and the feature of
the "glorious choir" of Roger can now only be realised from the
conjectures of the archæologist or the dreams of the antiquary.

[Illustration: The Choir looking East]

But there were munificent laymen as well as ecclesiastics in those days,
for Lord William de Percy gave the church of Topcliffe, with all things
pertaining, to the church of St. Peter at York, as a perpetual alms for
the repairing and building thereof, a gift which still remains in the
possession of the Dean and Chapter; and he and his successors continued
to assist the development of the Cathedral with munificent contributions
of wood until the completion of the nave, when his statue was placed, to
commemorate his liberality, above the west door, on the right hand of
Archbishop Melton, the Metropolitan at that time. On his left stands
another figure commemorating equally liberal benefactors: Mauger le
Vavasour, who gave a grant of free way for the stone required for the
foundation of the Minster by Archbishop Thomas; his son, Robert le
Vavasour, also gave 10 acres and half a rood of his quarry in
Thievesdale in free, pure and perpetual alms; and their descendants, in
like manner, presented almost all the material required for the present
buildings, even as late as the great fire in 1829, when Sir Edward
Vavasour, although a Roman Catholic, at once placed his quarries at the
service of the Dean and Chapter for the restoration of the choir.

Fancy would fain idealise the choir of Roger, which has passed away, for
the superstructure to such substantial and dignified masonry as still
remains must have been solemn and imposing. Professor Willis suggests a
choir the floor of which was raised 15 feet above the floor of the
nave, and transepts with eastern towers approached by flights of steps
such as still exist at Canterbury, but the learned professor had few
reliable data for his conjectures, and it must remain a conjecture
_usque ad finem_. Geoffrey Plantagenet, who succeeded Roger, had not the
opportunity, even if he had the will and capacity, to extend the
buildings of the Minster. The youngest child of fair Rosamond, the
lawful wife, historians now tell us, of Henry II., he was at least a
loving son. On his breast his father died, to him the King gave his
royal ring, and on his head with his last dying breath he invoked the
blessing of heaven. But if his dutiful conduct caused the warm-hearted
members of the Chapter to elect their Treasurer Archbishop, it did not
conciliate either of his half-brothers, Richard and John. Sixteen years
of incessant discord ensued, and then he gave place to one more capable
of his position, Walter de Gray. But the Chapter did not at first think
so. He was not one of themselves; they knew little of the Bishop of
Worcester, and what they knew they disliked. He was, in their eyes, an
illiterate person. Simon de Langton was more to their mind. But Walter
de Gray was King John's friend, and John was not a man to be thwarted.
He meant him to be Archbishop, and his representatives persuaded Pope
Innocent III. to overrule the election of the Chapter. At least, he was
a man of pure life, they said. "Per sanctum Petrum," replied the Pope,
"virginitas magna est virtus, et nos eum damus vobis."

And certainly posterity has had no reason to regret his decision. The
glorious early English transepts and tower are believed to have been his
conception, vast beyond anything which had been erected in those days,
and, as the late Mr. Street has often told me, after all his experiences
on the Continent, unsurpassed in Christendom. Walter de Gray, at least,
completed the south transept, "in boldness of arrangement and design,
and in richness of decoration without a peer." And there his body rests
in the grave which received all that was mortal of him on the vigil of
Pentecost, 1255, still surmounted with the effigy of the great man in
full canonicals carved in Purbeck marble, under a comely canopy resting
on ten light and graceful pillars, hidden, alas! by a crude and modern
screen of iron, the well-intentioned addition of Archbishop Markham some
eighty years ago.

[Illustration: South Transept and Founder's Tomb]

And Providence had associated with Walter de Gray one worthy of such a
fellowship, John le Romain, the treasurer of the church, an Italian
ecclesiastic who, tradition says, smitten with the charms of some
dark-eyed beauty of the South gladly associated himself with the clergy
of the Church where celibacy, at that day at least, was not _de
rigueur_. He it was who completed the great work his superior had
commenced, raised, at his own expense, the great tower, built the
north transept, designed "the Five Sisters," and filled it with the
exquisite grisaille geometrical glass, which has been the admiration of
successive generations for six hundred years. How much Walter de Grey
laid out in the erection of the transepts I cannot say: I only know that
the South Transept cost £23,000 to restore fifteen years ago. In
addition to his work on the material fabric of the Minster, Archbishop
Walter de Grey achieved that which had a substantial influence on its
progress to its completion. Archbishop Roger had initiated the great
work, but had died in his bed, and his influence had died with him.
Thomas à Becket, his successor as Archdeacon of Canterbury, had also
advanced to the dignity of the archiepiscopate, but he had fallen a
victim to his zeal for the Church spiritual, and his martyrdom and
canonisation had entailed a shrine in the Cathedral which was eliciting
from innumerable pilgrims munificent offerings for the fabric of the
church. If York were to compete with Canterbury it was necessary that
here, too, a shrine of some popular saint should attract the presence of
the devout, and appeal to their munificence and liberality. This also
Walter de Grey, supported as he was by the king, was able to accomplish,
and in compliance with a petition from the Archbishop and Dean and
Chapter, Pope Honorius, on March 18th, 1226, issued a letter, "tied with
thread of silk and a Bull," to the effect that the name of William
(Fitzherbert) of holy memory, formerly Archbishop of York, nominated by
them for this honour, the predecessor of Archbishop Roger, was
"inscribed in the catalogue of the Saints of the Church Militant."

Little, however, seems to have been done during the archiepiscopates of
Sewell de Bovell, Geoffry de Ludham and Walter Gifford.

However, in 1279, William de Wykewayne, Chancellor of the Church, was
elected to the see, and he at once took action by translating the
remains of the canonised William, on December 29th, to a becoming shrine
prepared for them behind the high altar on a platform raised upon the
arches of the crypt removed to this, their present, position, for that
purpose. It was a grand day in the Minster. Edward I. himself, together
with the bishops who were present, carried on their shoulders the chest
or feretory containing the precious relics to their new resting-place,
and Anthony Beck, consecrated the same day Bishop of Durham, paid all
the expenses.

In 1286, Archbishop Wykewayne died, and was succeeded by another, John
Romanus, the worthy son of the munificent treasurer, who had doubtless
inherited the taste and munificence of his father. Perhaps for that very
reason the Chapter selected him, when only Prebendary of Warthill in the
church, to be his successor, and his ten years of office, if too short
to do much, was sufficient to initiate the great work of building a
nave consistent with the transepts. Another style of architecture was
setting in, the Decorated, and where could it be better inaugurated than
in such a church as this? For one hundred and fifty years the good work
went on. Four prelates in succession, Henry de Newark, Thomas de
Corbridge, William de Greenfield, William de Melton, each, during his
tenure of office, strove to promote the completion of the grand design
his predecessor had indicated, in that full perfection of ecclesiastical
architecture. No effort was spared, no personal self-denial evaded;
clergy and laity alike shared in the enthusiasm of the moment, the
Plantagenet kings, for the most part resident in York, by offerings and
by influence, encouraging and stimulating the good work. Archbishop
Melton contributed many thousands of pounds from his own purse, and had
the privilege of seeing the grand conception completed; and there he
sits above the central doorway graven in stone in his archiepiscopal
attire, with his hand still raised in the attitude of benediction; over
his head one of the finest flamboyant windows in the world, and on
either side the representatives of the houses of Vavasour and Percy,
bearing in their arms emblems of the wood and stone which they had

[Illustration: The Chapter House showing Vestibule Exterior]

And concurrently with the great work, another, in perfect harmony
therewith, was proceeding, viz. the Chapter House, with its great
circumference occupied with stalls, surmounted by elaborate and delicate
canopies, enriched with innumerable quaint and suggestive carvings of
heads and features, some as warnings, some as encouragements, to those
who have eyes to see, and of graceful foliage of trefoil and other
plants, specially the _planta benedicta_, which illustrated the doctrine
of the Holy Trinity and the love of God, girdled with a simple yet
emblematical wreath of the vine; while the varied foliage rises again
in the glass, bordering the noble windows, rich with heraldry and sacred
subjects, until lost in the stately roof, which, spanning the whole area
without any central column, and once glowing with emblematical figures
and stars, is centred with a majestic boss of the Lamb of God. Alas that
Willement ever essayed to restore it, scraped the paintings from the
walls, plastered the ceiling, repaired the floor, and ruined the east
window which he had taken to pieces and found himself incompetent to put
together again! Still, though but the survival of its ancient glories,
it is "the flower of our flowers," the focus of all the beauties which
in their wanton profusion extend on all sides around us.

Who built it? Who conceived this stately hall, with this elegant
vestibule unique in the cloisters of Europe? Who furnished the funds by
which it was founded and completed? Well, if conjecture may supply what
faith or modesty may have left unexpressed, Bogo de Clare, for the
shields in the tracery point to that family. He, an ecclesiastical
courtier nearly related to the royal family, and a not altogether worthy
scion of the House of Clare, but wealthy beyond all conception with the
plurality of his benefices, which the late Chancellor Raine estimated at
about £20,000 per annum, was treasurer of the Minster from 1274 to 1285.
A man probably not likely to do much to promote the devotion of the
Minster, though ready to devote the vast accumulation of money which he
had acquired to exalt the glories of the house of which he was a member,
and, for the time at least, the reputation of his name.

Melton's days closed under the dark shadow of his defeat at Myton by the
Scotch, and Zouche, Dean of York, his successor, though he wiped off the
stain thereof by his triumphant victory over them at Nevill's Cross, and
took care of Queen Philippa and her children during the absence of
Edward III. in his French wars, did little to promote the material
dignity of the Minster, save to build the chapel which bears his name,
and which he had intended for a place of sepulture for himself. But
Thoresby, a Yorkshireman from Wensleydale, and a Prebendary of the
Minster, his successor in 1352, Bishop of Worcester and Lord Chancellor,
was a man of very different temperament. He had the further development
of the glories of the Minster thoroughly at heart. At once he sacrificed
his palace at Sherburn to provide materials for an appropriate Ladye
Chapel, gave successive munificent donations of £100 at each of the
great festivals of the Christian year, and called on clergy and laity
alike to submit cheerfully to stringent self-denial to supply the funds.

[Illustration: Chapter House doorway from within]

During his tenure of office of twenty-three years the Ladye Chapel was
completed, a chaste and dignified specimen of Early Perpendicular style,
into which the Decorated gradually blended after the year 1360, and
unique in its glorious east window 78 feet high and 33 feet wide, still
the largest painted window in the world, enriched with its double
mullions, which give such strength and lightness to its graceful
proportions. But Roger's choir, which was still standing, must now have
looked sadly dwarfed between the lofty Ladye Chapel and the tower and

Alexander Nevill, his immediate successor, probably did not do much to
remedy this, for he soon became involved in Richard II.'s rash
proceedings, and had to fly to Louvain, where he died in poverty.
Neither did Arundel or Waldby, his successors, for the former was soon
translated to Canterbury, the latter soon died. But Richard Scrope, who
was appointed in his place, would naturally be earnest and vigorous in
the good work, for he was a Yorkshireman by birth, son of Lord Scrope of
Masham, kinsman of Lord Scrope of Bolton, and, during the short nine
years which elapsed between his installation and his wanton, cruel
murder by Henry IV., the building seems to have made rapid progress.
This was energetically continued by Henry Bowet, who followed him, and
who, invoking the aid of Pope Gregory XII. to enforce his appeal for
funds, and enlisting the aid of Skirlaw, Bishop of Durham, one of the
greatest architects of mediæval times, glazed the great East window with
its elaborate glass executed by John Thornton of Coventry, 1409, raised
the lantern on the central tower, completed the groining of the choir
aisles, rebuilt Archbishop Zouche's chapel, the treasury and vestry, and
commenced the library. He was indeed a man of action to the end, for
when incapacitated for walking or riding by age and infirmity, he was
carried in his chair, arrayed in a breastplate with three buckles, five
pendants, and ten bars of silver gilt, at the head of the forces raised
by the wardens of the North of England, and through the influence of his
presence, encouraged the soldiers to rout the Scotch who had invaded
Northumberland and besieged Berwick, 1417.

[Illustration: The Lady Chapel]

Little now remained to be done. Robert Wolvedon and John de Bermyngham,
two munificent treasurers in succession, helped to bring matters to a
prosperous conclusion, the former filling some of the windows with
painted glass, the latter raising the south-western tower. The
north-western tower was added probably during the archiepiscopate, if
not by the munificence, of Archbishop George Nevill. The organ screen,
with its elaborate cornice and canopies enriched with angels singing and
playing instruments of music, and its stately niches filled with figures
of the Kings of England, from William I. to Henry VI., was built by Dean
Andrew, himself the friend and secretary of the last-named monarch. And
the great church was solemnly reconsecrated as a completed building on
July 3rd, 1472, when an ordinance was passed by the Dean and Chapter
that "on the same day the feast of the Dedication shall be celebrated
in time to come."

[Illustration: Perpendicular Piscina]

I have no space to dwell on all the innumerable details of architectural
ornament or quaint mediæval devices which decorate the walls, neither on
the many interesting monuments scattered throughout the aisles, such as
the delicate piscinas, or the Fiddler, a modern reproduction of an old
figure which had crowned the little spiral turret of the south transept,
intended as a portrait of Dr. Camidge, the organist, at the beginning of
this century; or the tomb of good Archbishop Frewen, the first prelate
of the Province after the Restoration.

[Illustration: The Fiddler]

But even a sketch of York Minster would not be complete without some
mention of the glass, for if the beauty in the form of our "flos florum"
is due to its architecture, very much of its beauty in colour depends on
the glowing and mellowed tints with which its windows are filled. But it
is a large subject to enter upon, for as regards quantity there are no
less than one hundred and three windows in the Minster, most of them
entirely, and the remainder partly filled with real old mediæval glass,
excepting the tracery. Some of the windows too are of great size. The
east window, which is entirely filled with old glass, consists of nine
lights, and measures 78 ft. in height, 31 ft. 2 in. in width. The two
choir transept windows, that in the north transept to St. William, and
the south to St. Cuthbert, measure 73 ft. by 16 ft. They have both been
restored, the latter very recently, but by far the greater part of them
is old glass. On each side of the choir the aisles contain nine windows
measuring 14 ft. 9 in. by 12 ft., only the tracery lights of which are
modern; the same number of windows fill the clear-story above, the
greater portions of which are ancient.

The famous window of the north transept, the Five Sisters, consists of
five lights, each measuring 53 ft. 6 in. by 5 ft. 1 in., and is
entirely of old glass. There are six windows in the north and six in the
south aisles of the nave, with only a little modern glass in the
tracery. The superb flamboyant window at the west end of the centre
aisle measures 56 ft. 3 in. by 25 ft. 4 in., and consists, I believe,
entirely of old glass, except the faces of the figures. The clear-story
windows are studded with ancient shields, but a great part of the glass
is, I fancy, modern; those of the vestibule, 8 in number, measuring 32
ft. by 18, are of old glass, including the tracery lights. And in the
Chapter House the seven windows, of five lights each, are filled with
old glass. The east window has been clumsily restored by Willement. In
the side windows of the transepts there is some old glass, and the great
rose window over the south entrance still retains much of the old glass;
while far overhead in the tower there are some really fine bold designs
of late, but genuine, design and execution. Altogether, according to
actual measurements, there are 25,531 superficial feet of mediæval
glass in the Minster, _i.e._, more than half an acre--a possession, we
should think, unequalled by any church in England, if not in

But the difficulty in describing the glass arises from the fact that
many of the windows are composed of fragments of glass of different
dates, which, for various reasons, perhaps to preserve them, have been
interchanged during past generations. The educated eye of the glass
painter can detect splendid specimens of every school of glass painting
throughout the Minster, but sometimes comparatively small portions
isolated in the midst of glass of a totally different period. The Five
Sisters window is an almost complete specimen of Early English glass,
with an elaborate geometrical pattern formed by the conventional foliage
of the _planta benedicta_, but at the foot of the central light there is
a panel consisting of distinctly Norman glass, portraying Jacob's
dream, or Daniel in the lion's den, for it is indistinct, and critics
differ. The suggestion is that this panel formed part of the previous
window, in the old Norman transept, and, for some unknown reason, being
specially valuable, was preserved and incorporated in its successor. The
tracery lights of the vestibule windows are filled with old Norman
glass, and the late Canon Sutton was of opinion that the stone tracery
had been specially designed to suit it. The clear-story tracery in the
nave contains also much Norman glass, probably from the old Norman nave,
and in many other windows we can trace similar insertions.

[Illustration: Transept, Lantern, and Five Sisters' Window]

Sometimes groups of figures may be noticed evidencing, by their utter
lack of connection with their environment, that they have been
transplanted from some other window. Sometimes a single figure, under a
Decorated canopy, stands out in a window of distinctly Perpendicular
tracery. Sometimes several of such figures fill separate lights when
they have evidently been intended to be together. Sometimes kneeling
figures, each of which had been intended to represent the donor of some
window, have been brought together in a rather amusing and inharmonious
fellowship. Sometimes the whole of some large figure has been removed,
and only the outline left, which has been indiscriminately filled up
with a patchwork of scraps of all kinds and subjects. This is specially
noticeable in the window on the north side of the choir, where the
letters R.S., in the bordure, indicate that it had been put up to the
memory of Archbishop Scrope; here there are three large outlines of
female figures, each with a child in her arms, one of them probably the
Virgin, but all detail has been obliterated. Sometimes only a portion of
a figure remains, _e.g._, a beautiful and venerable head and shoulders
of some grave ecclesiastic in the most delicate mezzotint; or a
dignified face with splendid crown and nimbus, and cope and pectoral
cross adorning what remains of a saintly figure; or a crowned head, in
a maze of painted fragments, around which the initials, E., in the
bordure, evidently denote Edward the Confessor. Again, there are legs
only, with the water flowing over the feet and the end of the staff
which the hands had grasped, evidently the remains of some grand figure
of St. Christopher, a very frequent and favourite figure in the church
windows of York. Or, again, draped figures of ecclesiastics, complete
almost to the hem of their robes, but destitute of feet, which may be
discovered in the tracery above, where they have been utilised simply to
supply some fracture. Sometimes heads and bodies, which have evidently
no real association, are found united together. The former occasionally
the work of some modern painter, who had attempted with his own brush to
supply what was lacking. This is manifestly the case in the west windows
of the central aisle of the nave, where the faces of the archbishops
are evidently modern insertions, and in the west window of the south
aisle, where a stately figure of our Lord on the Cross, tended by little
angels, has been terribly marred by a most repulsive modern face, which
has been added. But sometimes the head and body are both mediæval, but
sadly incongruous, for male faces are to be found on female shoulders,
and delicate crowned heads of virgins or angels on the stalwart bodies
of men.

And similar confusion exists in many other details: borders of different
dates which have been pieced together, or incongruous modern borders
which have been devised to make up the space on each side of some
smaller window, which has been brought from some other church. Some of
the windows, indeed, are almost, if not altogether, perfect. The east
window has been patched with pieces of crude coloured glass, but only as
repairs, possibly after the great fire in 1829, otherwise it must be
very much as put up by John Thornton, 1405; and in its nine lights
divided into six tiers, it contains two hundred panels of groups of
figures, the two upper tiers being subjects from the creation of the
world to the death of Jacob, the remainder from the book of Revelation.
The tracery lights of the east window of the north aisle seem to me
altogether untouched.

[Illustration: The North Aisle]

The choir transept windows have been restored, but contain a large
portion of the old glass in five lights. That on the north side, erected
by some member of the family of de Ros, has one hundred panels of groups
of figures illustrating the life of St. William, that on the south,
erected by Langley, Bishop of Durham, seventy-five similar panels
illustrating the life of St. Cuthbert. The grand series of windows in
the vestibule also seems to me absolutely untouched since the day when
they were first put up, and, with their figures of kings and queens and
borders of Plantagenet badges, contain very striking specimens of the
best date of painted glass.

The windows on the north aisle of the nave, no doubt erected soon after
its completion, are equally perfect, and were probably presented by
members of the court of Edward I. The window next to the transept given
by Peter le Dene, the court ecclesiastic and tutor of Edward II., when
Prince of Wales, has six illustrations of the life and martyrdom of St.
Catherine, step-niece of Constantine the Great, and therefore a very
acceptable subject to the people of York. It is adorned, moreover, with
the shields of the immediate relations of Edward I., while the border of
the central light contains figures in tabards emblazoned with the arms
of some of the principal nobility of the day. The next window, presented
by Richard Tunnoc, the bell-founder, has three illustrations of the
entrance of St. William to York, and two of the founding of bells, while
peals of gold and silver bells are spread in profusion throughout it,
and the worthy bell-founder himself kneels at the foot of the central
light presenting his window to the Archbishop.

The next window, from its quaint border of birds and animals, seems to
be the offering of Brian FitzAlan, Lord of Bedale, who treated with
good-humoured banter and ridicule the dilemma caused at the siege of
Caerlaverock by banners emblazoned with similar coats of arms being
displayed by Hugh Poyntz and himself. And the window beyond was
evidently given by some member of the family of Clare.

On the opposite side the glass is more mutilated, and it is difficult to
trace the subject in some of the windows. One, however, conspicuous with
the lions of Edward I. and the castle and dolphin of Blanche of Castile,
in compliment to her great grand-daughter, his second wife, is believed
to have been presented by Archdeacon de Maulay, when his friend, Anthony
Bek, was consecrated Bishop of Durham here in the presence of the king.
At the foot of the window the figures of his brothers, gallant knights
in those days, bearing their shields above their heads, may be still
traced on close examination. Splendid figures of St. Lawrence, St.
Christopher, and another fill the lights of the next window. The glass
in all the windows is good and probably coeval with the building, though
much of the tracery glass is modern and bad, the work of William
Peckett, a glass painter of some local repute, who, at the close of the
last century, undertook to restore the glass of the Minster. It is
difficult to accord the measure of praise and blame to which he was
entitled, for certainly, on the one hand, we are indebted to him for
preserving many fragments which otherwise would have been lost, and yet,
on the other, we cannot but condemn the strange medley of groups and
figures, heads and bodies, together with large diapers of bright and
coarse designs to fill up vacant spaces, which are evidently his work,
and, in some instances, sadly inharmonious with the rest of the window.
The single figures in the south window of the south transept are
specimens of what he could do, and if lacking in artistic treatment of
form and drawing, are not altogether defective in colouring. But we have
much to be thankful for, for the elaborate MS. account of the Minster,
written by Torre, the antiquary, in the reign of James II., shows us
that we have lost very little of what existed in his day; and it is
marvellous to think that so much should have survived not only the
mistaken zeal of would-be preservers and restorers, but the flames of
the terrible fires, one of which consumed the woodwork and roof of the
choir in 1829, and the other burnt off the roof of the nave in 1840.

We could wish that we knew something more definitely about the glass
painters of the Minster. The fabric rolls tell us nothing before the
fourteenth century, and are rather tantalising than satisfying

As early as 1338 Thomas de Boneston covenants by indenture to glaze two
windows at his own proper cost, find all the glass, pay the workmen
their wages for the finishing thereof, and Thomas de Ludham, the
_custos_ of the fabric, became bound to pay him twenty-two marks
sterling for the same. Another indenture of the same date was made
between Thomas de Boneston and Robert: for making a window at the west
gable of the cathedral church, the said Robert is to find all sorts of
glass and be paid 6d. per foot for white and 12d. per foot for coloured
glass. In Archbishop Melton's register of the same year, the Archbishop
pays to Master Thomas Sampson 100 marks for glasswork of the window at
the west end of the church lately constructed--_i.e._, the great west
window. In 1361 Agnes de Holm leaves 100s. to the fabric for a glass
window containing figures of St. James the Apostle and St. Catherine.
In 1371 the name of William de Auckland appears as Vitriarius, and it
would seem that the Dean and Chapter always maintained such an official,
with a working staff to execute what glass might be required. From time
to time great stores of glass and lead seem to have been accumulated,
and there are constant entries of expenses occurring in wages and
materials, _e.g._, white glass for the great windows of the new choir,
"coloured glass," "old coloured glass," "glass of small value."

In 1400 John Burgh seems to have been the glazier at 27s. 5d. per annum,
with Robert, his assistant, at 25s. In 1419 John Glasman, of Ruglay,
supplies three sheets of white glass. John Chambre is glazier in 1421.
In 1443, Thomas Schirley with his assistant William; Thomas Cartmell in
1444; Matthew Pete with two assistants, Thomas Mylett and William
Cartmell, in 1447; Matthew Pete in 1456, when he seems to have employed
several assistants, Thomas Clerk, Thomas Shirwynd, Thomas Coverham,
William Franklan, Robert Hudson, &c., with much expenditure for "yalow
glass," &c.; John Pety, 1472; Robert Pety, 1509, the last member of a
family which had long filled the office. Richard Taylor supplies two
chests of Rennyshe glass in 1530; William Matthewson, of Hull,
twenty-two wisps of Borgandie glass; and in 1538, one cradle of
Normandie glass.

The indenture with John Thornton for glazing the great east window is
still extant; he is to "complete it in three years, pourtray with his
own hands the histories, images, and other things to be painted on the
same. He is to provide glass and lead, and workmen, and receive four
shillings per week, five pounds at the end of each year, and, after the
work is completed, ten pounds for his reward."

Little enough it seems to us; but the system was very different from
that which prevails now; yet certainly the result which it produced
justified the system, whatever it was, for, admitting that length of
time and atmospheric influences may have toned and mellowed the
colouring, there are evidences of craftsmanship in the designing and
production of those days, which the best workmen of our own time have
been ever ready to acknowledge, and before which they have been willing
to pay generous homage.

[Illustration: ACCEPTUS FREWEN qui inter vivos esse desijt Mar 28 AD

Truly, at the Reformation, the building must have been "flos florum,"
enriched with everything which the taste of man could devise or his
skill execute. The massive walls, fashioned according to the highest
canons of Early English, Decorated, and Perpendicular architectural
taste, the great windows glowing with painted glass of each successive
style, the vast area subdivided by stately screens of carved wood and
stone into countless chapels and chantries; shrines glittering with
offerings of precious and jewelled metals, and adorned with colour and
gilding; the treasury stored, as the fabric rolls tell us, with gold and
silver plate in rich profusion; vestments of the most costly fabrics and
approved fashions. Exuberant in all that was of the earth earthy; but, I
am afraid, sadly lacking in those inward and spiritual graces of which
these should have been the outward and visible signs. History may not be
impartial, perhaps not altogether accurate, and mixed motives may have
animated those who dealt vigorously, not to say ruthlessly, with these
things. But too many records remain to show us that "cleansing fires"
were needed, and that, however depraved the instruments, however debased
their motives, the work which they did was imperative, if Christian
faith and life, and the worship of God in spirit and in truth were to
flourish and abound in this our fatherland.

Nor need we indulge in unavailing regrets. It is impossible not to wish
that much which has been ruthlessly destroyed had been spared, and that
many things of beauty could be recovered. We could wish that the
unhallowed fingers which hesitated not even to rifle the very graves,
had been checked, that the fires of 1829 and 1840 had not swept over the
choir and nave; but enough survives to gladden eye and heart with the
noblest evidences of mediæval work and taste, and tokens on every side
abound to testify that, in these latter days, Yorkshiremen have been as
ready to repair the decay of age, restore the ravages of fire, and
support the glory and dignity of God's house as ever they were in days
gone by. We walk about our Zion and go round about her and tell the
towers thereof, and they speak to us of a living faith, not of an effete
ecclesiasticism or of mere archæological interest. We rejoice that it is
still emphatically a house of prayer, not only when "two or three are
gathered together," but when its aisles are thronged with a vast
multitude, uniting in some special act of prayer and praise, or
listening to some eloquent exponent of the Gospel of peace; and "when
through the long drawn aisle and fretted vault the pealing anthem swells
the notes of praise," we lift up grateful hearts in devout unison, that
we are permitted to worship Him in this His house on earth, and desiring
that we may be permitted to attain to the "building of God, the house
not made with hands eternal in the heavens."

[Illustration: Perpendicular Shell-Ornament Piscina]

_London & Edinburgh_

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