Revealing York Minster is the largest exhibition ever created within a British cathedral – and when it opens on Saturday, May 25, looks set to be a massive hit.
Found in the undercroft, the exhibition tells the story of the last 2,000 years of the site from Roman days on. In a series of connected chambers, and through a combination of priceless ancient artefacts and state-of-the-art computer modelling, it explains:
- how the Minster was saved from imminent collapse in the 1960s
- what existed before the present building, including the Roman fort and the “lost” Saxon Minster
- how the Norman Minster was once the largest building in England
- the living, working church through the centuries.
At a preview of the new attraction on Monday the Dean of York, the Very Reverend Vivienne Faull, said: “It’s the largest visitor attraction set within a cathedral in the United Kingdom.
“The exhibition has been designed to help visitors understand the religious, cultural and historic significance of this magnificent place of worship.”
Revealing York Minster has its roots in the discovery more than 40 years ago that the tower was in danger of collapse.
To shore it up, chambers were excavated under the cathedral and concrete reinforcements laid down. While the builders worked, archaeologists would record the data and sift through tons of soil.
Although they had to work quickly the experts made discoveries which allowed them to fill many gaps in the site’s history, identifying roads and walls dating back to Roman times.
More recently, as part of the work to install a lift to the new exhibition, archaeologists carried out small scale excavations which shed light on a period of history about which we know very little – the Dark Ages.
All this is brought together in the new exhibition.
A journey through Revealing York Minster
Chamber 1 – rescued and revealed
At the entrance you learn about the discovery in 1967 that the Minster could collapse at any time. This leads into Chamber 1, which explains how the building was saved – and the archaeological discoveries this work uncovered. A glass section in the floor enables visitors to see the remains of the Roman fort.
Chamber 2 – at the crossroads of empires
What happened on this site before the current Gothic masterpiece was built? Here are details of the Roman fort – you can see a section of its wall – which stood on the spot at an angle of about 45 degrees to the present Minster. There are details of the Saxon Minster, and 3D computer reconstructions take visitors from their standing point and fly them around the huge sprawling complex, the layout of which can be seen in the modern streets of York today. You can also see the Horn of Ulph, a kind of medieval deed that represented the land given to the Minster by a Norse nobleman named Ulph around the year 1030.
Chamber 3 – the Church of the North
The building which preceded our current cathedral, the Norman Minster, was the biggest in England when it was built. This chamber charts its construction, and the development and subsequent building phases which followed resulting in the Gothic building we see today. More 3D modelling reveals how this happened, and you can see an original piece of stained glass form the Norman Church called the Tree Of Jesse.
Chamber 4 – lives through the Minster
Who were the people who worked in the Minster down the centuries? This chamber displays objects past and present that they would have used – and in some cases, still use today. In the middle of the room is a large touch table which allows visitors to see how the Minster’s men and women – from bell ringers to the police – interact with the building, through videos and graphics.
Chamber 5 – 2,000 years of change and continuity
A centrepiece of this chamber is the York Gospels, a book which has survived 1,000 years, war and fire to still be used in the Minster today. Media touch screens allow the book to be explored in detail. There are also statues and a section of the Roman fort visible.
Chamber 6 – revealing York Minster
An audio visual theatre where up to 35 visitors can watch short films about York Minster on a giant screen. The three films each show the Minster in a different light, from a behind the scenes look at the building, through to a “day in the life”. The Constantine story takes visitors back 1,700 years to the turning point of Christianity.
Here the journey ends. The Treasury is one of the original, medieval underground chambers. A changing exhibition space, the Treasury now houses many of the ceremonial items collected over the centuries for use in services. Some of the items, such as the priceless chalices, are still used in modern services.
Revealing York Minster is the latest stage of a programme rather confusingly title York Minster Revealed, the largest conservation and restoration project of its kind in Britain. This will be completed in 2016 when 108 restored panels are reinstalled in the Great East Window. It cost £20 million, of which £10.5 million came from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
- Admission to Revealing York Minster is included in the admission price to the cathedral, currently £10 for adults and £9 for concessions. Children get in free with a paying adult. For York residents, entrance to the Minster is free with valid identification such as a driving licence or utility bill
- The exhibition opens to the public at noon on Saturday, May 25, 2013
- More details about visiting York Minster here