The landscape of York is dominated by a Gothic masterpiece: the grand cathedral that is York Minster, seat of the Archbishop of York – the third most senior position in the Church of England after the Queen and the Archbishop of Canterbury. The foundations were laid around 1220, but the first church on this site appeared in the early seventh century, and York has been the heart of Christianity in the north of England ever since.
The city’s religious roots trace back further still: it was here in AD 306, when York was a Roman settlement known as Eboracum, that Constantine the Great was declared Western Emperor by his soldiers. He went on to legalise Chritianity across the Roman Empire, and converted to the faith on his deathbed in AD 312. The site on which the minster now stands was once home to a Roman basilica – the ceremonial centre of a former fortress – and its remains can be seen in the minster’s undercroft.
York’s first church was built in AD 627, when King Edwin of Northumbria converted to Christianity. A wooden church was quickly constructed for his baptism and, in AD 633, began to be replaced with a church of stone. It burnt down in AD 741, was rebuilt once more, then was damaged in 1069 during the Harrying of the North – a series of campaigns instigated by William the Conqueror to suppress his opponents and establish his dominance across England.
In 1215, work began on the current cathedral. Envisioned as a rival to Canterbury, it took more than 250 years to complete and was consecrated in 1472. It is the second-largest Gothic cathedral in Europe and features the widest Gothic nave in England.
Much of the minster’s stained glass was removed during the two World Wars in case of bombing