Up to York
Another early Saturday morning on the bus with the international students. This time we were off to York, some three hours along the motorways up from Warwick. There's tons to see in this ancient place, once the leading city of England's north, but we had only so much of the day (and even less daylight). Through the winding, shadowed streets, we made our way to York Minster, the archbishop's seat and, we're told, the largest medieval gothic cathedral in northern Europe.
We walked along the top of a section of the medieval city wall and circled the great cathedral and its close buildings. White, timbered St. William's College once housed a whole company of priests whose task was to say prayers for departed souls in the cathedral chapels. Now it's a "conference centre" with a small restaurant, and we found it hosting a fair for Yorkshire craft merchants. Kerry found a very nice-looking scarf, and we both admired the timbered halls.
Inside the cathedral was another story. It's magnificent, of course, but what struck me was how different its appeal is from that of King's College Chapel, a gem of gothic perfection. There's also a unity of period style to York Minster, at least the existing structure (compared to, say, Winchester, with its romanesque transepts joined to the later nave). But the huge, complicated old Minster shows the accumulated layers of refurbishing and rebuilding — details crumble away, foundation work requires excavations, and fires break out every few decades. Masons and carvers are toiling away at it. Curiously enough, for a centuries-old building, it has the feel of a work in progress.
We spent a long time exploring the place. It's really spacious, because the nave is so wide -- apparently stone vaults reaching all the way across would have been too heavy, so the ceiling is timbered. The octagonal chapter house, each side trimmed in fine carvings, is a gem in its own right. But the Minster's truly stunning feature has to be its gigantic windows of original stained glass (or even older grisaille glass). As the setting sun hit the south transept, we saw the rose and its neighboring windows all light up. It was a kind of visual hymn, sung in colors of faith.
There's also a whole separate realm underneath the cathedral, where excavations turned up the remains of the basilica of Roman York, and new extensions to the crypt are filled with exhibits of Viking tombstones and medieval silver. Basically, we spent the day at the Minster, and I could have stayed a good deal longer. We did, however, leave plenty of time for cream tea at the small tea room run by Betty's, one of York's claims to fame and, I'd say, an ornament of civilization. The coal burned brightly in the fireplace, the "tea room blend" was flavorful, and the sandwiches, scones, and Yorkshire clotted cream were all totally scrumptious.
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