Posted on 20 May 2013
Blasted by centuries of wind and rain, eroded by atmospheric pollution and damaged by several major fires: the magnificent stonework on York Minster is in need of some serious care. As part of the York Minster Revealed Project, a team of expert stonemasons and carvers is currently hard at work recreating and replacing over 3,500 strucutural and decorative stones which have become weathered and worn in the face of prolonged exposure to North Yorkshire’s challenging environment.
Dr Kate Giles, senior lecturer in the Department and, for the last 13 years, Archaeology Research Fellow at York Minster, is a key figure in the project. As one of the country’s leading buildings archaeologists and Director of the MA in the Archaeology of Buildings, her advisory role ensures the conservation and repair work is informed by the results of collaborative research.
Where features and details have been eroded, Kate can draw on evidence from archaeological investigations, backed by a deep understanding of the fabric, to help shape debates around what form any replacement stonework should take.
Kate said: “The history of the Minster is literally written in stone. We know that the first major restoration work started in the 18th century and since then, you can trace evidence of the work carried out over the centuries. Archaeology and history have not always been an integral part of the restoration process. In the past there was a perception that archaeological investigation might delay or even prevent restoration. However, more recently the important role of archaeology in informing conservation work has been accepted. Archaeology has a crucial role to play in balancing the desire to preserve the past with an understanding that buildings have always changed and developed over time.”
The York Minster Revealed project is focusing on the building’s east front, where stonemasons and carvers are working in partnership with glaziers to restore the magnificent Great East Window, one of the greatest pre-Renaissance treasures of European art. The stained glass is the focal point of the structure. But the intricate stone carvings, around the window and on the buttresses surrounding it, are equally impressive, providing a decorative structural framework for the largest expanse of medieval stained glass in Britain.
For more information about this and other University of York projects, see the University's 50th anniversary website.
Photo credit: John Houlihan