Friday, 27 May 2011

York Minster - II

The knights who gathered at York under Edward I (1239-1307) and Edward II (1284-1327) were descendants of the men who came across in 1066 with William the Conqueror, a Norman (from France). The shields of these knights are found high on the inner walls of the cathedral.

The purpose of York in the Edwards’ time was to deal with the Scots (reference Braveheart). At this point Barry asked if there were any Scots in the audience. He had previously asked if there was anyone from abroad and Jan and Jerry identified themselves as from Oklahoma, whereby Barry said he understood they wouldn’t know any history prior to 1600, which I thought rather cheeky, but never mind.

The wealthy knights contributed towards the building of the York Minster, a process that took 250 years and I gather they changed their minds a lot during that time. I was going to ask what happened at the York Minster during the time of Henry VIII, but he got around to that part.

The Quire

Minster, by the way, comes from the Latin word for monastery –monasterium. You only have a minster if you have a bishop (or perhaps it's the other way around; the administrative structure of the Anglican church is beyond me). However, I can tell you that the Archbishop of York is an interesting character (you saw the Archbishop of Canterbury on TV last month and he was pretty interesting as well).

Of course, the York Minster was a Catholic church when it was built and they seem to have just finished when Henry VIII decided he wanted to divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn. According to Barry, some of the church officials went along with the idea, but of course the Pope didn’t and neither did the abbots, who lived in abbeys, and this is why there are none save ‘ruined abbeys’ in England; I've not checked on this fact, but it sounds about right.

The King had his way, of course, but apparently liked churches and didn’t mess them up too much. However, after his death, his 12 year old son Edward came to the throne and with probably loads of advisers telling him silly ideas, they went around and beheaded any image of Mary or other saints. There are a number of wooden statues that could join the ‘headless hunt’ (reference Harry Potter), as well as several stone ones, like this.

Then we went into the Chapter House. It was something of a meeting room of the ruling men of the church. There are 270 or so of these funny little heads carved into the canopy over the wooden seats around the seven-sided room.

The masons and glaziers were itinerant workers who moved from place to place to work. They had a lot of artistic freedom and so could make their opinions known. Now I’d have sworn I took a photo of Queen Eleanor (formerly) of Castile, but apparently not. I did manage to dig around and find this head for you. It reminds me of something out of Alice in Wonderland: the stonemason depicted her crown being pried off by a bat.

Barry told us she and Edward I, new English husband (Castile being in Spain), showed up to a meeting at the Chapter House and the great unwashed public had gathered to see the new Queen. Apparently she wasn’t accustomed to being ogled – her subjects had to lie face down in her presence back home – and some of their comments were ‘ribauld’ was Barry’s word. She put on a ‘haughty manner’ and made herself rather unpopular. Hence the head in her memory. I wondered about the 269 other stories in the room, but of course there wasn’t time -- or strength! -- to hear them all.

Bill noticed that other volunteer guides told different stories about different windows and such, so one could hear quite a few lectures before getting bored of the York Minster. Nice to know if we find ourselves in York again, which is not unlikely; it’s only an hour south of us on the train.

The Merchant's Wife

There was a very small plaque, maybe 5x10 inches – and I agree with Barry that it is a far too small memorial – to Thomas Fairfax, who saved York Minster during the Civil War. You may or may not remember that the Stuart King, Charles I (1600-1649) was involved in a civil war with parliament, led by Oliver Cromwell. Charles I was beheaded over that argument and royalty had to learn to think a bit different to their previous ‘Devine Right of Kings’ though it was a slow lesson for them.

Cromwell’s lot were Puritans who hated ornamentation and would certainly have smashed and destroyed the York Minster had they reached it. We owed our very nice morning to Fairfax who prevented this in some way, though he fought on the side of the Roundheads.   It sounds as though he was a man of principle who thought for himself; even Charles trusted him as honourable, though he fought for the opposing side.

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