Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Old glass, older stone and the indestructible cathedral

Shrewd businessmen have been buying naming rights and sponsorships for at least seven centuries.

The famous York Minster is proof.

Looking up at the big minster. 

In 1320, a York bell maker covered the cost of one stain glass windows in the monstrously large cathedral. The whole window is all about bell making and immortalizes the man, himself. It's the only one of the 129 stain glass windows in the minster that has nothing to do with Jesus, as our tour guide explained.

He thought this would ring in some business. 

Kind of puts a medieval spin on Pac Bell Park and the KFC Yum! Center, huh?

But just the fact that the minster exists at all seems to be a miracle for a number of reasons.

First, it was built on a Norman church dating to 1100. And its actual construction began in the 1200s and finished in 1460. Its tower is 200 feet high, so God only knows how the builders hoisted those stones into the sky -- or how many men died doing it.

Through the looking glass: A reflective glass shows me peering down in order to see all the way up to the top of the tower.

Then it burned three times. First it was by the hands of a lunatic named Jonathan Martin, who set fire to the Quire portion of the minster in 1829 because he wasn't a big fan of the church. It blazed overnight unnoticed and probably should have taken down the whole building but, by providence, it didn't.

Then in 1840, an unattended candle started another raging fire that took out the roof. It was recreated from old sketches.

The minster remained largely unscathed for nearly a century and a half before a lightning strike just about 28 years to the day ignited a massive fire on the south end. It was lucky that the rose-shaped stained glass window had just been refurbished 10 years before or it would have exploded amid the flames' heat. The lead that joins the glass bits heated up and became pliable, which afforded enough give to avoid catastrophe.

As our excellent guide explained, stained glass windows need to be refurbished every 150 years or so to replace the degraded lead and touch up the coloring of the glass. Had the lead been more than a century old at the time of the fire, it would have been rigid and caused the glass to burst.

The rose window that has survived three fires, including a direct hit. 

The minster's east window is about three stories high. It consists of 117 square stained glass windows and 160 smaller ones. The original fashioning of the east window cost £56 for the glazier's expertise -- plus materials. And the work was completed in three years. Not a bad deal at all. Plus, an aspiring archbishop paid the £56 pounds for the work and got his likeness and those of his contemporaries along the bottom row of the window. Yet another shrewd sponsorship. Unfortunately for him, though, he died before he could be named archbishop.

The rest of the window's stained glass scenes depict the alpha and the omega -- key scenes from the book of Genesis and some unhappy ones from Revelations. We saw them on a to-scale banner that has been put up while the east window and its supporting stone have been taken down for refurbishment.

A pane from the east window that hasn't been refurbished. The lead has degraded and is nearly flush with the glass. 

The project began in 2003 and won't finish until 2018 at the earliest. So clearly we'll have to come back. We saw some of the stone workers fashioning the parts of the facade. Talk about skills.

Several workers were shaping replacement stone in the yard adjacent to the Minster.

Although as ultimate proof of inflation over the last 500 years, Proof redoing the east window and facade will cost £20 million and is expected to take 15 years. Yikes. But true to form, Yorkshire businesses kicked in a combined £10 million to match a grant from the historic trust.

But this time, all a sponsoring business get is its name on a stone.

A good reporter always has a pen and notebook  handy, even on vacation.

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