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Part One: York Minster – a Glimpse Behind the Scenes
This is a step away from my usual posts. However, if you would like to take an armchair trip with me first to York Minster then, in part 2, to the creative heart of Shropshire, then fill up your mug and join me here for the next few minutes. I have included links to websites with more in-depth articles; these will give you a much richer picture of the scope of what is going on. I have also tried to include photos of parts that are otherwise out of sight to give you a feel of our visit.
An offer not to be refused
An invitation by Andrew Arrol Surveyor for the Fabric of York Minster, to see work in progress is a rare and privileged opportunity and certainly one to be accepted and shared.
As a former York resident, I recall the Minster being shrouded in scaffolding throughout my childhood. For years the residents only had glimpses of the mysterious work going on behind the hoardings. So, for me to be able to witness work at close quarters was a real joy and I was delighted that Martin Earle (fellow icon student) and his fiancee Katherine, could join me. Martin is working with Aidan Hart on the sculpture of Our Lady of Lincoln as I write, (more on this in part 2).
There is a much more open approach to the conservation work at the Minster and educational visits form part of Andrew’s remit. For an overview of what is going on with the works, click on York Minster.
One of our hopes for the visit was to see the newly carved St Peter, recently installed above the Great East Window. The original figure had been dismantled and studied although the severe erosion of the features meant a great deal of research before the new face of St Peter could be formed. The existing figure had been carefully analysed so that when the new figure was in place, it would include the same foreshortening of the figure to correct the view from the ground.
To give you an idea of where St Peter has been located – it is not far from the top of the lift shaft.
The new St Peter is a magnificent work of art, a seated figure of over six feet. An extract from York Minster’s weblink below reads: ‘It has been designed by Martin Coward of York Minster’s Stoneyard, who created scale models in clay, before a full size version of the approved design was sculpted and cast in plaster of Paris. Martin is carving the top section of the figure, including the detailed head’.
There is a full description of the work behind St Peter on York Minster Revealed
Every stone has been surveyed and great care has been taken to maintain as much of the old masonry as possible. Each stone is assessed according to its exposure and position as to whether it can last well into the next century and replaced only if necessary.
There is a wonderful creative spirit with the stonemasons as they have been free to design the images that grace the uppermost parts of the building. Most of these will never be seen from the ground so here are a few birds eye views:
Now taking you swiftly down from the heights to the very bottom of the building and into the crypt, to find the medieval stone carving of the Virgin of York, a subject very dear to both Martin and Aidans’ hearts, but more about that in my next post.
The inscription reads ‘SCA MARIa’ Saint Mary. Mary holds the infant whose hand is raised in blessing. Much is still to be discovered about this image such as the type of stone it has been carved from and the exact date. The scuplture is Romanesque in style with Byzantine influence and it is considered to be from around the 12th Century. The damage could have been as a result of the 16th century iconoclasm or ocurred during the course of past building works. It was discovered in 1829 after a fire broke out in the Quire.
There is so much more I could write about our visit such as the beautiful woodwork in the Chapter House, the repair work to the stained glass of the Great East window, more on the stone repairs and so on, but I want to pause here to acknowledge the masons. They are in a league of their own – master craftsmen and craftswomen par excellence!
To Andrew Arrol and your team – thank you so much for a truly memorable visit.