Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Journey Northward

York was a priority on this year's trip because I had been told how amazing a city it is. However, I didn't realize until I got there why I would find York so amazing: there's a cathedral (and I have it in my head for some reason to try and visit as many English Cathedrals as possible. Last year's tally - three; this year's tally - two, plus Westminster, not a Cathedral, I know.); a train ride is required; and there are both Roman and Viking and medieval sites to see. 

York is such an old and complex city with many different identities:
  • Roman - called Eboracum and founded by the Romans in 71 CE, Hadrian visited, Constantine was emperor of Rome while in Eboraum, reorganized Britain into four provinces, and then died here. capital of Kingdom of Northumbria.
  • Saxon and Danish - after the Roman army had withdrawn, Eboracum became Eoforwic under the Saxons. Eoforwic was a Viking center from 867 and one of Europe's chief trading bases. 
  • Norman - William the conqueror "visited" and quelled a rebellion. The Normans also built the first minster
  • Medieval - The building of York Minster as it is and the 2.5 miles of walls and four gates that still circle the city. Between 1100 and 1500, it was England's second largest city. 
  • Victorian - Because of its strategic location, York became the center of a flourishing rail empire, resulting in wealth and a building boom in the grand Victorian style. 
Past identities are evident all over, from the foundations of St. Mary's Abbey in the York Museum Gardens to the most obvious remanent of the Romans - the Wall, which is intact in three long sections. The Norman to medieval period is evident in the Minster and the cobble-lined streets. The Shambles is lined by wooden-framed buildings that lean so far across the narrow alley that some of their roofs almost touch, truly medieval experience, thankfully without the slop, smell, and muck that would have been more appropriate for the area. The Danish heritage is evident in the street names that end in "gate,"like Stonegate, Coppergate, Castlegate, Petergate. "Gate" comes from the Danish word 'gata' meaning street or way. 

York Minster itself has a complex identity. It was built on Roman foundations, where Emperor Constantine lived. There have been 5 minsters built on this site, the first likely a wooden chapel where King Edwin of Northumbria was baptized in 627. Eventually the Normans built a structure in the 11th century, onto which the foundation for the current York Minster was built beginning in 1220 and finished 252 years later in 1472. The current York minster is the largest Gothic church north of the Alps. It also has the largest collection of medieval stained glass in Britain, some dating from  the late 12th century, which  means that the stained glass windows have sustained weather, the Reformation, Civil War, and World War II. The Great East Window is the largest area of medieval painted glass in the world, the size of a tennis court. 

The best way to see all the identities of York is by walking the Walls - Roman intersects with Victorian, medieval with Georgian. All of these identities have coalesced to make York, and England, so unique. Why not take the time to walk around and appreciate it when there are three hours before a train on the Great Railway?

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