Exploring York Minster: A Visitor's Guide

Exploring York Minster: A Visitor’s Guide

Dedicated to St Peter, the imposing York Minster bears testimony to the monks who converted the local population to Christianity in the 3rd and 4th centuries. So important was York Minster in the early years of the Christian faith – and so great was the village’s reputation that its bishops were invited to take part in the council at Arles in 314 AD. After this there was until 627 AD. Little heard of as the oldest documented (wooden) church was built here for the baptism of King Edwin of Northumbria. Succulent Saxon and Norman constructions were destroyed, and the cathedral was rebuilt in its current Gothic style in the 13th century.

First Impressions: The Side Aisle Windows

First Impressions: The Side Aisle Windows York Minster / photo modified

First impressions are everything, and even the unassuming aisles you see when entering York Minster impress with their interesting decorative features. In the northern (left) aisle is the Chapel of the Chapel because of its 14th-century statuary. A little further on is the Pilgrimage Window (dated about 1312) resting above a beautiful dragon’s head, depicting Peter surrounded by pilgrims and many unusual details such as the burial of a monkey. In addition, the radiant 14th century Bellfounders’ Window with the relevant motifs. The Jesse Window (about 1310) is also notable and shows scenes including David and Solomon.

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The Choir Aisle and the North Transept

The Choir Aisle and the North Transept
The Choir Aisle and the North Transept

The three-aisled Choir Aisle was built in the English Early Gothic style between 1220 and 1280. The back wall of the North transept has five narrow lancet windows (about 1260) known as the “Five Sisters Window” (a term coined by Charles Dickens ). The Crossroads with its 15th century vaulted tower contains the Intermediate wall in the church separating altar from the church , a masterpiece of late Gothic sculpture containing statues of 15 English kings, beginning with William I on the left and ending with Henry VI.

The choir

The choir
The choir

The cathedral’s Norman choir was rebuilt in the late 14th century and was later damaged by a fire in 1829 which destroyed the roof and woodwork (including the choir stalls). Copies of the originals replaced everything. St William’s Window (1422) in the South Gallery depicts scenes from the life of St William, whose shrine in the sacristy was worshiped in the Middle Ages. The Window of St Cuthbert (about 1435) in the North Gallery portrays events in the life of this saint who was consecrated Archbishop in 685 AD in the former Saxon minster.

Behind the chancel is the Lady Chapel with its magnificent East Window (about 1408), the world’s largest medieval stained glass window. In the South Transept is the magnificent Rose Window (about 1500) commemorating the end of the War of the Roses, fought between the Houses of Lancaster and York for the throne.

Tombes en Tales from the Crypt

Dounstone York Minster / photo modified
Dounstone York Minster / photo modified

Entered from the Rectory , the 12th century Norman crypt of the Minster contains the remains of the 11th century apse of the earlier cathedral, as well as parts of the 14th century eastern crypt. The valuable contents of the Crypt include the York Virgin (12th century Madonna), the Doomstone (purgatory relief, late 12th century), the 15th century font used for the baptism of King Edwin by Bishop Paulinus in AD 627. , and the Shrine of St. William of York (Archbishop, 1154), who was brought here in 1972.

The chapter house

The chapter house
The chapter house

The Chapterhouse Vestibule is reached from the North Transept . On entering this part of the cathedral, visitors will immediately see a window (about 1300) with kings and queens, and the richly decorated capitals. St Bartholomew’s felts can be seen to the right of the 13th century door with interlaced decoration leading to the octagonal chapter (1260-1285). The painted wooden vaulted roof is self-supporting and was first renewed in 1798 and again in 1976. The pretty stable canopies are impressive, as are the tracery windows whose glass dates back to the 13th century.

The Close

The Close
The Close

Among the many interesting buildings to be found in York Minster Close are the half-timbered 15th century St William’s College with its medieval rooms, the 17th century Treasurer’s House with numerous antiques, and the Minster library housed in a 12th century chapel with more than 120,000 books and manuscripts. On the south side of the Minster is the Church of St Michael-le-Belfrey (rebuilt 1536), which has interesting stained glass windows. A 4th-century Roman column standing behind it commemorates the day Constantine died in AD 306. Proclaimed Emperor of Rome at York.

The Undercroft and Treasury: York Minster onthullen

Located in the Undercroft and treasury below York Minster, this fascinating exhibition consists of numerous interactive galleries depicting the building’s colorful history, from its Roman roots to today. Displays feature over 2,000 years of remarkable artifacts found nearby, offering an insight into the important role the cathedral played over the centuries.

Window on the World: The Orb

This fascinating unique elliptical structure inside the cathedral showcases some of the world’s most important medieval art. Focused on York Minster’s Great East Window , the Orb is set to display sections of the window when restored, allowing visitors to view the panels up close. This wonderful opportunity to view this historic work of art will continue throughout the restoration of the window, scheduled for completion in 2016.

Stairway to Heaven: Climbing the Tower

Stairway to Heaven: Climbing the Central Tower John Robinson / photo modified Share:
Stairway to Heaven: Climbing the Central Tower John Robinson / photo modified Share:

Medieval York Minster’s Central Tower – the highest point in the city – involves a 230-foot climb up its 275 steps, so not for the faint of heart. Along the way, get a close-up view of some of the cathedral’s most interesting decorative features, including the spires and gargoyles. Once outside, all that hard work is rewarded with stunning views of York’s historic city centre.

Touring York Minster

York Minster offers a number of excellent guided tours (included with admission) highlighting the main features and history of the building, as well as some of its lesser-known secrets (Mon-Sat, every hour from 10am to 3pm). If you’re traveling with youngsters, request one of the Cathedral’s “Little Explorer Backpacks” when you buy your tickets. These fun (and free) backpacks contain plenty of helpful tools for youngsters to use while exploring, including a flashlight, binoculars, a compass and map, a magnifying glass, and pencil crayons and paper to record their findings.

Tips and tactics: how to make the most of your visit to York Minster

The following tips and tactics will help you get the most out of your York Minster experience:

  • Closures: York Minster is a very functional building, and although tourists are allowed there are occasions where closures are required. To ensure such events do not interfere with your visit, please check the What’s On page prior to arrival.
  • Events: Lectures, workshops, and courses are often available to the general public and visitors, along with musical performances and other special events. For more information, visit the cathedral’s What’s On page.
  • Eating: Although York Minster has no dining facilities of its own, it is situated in a vibrant pedestrianized area with numerous excellent eateries, from quick fresh eats to fine dining.
  • Shopping: Three on-site shops serve visitors: the Minster Gift Shop (within the Minster) and York Minster Gifts and No.10 (located in Minster Gates). Most of the items available here are also available through their online store.
  • Services: Weekdays – 07:30, Metten; 7:45 a.m., Holy Communion; 12:00 p.m., Holy Communion; 5:15 p.m., Evensong; Sunday – 8 a.m., Holy Communion; 10 a.m., Sung Eucharist; 11:30 a.m., matins; Sixteen, Evensong.

Getting to York Minster

  • By train: York has fast direct rail links from London, Edinburgh and Manchester (approximately two hours journey time) and is just a 10 minute walk from York Railway Station. Visit www.nationalrail.co.uk for more information, including occasional 2-for-1 ticket offers.
  • By Road: York is centrally located and easily accessible from all parts of the country by an excellent road network.
  • Parking: The City of York operates a network of car parks along the periphery with buses connecting to the heart of the city.


  • Services – Daily, 7:00 AM – 6:30 PM
  • Sightseeing – Mon-Sat, 9am-5pm; Sun, 12:30-5pm


  • Minster Only – Adults, £10; Families, £20
  • Central Tower plus Minster – Adults, £15; Children (8-16), £5


  • York Minster kerkhuis Ogleforth York
  • https://www.yorkminster.org

What’s nearby?

Set amongst some of the best sights in England, York Minster is a place you’ll want to spend more than a day if possible. One of the best ways to experience this remarkable city is to walk through the circuit of medieval city walls, almost 3 km long and offering great views. Also spend time walking along the River Ouse or, better yet, take a river cruise.

Other tourist attractions within a short walk include York Castle and its excellent museum, the National Railway Museum with its impressive collection of steam engines and the city’s numerous historic guild halls. Then, of course, there are the many old winding streets, most notably the famous shambles , a narrow 14th-century thoroughfare with beautiful overhanging half-timbered houses. York was also once a Viking stronghold, and the Jorvik Viking Center is a great place to learn more about this fascinating period in the city’s history.

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