The arrival of the epic York Mystery Plays to the Museum Gardens has this year brought an age old story back into the forefront of the public imagination. A tale from creation to Christ’s resurrection, it tracks what many regard as ‘the greatest story ever told’. Yet, just a stone’s throw from the thronging audiences of the Mystery Plays, a stunning visual depiction of the very same story is being re-crafted into York Minster.
As part of the £10.5m York Minster Revealed Scheme, the largest expanse of medieval stained glass in Britain, York’s Minster Great East window has been treated to a fabulous make-over that will see its immense depiction of the apocalypse light up the Minster once more. And expert from the York Glaziers Trust who are working on the window have now announced that they have completed conservation on half of its panels, each of which tell a very unique and stunning story.
The window was designed by one of the ‘grand masters’ of glass art, John Thornton, who was invited to York from his native Coventry to complete one of the fifteenth century’s most prestigious commissions in a city already known for its exceptional glass-making. Beginning the work in 1405, John and his team of artists worked meticulously and tirelessly on the 311 panels of the window, hand painting many of them himself. Three years later, the window was completed and John was paid £56 for his involvement along with a £10 bonus for completing the work on time.
Now the wonder of that first unveiling is hopefully to be recaptured once more when the curtain is publicly raised on the conserved window in 2016. In the meantime, glimpses of the window’s progress can be caught later this year as a new state-of-the-art exhibition space, The Orb, is installed in York Minster’s East End where some of the completed panels will be on full display.
Sarah Brown, Director of York Glaziers Trust, said: “This is a significant landmark in the restoration project, as each of the 108 panels require painstaking research, documentation, examination, conservation and repair of the many thousands of components that make up this incredible glass masterpiece”.
She added: “Each panel is a work of art in its own right, each piece painted with the skills of a Van Eyck or a Vermeer, with an amazing delicacy that can now be fully appreciated as we look at the panels up close.”
Visitors to York Minster can see a nearly life-size replica of the window hanging in its place at the moment, and watch conservators of the York Glaziers Trust at work on tours of the Bedern Glaziers Studio each Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 2.00pm. Tours can be prebooked online at Minster Box Office and cost £7.50 per person.