Many people think that visiting 2 cathedrals in Europe during one trip is at least one too many. While is England, Ruth and I visited 3, and they were very different from each other. The first one was York Minster, and I put off writing about it until today. It always seemed like too big a subject. On the same trip we rather accidentally went to Gloucester Cathedral where we got caught up in a youth festival involving sheep. We also went to Hereford Cathedral, but that was planned. We wanted to see its Mappa Mundi but did not know about its equally superb Chained Library. York Minster was such a huge subject that we spent 2 days looking at it. The first day we took an outside tour and the next day we did an inside one. Both were exceptional travel experiences and gave us an opportunity to meet David.
Many people pay for a tour of York Minster and regret spending the money, venting their displeasure on TripAdvisor. There are, at the present time, 15,295 voluntary reviews of their experiences. We didn’t pay because we heard about the free walking tours that occur almost daily at 11 am and beyond. David was our guide. Many on our tour didn’t like him and left before it ended. Ruth and I liked David despite his regional accent, eccentric personality, and tendency to offer too many opinions. He certainly knew his subject and gave us a 4 hour tour that was exceptional. He began by apologizing for the fact that his tour would not include York Minster’s inside.
York Minster is the largest Gothic Cathedral in Great Britain. Its 2 tall Gothic Towers can be seen 10 miles away, partially because the landscape is so flat. Among its treasures are 128 medieval glass windows. The construction of York Minster began in 1227, and it was judged complete in 1472. It will never be completely complete, however. This magnificent structure, one of the best in a world that almost lost Notre Dame this year, was the 4th church on this site. The 1st was entirely wood. The deteriorating York Minster of 2019 is limestone. Near the place where it stands today, there’s a statue of Roman Emperor Constantine the Great. He was proclaimed Emperor of Rome here in 306 AD. This statue was one of the 1st things we saw on our walk with David, who was already showing a tendency to linger and elaborate.
Our 2nd major stop was to have a chat with stonemason Emma. Emma told us that her job was secure because York Minster would be under reconstruction forever. She told us about the materials she was using, the cost of ongoing projects, English kings who had visited, the limestone quarry that has been productive since Roman times, and the police and cameras that were everywhere. Walking away, David told us that York Minster is one of only 2 religious institutions with its own police force. The other one is The Vatican.
David had an interest in subjects that made his tour unique. Mice for example. All cathedrals have lots of mice. York Minster even has a Mouseman. His name was Robert Thompson, and he was a pew maker who always included a little mouse in his carvings. Many of them are in the choir, which we wouldn’t see with David. To compensate, he showed us a mouse carved into the exterior of a medieval building.
David spent a lot of time telling us about the 2 major fires that had impacted York Minster. The man who started the one in 1829 ended up in Bedlam for 8 years. The other was caused by a lightning strike in 1984. We also got David’s reviews of almost every movie made about British royalty and comments about their authenticity.
After the tour we had to make a choice. We could either take the 275 stairs to the top of the Central Tower that is often described as an exhausting experience or we could walk atop the medieval wall that survives in York. We chose the wall walk, but I later regretted not seeing what is said to be the best view of York from atop this cathedral. My regret somewhat faded when I read that the walk along York Minster’s roof is “Scarily fantastic”. Walls have protected York since Roman times, but the 2+ miles of medieval wall that still exists today date from the 13th and 14th century. Only 3 main sections remain. David went up to the top of the wall with us, but we did not take the recommended 2 hours to explore them. In parting, David told us which tour guide to seek out for our interior tour.