York Minster | South Transept | North Transept | East End | Before York Minster


Before York Minster


There is record of a number of buildings on the site where York Minster stands, before it was built. First was a Roman fort. Then came a Norman wooded church. Next there were two versions of a Norman stone church here. Lastly they build the Minster, which still stands here to this day.


Roman Fort in York

Plenty of evidence tells us the first building here was a Roman Fortress. From remains we find the fort was about 500 metres square. Its centre was the great hall (basilica principiorum). Excavations have uncovered remains of this under the foundations of the Minster. It was here, or here abouts, that Constantine was proclaimed Emperor of Rome.


From wood to stone

Little is known about York between the Romans leaving and the Vikings. The first mention York gets around this time is from the venerable Bede. He tells us King Edward of Northumbria was baptised here in 627, after his conversion to christianity. A wooden church was quickly built here for this purpose. He also married a christian after this.


The building was rebuilt in stone shortly afterwards. This was completed by King Oswald after the death of Edward. This stone church was burnt in 1067, then rebuilt and damaged again 10 years later. No remains of this church have ever been found. All our evidence is documentation. The exact location of the Norman church is a point of debate. Some it was located North of where the Minster stands today.


The second Norman stone church on site

Excavations have given us the next church built on this site. Its builder was Thomas of Bayeux (1070 - 1100), the first Norman Arch Bishop of York. Some of its foundations are used in the present building. Thomas' church was extended and rebuilt by Archbishop Roger of Pont l'Eveque (1154 - 1181). The remains of Rogers crypt can be seen below ground level.



Acknowledgements for this article go to Sir Nikolaus Peysner and David Neave for:
The buildings of England
Yorkshire:York and the East Riding.
Published by Penguin and The Building Books Trust.