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York Minster

There has been a church on the site of York Minster since the seventh century. The first church was a wooden structure built for the baptism of King Edwin of Northumbria. Throughout the Saxon and Viking ages, from the Roman withdrawal to the Norman invasion in 1066, York was a centre of power in northern England. In the tenth century during the rule of King Edmund, the Archbishop of York, and his counterpart in Canterbury decided that England would be best organised in two halves. The north would be centred on York, York Minster symbolising this power base. The church was destroyed and rebuilt a number of times. In 1075 it was burnt down by Danes, and then rebuilt in the Norman style in 1080. Then when Walter de Gray became Archbishop of York in 1215 he ordered rebuilding in a fashionable Gothic style. The result was one of the biggest Gothic cathedrals in Europe.








View from the top of York Minster tower

York Minster has a long history of religion and tradition. Ironically York minster was also, in the late eighteenth century, the site of a revolutionary leap forward in the history of science. In the 1790s a mining surveyor named William Smith was observing through his work how rock sits in layers, and how different layers possess characteristic fossils. He began to think that rock layers, or strata, were formed at different times, and might provide a record of earth history. Unless land had been disturbed by violent geological forces, rock layers would become progressively older the deeper they sat in the earth. It was the view provided by York Minster tower that finally allowed Smith to confirm this theory. Looking out from the tower in 1794 he realised that British rocks are tipped towards the south east. Forces of erosion would generally flatten out this tipped landscape, revealing older rocks in raised western areas and younger rocks in lower land in the east. Smith could see a great swathe of land from the top of York Minster tower, and with his geological knowledge, he realised the rocks were getting older as he looked northwest. Smith then went on to create the first geological map of Britain which was finally published in 1815. It is a great irony of history that a cathedral tower, an expression of a school of thought which saw the world as unchanging, should provide the view that allowed William Smith to confirm that the world is changing all the time.

York Minster was one of the locations used during the filming of Elizabeth.



Address: York Minster, Church House, Ogleforth, York YO1 7JN.

Opening Times: Please use contact details below.

Directions: York Minster is in the centre of York close to the A19. Click here for an interactive map centred on York Minster.

Access: Wheelchair access to the Cathedral is good, but there is no access to the tower. There is a Touch and Hearing Centre, and a Braille guide.


telephone: 0844 939 0011

fax: 01904 557201


web site:



William Smith's geological map of Britain






©2006 InfoBritain (updated 02/13)