York is a great city to visit. Vibrant, with many ancient and modern attractions, it is easy to while away a week within the city walls, as well as walking on top of them too. The Romans spent some time here after CE 71, naming the town Eboracum. Then the Vikings, who invaded in CE 866, left a strong impression: they named the place Yorvik and left a street plan that still survives today.¹ The Christians left their beautiful small churches and a notable cathedral, the York Minster, which dominates the townscape, its ethereal steeples, like medieval skyscrapers, are markers for the lost.
The interior of the Minster is vast and requires a few return visits. Fortunately, the entrance ticket lasts for one year. You may need binoculars to look at the detail in the stained glass windows, most of which have stories to tell, such as the famous Rose Window, with its combination of red and white roses alluding to the union of the Houses of Lancaster and York by the marriage of Henry VII to Elizabeth of York. ²
Attending Evensong at the Minster, which is held most evenings at 5.15, makes this vast space more meaningful. During August and school holidays, visiting choirs take the place of the regular choir to sing at Evensong. The ritual during Evensong is quite formal and follows the Anglo-Catholic service. During our visit, while trying to stay unaffected by the religious elements that were stark reminders of a discarded childhood indoctrination, I was, nevertheless, anticipating a musical thrill, that quintessential shiver when a piece of performed music enters the soul. During the performance of ‘And I Saw a New Heaven’ ³, just as the conductor, a black caped Harry Potter figure with a shock of grey hair, swayed ecstatically as the choir and pipe organ consummated in heavenly sound, I briefly went to that new heaven. This piece of music is not your typical earworm for a fun holiday abroad, but nevertheless, it’s a moving one and will now always be associated with York. The piece is included below.
And I Saw a New Heaven, by Edgar Bainton