Restoring York Minster’s medieval masterpiece

We’re playing a major role in one of the country’s largest conservation and restoration projects at York Minster.

Painstaking stained glass preservation work in progress (Credit: John Houlihan)

York Minster’s East front

Researchers from our Departments of Archaeology and History of Art are sharing their expertise in stonework and stained glass conservation, to help restore York Minster's Great East Window.

The Minster’s East front is a masterpiece of stained-glass and stone. Its Great East Window is the largest expanse of medieval stained glass in Britain and has been hailed as England’s 'Sistine Chapel' and one of the greatest pre-Renaissance treasures of European art.

Working as part of the £10.5m York Minster Revealed project, we’re helping ensure the Minster’s East front inspires for centuries to come.

The stonework

Dr Kate Giles, senior lecturer in the Department of Archaeology, is working with stonemasons at the Minster to ensure the conservation and repair work is informed by the results of collaborative research.

A team of stonemasons and carvers is recreating and replacing over 3,500 of the Minster’s structural and decorative stones, which have been weathered.

Where features and details have been eroded, Dr Giles draws on evidence from archaeological investigations to help shape debates around what form any replacement stonework should take.

Dr Giles, who is working closely on the project with Minster archaeologist and honorary fellow of the University, Stuart Harrison, has been Archaeology Research Fellow at York Minster for 13 years. She is one of the country’s leading buildings archaeologists and Director of the MA in the Archaeology of Buildings.

“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,” she said.

The Great East Window

In her capacity as Director of the York Glaziers Trust (YGT) Sarah Brown, who is also senior lecturer in York's Department of History of Art , is helping preserve the largest expanse of medieval glass in Britain – the Great East Window.

A 311 panel masterpiece by Coventry glazier John Thornton, the window depicts the biblical cycles from Creation to Apocalypse as described in Genesis and the Book of Revelation.

Brown is overseeing the painstaking work to restore each of the window panels by the YGT, supported by an art-historical researcher, Laura Tempest, employed through the University’s collaboration with the Minster.

An international expert in stain glass windows conservation and Director of York’s MA course in Stained Glass Conservation and Heritage Management, Sarah Brown said: “For the first time since its creation, over six hundred years ago, this medieval masterpiece has been subjected to scholarly scrutiny as never before. Each panel is the subject of a meticulously researched art historical dossier, while in the conservation studio each piece of glass is subjected to a forensic examination. The results are shared with our East Window Advisory group, which includes University of York Professors Tim Ayers, Richard Marks and Christopher Norton. Working together, final decisions are made on a panel by panel basis. It has shed new light on this astonishing window."

Apocalypse - The Great East Window of York Minster

Sarah Brown has documented her involvement in the Minster project in her book - Apocalypse The Great East Window of York Minster. She describes how art historians from the University of York and stained glass conservators at YGT have worked with partners at the Minster to plan, fund and execute one of Europe’s largest and most complex conservation projects.

For the first time, the book reproduces every Apocalypse panel from the window in full colour, accompanied by expert commentary.


The Heritage Lottery funded York Minster Revealed project is due for completion in March 2016.

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For the first time since its creation, over six hundred years ago, this medieval master-piece has been subjected to scholarly scrutiny as never before.”

Sarah Brown
Department of History of Art
Featured researcher
Dr Kate Giles

Dr Kate Giles

Senior Lecturer in the Department of Archaeology

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Featured researcher
Sarah Brown

Sarah Brown

Director of the York Glaziers Trust and Senior Lecturer in the Department of History of Art

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