York Minister East Front Latest
York Minster is the largest medieval Gothic cathedral north of the Alps and a treasure-house of stained glass. Sadly, the centuries have taken their toll on the east end of the minster, and erosion and subsidence have damaged much of the delicate stonework of the east window’s tracery. The whole window is currently about 41cm out of plumb and bellied vertically, with a bow of around 10cm. According to Dr Richard Shepherd, Chamberlain of York Minster and Director of Development, the entire window will have to be dismantled, so that 60% of the tracery can be rebuilt. Urgent repairs to the glass itself are also required, including a complete releading and the installation of isothermal glazing. Whereas it took Coventry glass-painter John Thornton and his workshop team just three years, from 1405 to 1408, to paint the world’s largest piece of medieval art, it could take up to ten years to complete the full restoration programme.
On Wednesday 20 September, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) announced a grant of £390,000 towards the cost of saving the east window, the principal jewel in York Minster’s crown. The glazing can now be dismantled and prepared for safe storage until the fragile stonework of the east end has been repaired. The Very Reverend Keith Jones, Dean of York, commented: ‘This wonderful award doesn’t only mark the exceptional beauty and importance of the Minster’s great east window. It also recognizes the coming together of excellent scholarly research, the high technical skills on site here, and our wish to show this treasure to everyone.’
Like many HLF projects, the scheme will conserve an iconic part of the UK’s historical landscape, while boosting the skills needed to preserve it. The York Glaziers Trust has long earned York a reputation as a centre of excellence in medieval stained glass, and will now be able to appoint two new apprentices so that skills can be passed on. Commenting on the decline in heritage skills, Fiona Spiers, Heritage Lottery Fund Manager for Yorkshire and the Humber, has commented: ‘Without our heritage we risk losing our sense of self and identity. In order to save it, we must do more than conserve the fabric; we must also plug the gap between the declining numbers of skilled specialists and the growing needs of the nation’s heritage. The East Window project is just one example of the many ways that we are helping to do this, ensuring that groups like the York Glaziers Trust can continue in their vital work.’
The restoration of the window may also reveal more about its true meaning. The glass tells the story of Creation and the Apocalypse, of God as alpha and omega, and of those who praise Him, as well as portraying legendary and historical figures from York’s past. Experts believe that changes to the design and layout of the 117 panels have resulted in the window’s original meaning being lost, so the HLF grant will help fund research into the original iconography. In addition, the York Minster’s medieval Bedern Chapel, currently a store, will be converted to provide a workshop for the conservators. This will be open to the public so work on the glass may be viewed. The minster’s website will also follow the process, and for those who want to learn more, there are plans for a programme of short courses, one-day taster sessions, and master classes.
Dr Richard Shepherd can be contacted by emailing Dr Richard Shephard, or by writing to him at The Development Office, Church House, Ogleforth, York Y1 7JN. Cheques should be made payable to ‘York Minster Fund’.
Panels from the window can – and should – be viewed in the CVMA’s Picture Archive, under York Minister. Two essential books will cast further light on the window: T. French, York Minster, The Great East Window, Corpus Vitrearum Great Britain, Summary Catalogue 5 (Oxford, 2003), which can be ordered directly from the CVMA’s Books page, and Sarah Brown, Stained Glass at York Minster, which is available from the Minster Shop, price ₤ 7.95 + pp.
The Historic Churches Preservation Trust has given ₤5,000 towards the renovation of the internal window reveals and other repairs at All Saints, Boughton Aluph, Kent. The original Anglo-Saxon church was replaced in the thirteenth century by the north chapel, now the vestry, and enlarged in the fourteenth by Sir Thomas de Aledon, of the court of Edward III. The north transept window incorporates shields belonging to colleagues of Sir Thomas, who owned the manor of Boughton c.1329–61, while the east window includes an unusual image of the Coronation of the Virgin (without nimbus) and several figures in the tracery lights. The church enjoys a lovely rural setting on the Pilgrims Way, and the south porch was adapted to serve as a pilgrims’ shelter. Fourteen images from All Saints can be viewed in the Picture Archive. For further information about the work of the Historic Churches Preservation Trust, visit their website.