Revealing York Minster tells 2,000-year story of a city

By Culture24 Reporter | 24 May 2013

York's place as the Roman birthplace of Christianity, subterranean evidence of a Royal mint, a 1,000-year-old Viking horn and the priceless York gospels will be some of the highlights when an interactive new visitor attraction opens at the city's Minster on Saturday.

A photo of a woman looking at a large ancient horn
Vicky Harrison, the Collections Manager for York Minster, takes a look at the Horn of Ulf© Kippa Matthews / Dean and Chapter of York Minster
Part of a £20 million heritage scheme, Revealing York Minster aims to reflect the action-packed past 2,000 years at the historic cathedral. It is built in a space originally created during the emergency excavations of the 1970s, when the remains of a Roman barracks, an Anglo-Saxon cemetery and the foundations of the previous Norman Minster were found.

Beginning in 71 AD, when the first barracks were established, the dramatic installation will tell tales of Constantine the Great, who ruled the Roman empire from York and declared Christianity its official religion.

Findings from beneath the Minster will show how the Anglian and Anglo-Saxon periods, between 410 and 866, were prosperous ones for a city boasting new buildings and a mint.

A star object might be the 1,000-year-old Horn of Ulf, described as being in “superb condition” by curators working on the underground displays. It was once the property of the Viking lord it takes its name from, who used the elaborately-carved elephant tusk as a deed of transfer when he gifted the cathedral’s land to the Chapter of York.

Despite being used in ceremonies in the city to this day, the Gospels are going on public display for the first time. Insights into the lives of people who work at the Minster on a daily basis, as well as a concluding medieval underground chamber, The Treasury, also feature.

“York Minster has stood at the heart of the city for centuries, but even before that, this site was instrumental in the growth of York, from a military barracks into a major conurbation,” says the Very Reverend Vivienne Faull, the Dean of York.

“This means that the land upon which the cathedral now stands has been a centre – military, political, social and theological – for that whole time, influencing not only regional but national history.

“For the first time, Revealing York Minster brings together the archaeological discoveries and the written archives – dating back to the 7th century.

“But this is not just a story about the past: it will provide visitors with an insight into the evolution of the city, and York Minster’s central role within that, right up to the present day with a glimpse at the people who work behind the scenes, making use of the very latest technology.”

Mark Hosea, the project’s Director, emphasises the Dean’s point. He says the idea is “not simply about history made in the past”, but more to do with “a new, significant part of the timeline” for the Minster.

“This is a place visited by Kings and Queens for centuries, and the work being done within the cathedral today – whether looking after worshippers or conserving priceless stained glass – ensures that time never stands still here," he explains.

“The process of bringing together all this information about York Minster has itself created a new legacy for future generations recorded in minute detail.

“The conservation work taking place all around the building, on the Great East Window and on the masonry, will ensure that our grandchildren and great-grandchildren can continue to enjoy this magnificent building.”

Admission includes entry to the The Orb, a contemporary gallery of stained glass medieval masterpieces next door.

Exhibitions demonstrate the work of the resident glaziers and stonemasons, with guides ready to lead tours across the buildings.

  • Admission £10/£9 (includes re-admission for a year, free admission for up to four children per adult, family ticket £20). Open 9am-5pm (12pm-5pm Sunday,  closed Good Friday and Easter Sunday). Follow the minster on Twitter @York_Minster‎.

More pictures:

A photo of a woman in holy clothing looking at exhibits inside a case
The Very Reverend Vivienne Faull, the Dean of York© Kippa Matthews / Dean and Chapter of York Minster
A photo of bits of old brick and a video playing inside a gallery
The new display aims to be immersive and interactive© Kippa Matthews / Dean and Chapter of York Minster
A photo of a contemporary gallery showing various medieval artefacts
Newly-installed glass floors enable visitors to see some of the remaining Roman walls beneath their feet© Kippa Matthews / Dean and Chapter of York Minster
A photo of a contemporary gallery showing various medieval artefacts
A video work captures the essence of a day in the life of the Minster© Kippa Matthews / Dean and Chapter of York Minster
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