Wow, where to start! York has it all – it was always important, and its history surrounds you, with Roman ruins, two centuries of Viking rule, a fabulous minster (cathedral – reputedly the finest Gothic church in England), medieval city walls, and a preserved medieval quarter. There is much to see! Let’s start with just a walk around the town. How about walking the city walls? To get to them, you first climb one of the city gates, which York calls “bars” (“gates” are streets – blame the Vikings).
Below is a wander around this medieval city (lots of pictures!). We’re caught by how old everything is, and still in use.
Among the medieval buildings are a number of guild halls, one of them pictured above. Another we found by accident, just wandering into courtyards and alleys. We’ve recreated this wander below (you’ll also notice a lot of rebuilt and repurposed buildings).
The parish church shown below, Holy Trinity, dates from the 11th century (!), expanded in the 12th century, another aisle added in 1325, and a tower and refinements added over the next 200 years. The inside is impressively old!
“Younger” buildings, such as the King’s Manor, are pretty cool as well. Built in 1483, it originally housed the abbots of St. Mary’s Abbey (which we’ll see in a later post). It survived Henry VIII’s “Dissolution of the Monasteries” (again, a later post), when Henry made it the seat of the Council of the North in 1539. King Charles I stayed here a few times in the 1630’s. You can see his coat of arms over the doorway in the first picture; his father, King James I (who was also James VI of Scotland, the first Scottish King to reign in England), had introduced Scotland’s unicorn into the royal arms, joining the lion of England. The King’s Manor surrounds a series of courtyards and is now part of the
University of York. Another interesting parish church is St. Michael le Belfrey, an Anglican church right next to York Minster; it was originally a chapel for the Minster, dating to 1294 or earlier. In 1525, during Henry VIII’s crusade against the Catholic church, it was rebuilt in Tudor gothic style. Of particular interest is the beautiful east window, much of which survives from 1330. The
church is also of note for baptising local boy Guy Fawkes in 1570. Fawkes later converted to Catholicism and was arrested with 36 barrels of gunpowder under England’s Parliament in a failed attempt to assassinate the Protestant King James I (James VI of Scotland). Oops! Hanged, drawn and quartered.
A fascinating part of York is an intact medieval street of half-timbered houses, called “The Shambles”. As early as the 11th century, it was a street of butchers; the name comes from “Shamel”, the stalls or benches that displayed the meat beneath the overhanging eaves of the houses. The area was rebuilt in the 1400’s and hasn’t changed much from then – except the goods are pretty touristy now.
Well, that’s enough for the introduction to York, right? In the next post I want to show you the fabulous gothic York Minster (which started off as a Norman church about 1100!). However, first I think it would be useful to introduce a little history on how York got started in Roman times, and why the Minster is here. So that will be the next post, with the Minster to follow.