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‘Revealing York Minster’ – The Newest and Largest Cathedral Visitor Attraction In The UK

Opening Saturday 25 May 2013

A brand new visitor attraction is set to open at York Minster on Saturday 25 May 2013, the largest set within a cathedral in the UK. ‘Revealing York Minster’ tells the story of the last 2000 years at the historic site, from the Romans to its modern day custodians.

The contemporary chambers of the Undercroft are built in a space created in emergency excavations during the 1970s which uncovered a hidden history of the site, including the remains of a Roman barracks, an Anglo-Saxon cemetery and the foundations of the Norman Minster – the forerunner of the present cathedral. The new attraction weaves the story revealed by these discoveries into an immersive and interactive journey through two millennia of York’s history, featuring artefacts never before on public display. Visitors will be able to see, touch and hear 2000 years of history.

“York Minster has stood at the heart of the city for centuries, but even before that, this site was instrumental in the growth of York, from a military barracks into a major conurbation. This means that the land upon which the cathedral now stands has been a centre – military, political, social and theological – for that whole time, influencing not only regional but national history,” comments the Dean of York, the Very Reverend Vivienne Faull. “For the first time, Revealing York Minster brings together the archaeological discoveries and the written archives – dating back to the 7th century. But this is not just a story about the past: it will provide visitors with an insight into the evolution of the city, and York Minster’s central role within that, right up to the present day with a glimpse at the people who work behind the scenes, making use of the very latest technology.”

Key aspects of York’s dramatic history covered in the new attraction include:

• The Romans (71 to approx. 410AD): from the first establishment of a barracks at the site, to Constantine the Great, who ruled the Roman Empire from York, and made Christianity the official religion of the Empire – effectively, York was the birthplace of Christianity in Europe. Newly-installed glass floors enable visitors to see some of the remaining Roman walls beneath their feet.

• The Anglian and Anglo-Saxon periods (around 410 to 866AD), which followed the withdrawal of the Romans from Britain: it is one of the least understood periods in British history but new evidence unearthed below York Minster suggests that this continued to be a thriving period for the city, with its own Royal mint and new buildings replacing Roman ones.
• The Vikings, who arrived in York in 866: in fact, it was a Viking lord called Ulf who gifted the land on which the current cathedral stands to the Chapter of York, using an elaborately carved elephant tusk as a deed of transfer. The 1000 year-old Horn of Ulf has been preserved in superb condition and forms a focal point of the underground displays.

• The late Saxon and early Norman period, when the first stone Minster was built: with the foundations of the Norman Minster still visible within the Undercroft, a fascinating illuminated manuscript known as the York Gospels will be on public display for the first time. Although nearly 1000 years old – it is thought to have been initially brought to York around 1020AD – this priceless book is still used in ceremonies in York Minster today.

• The present day, when York Minster is not only a working place of worship but regarded as cultural masterpiece inspired by faith; a 21st century Church and international icon. The modern perspective is viewed through the eyes of the people who make the building live and breathe today, incorporating a video presentation which captures the essence of a ‘day in the life of the Minster’.

The final section of the Revealing York Minster experience is the Treasury - one of the original, medieval underground chambers, which houses many of the ceremonial items collected over the centuries for use in services. Again, in any other setting, these would be priceless antiques untouched behind plate glass cases, but not here: for example, those attending key services in the cathedral today may see these priceless chalices once again filled with wine as they continue to play an important role in its life.

“As visitors wander through the attraction, they will notice that this is not simply about history made in the past – York Minster continues to make history today, and indeed, this attraction will form a new significant part of the timeline for the Minster,” adds Mark Hosea, Project Director of York Minster Revealed. “This is a place visited by kings and queens for centuries, and the work being done within the cathedral today – whether looking after worshippers or conserving priceless stained glass – ensures that time never stands still here. The process of bringing together all this information about York Minster has itself created a new legacy for future generations recorded in minute detail, whilst the conservation work taking place all around the building, on the Great East Window and on the masonry, will ensure that our grandchildren and great-grandchildren can continue to enjoy this magnificent building.”

Admission to Revealing York Minster is included in the admission price, and sits alongside The Orb, a contemporary gallery of medieval masterpieces in stained glass taken from the Great East Window, East End exhibitions on the work of the glaziers and stonemasons and, of course, the wider visit to the Minster, including free tours with superbly knowledgeable guides, and the Chapter House. The new attraction is expected to add a further hour to a visit.

Admission prices for York Minster are £10.00 for adults and £9.00 for concessions and are valid for a full 12 months. Children get in free with a paying adult. Revealing York Minster opens to the public on Saturday 25 May 2013.

Revealing York Minster is the latest part to be completed of the £20 million York Minster Revealed project, a five-year project generously supported by a £10.5 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, which incorporates the largest restoration and conservation project of its kind in the UK. The 108 restored panels from the Great East Window will be reinstalled by the summer of 2016.

For more information, please visit or call 0844 939 0011.


About York Minster Revealed

The York Minster Revealed project is a five-year project scheduled for completion in early summer 2016. It is the largest restoration and conservation project of its kind in the UK. The cost of the whole York Minster Revealed Project is £20 million, of which £10.5m has been generously supported with a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). The remainder of the fund has been raised by York Minster.

State-of-the-art multi-media galleries, new displays of historic collections and interactive interpretations will create new learning opportunities for all ages. Also improved access to the South Transept, Undercroft, Treasury and Crypt will totally transform the experience of visiting York Minster.

About the Heritage Lottery Fund

Using money raised through the National Lottery, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) aims to make a lasting difference for heritage, people and communities across the UK and help build a resilient heritage economy. From museums, parks and historic places to archaeology, natural environment and cultural traditions, we invest in every part of our diverse heritage. HLF has supported almost 35,000 projects with more than £5.3bn across the UK. For more information, please contact Katie Owen, HLF press office, on tel: 020 7591 6036/07973 613820.

For further media information or images, please contact:

Jay Commins
Tel: 01904 500698
Mob: 07810 546567

Leanne Woodhurst / Pamela Anthony
Tel: 0844 939 0014 ext 2480
Email: or

About the Undercroft

Revealing York Minster occupies both modern and medieval spaces underneath the floor of York Minster.

The Treasury (and the adjacent crypt), is the only part of York Minster which was built below ground level – and for good reason. York’s high water table and soft soil made it unsuitable for large scale excavation by the medieval architects.

Indeed, it was these two factors that eventually led to the creation of the Undercroft. The massive weight of the central tower had caused some subsidence in the group below, and a survey in the 1960s revealed that this had put the central tower at imminent risk of collapse. To remedy this, architects and engineered planned to excavate the ground underneath the Tower and underpin this with vast concrete blocks, which would provide a firm and long-term foundation for the Tower.

With a disastrous collapse looking on the horizon, excavation work had to be efficient and speedy, but the massive engineering project was successful; the tower should stand safely and without risk of collapse for many centuries to come.

The works required excavation not only of the space for the columns, but also chambers around, and passages between, the huge blocks, and it is these that provide the surprisingly-large chambers and corridors of the new attraction. The space it has left is contemporary, with visitors still able to see the concrete footings – a recent addition to York Minster’s historic timeline – alongside stones which formed the foundations of the earlier Norman Minster and even remains of the Roman barracks.

During the excavation work, two archaeologists worked round the clock to monitor the materials being brought out by the builders. Such was the urgency for the work to be completed that full priority had to be given to the builders, so the archaeologists would nip into to record data on site during tea breaks, and quickly sort through tonnes of soil as it was being removed in wheelbarrows. Although these conditions were far from ideal, it did enable the archaeologists to fill in many gaps in the site’s history, identifying roads and walls dating back to Roman times.

More recently, as part of the Revealing York Minster project, archaeologists were once again able to dig down beneath the Undercroft – albeit on a far smaller scale with just two pits – into layers of soil undisturbed by the 1970s work. Although again working to a very tight timescale due to the works schedule for the new visitor attraction, these explorations by Ian Milsted of York Archaeological Trust were far more detailed.

The 21st century excavations have shed light on periods still largely untouched by history – the Dark Ages. The very nature of building and construction during this period, which stretches from the end of the Roman Empire (410AD) until the Norman invasion (1066) means that often little remains of their homes and businesses – wooden posts and wattle walls biodegrade which makes them much harder to spot that stone or brick erections. However, evidence including Anglian (5-6th century) paving slabs and a tiny coin called a Sceatta – still in mint condition – provide fascinating insights into this unknown period.

Although the pits have now been refilled within the Undercroft, archaeologists continue to analyse the samples they found. It is unlikely that our generation will ever complete the archaeological jigsaw of this historic site, but every scrap of evidence found, from roof tiles to burial sites, contributes to our understanding of this important site at the heart of York.

Creating Revealing York Minster

Prepared by Paul Lee of Mather & Co
May 2013


The primary themes for Revealing York Minster are centred around:

• The Church of the North
As the great church of the North, York Minster has been the heart of York, Yorkshire and northern England for a thousand years.

• A Crossroads of Empires
The site beneath York Minster resonates with power and portent – here began the Roman conquest of northern Britain and the road to a Christian Europe, here Norman invaders built a new cathedral to stake their claim to the English North.

• Stone, Glass and God
The people who designed and built York Minster created a masterpiece to the glory of God – with Christian stories written in the country’s best collection of medieval stained glass and in the stones of the largest medieval gothic cathedral in Northern Europe.

• Fragility and Eternity
People have always come together to save York Minster from fire, collapse and decay, just as this living church supports people through life’s journey, from cradle to grave. Here you will find a constant conversation between the fragile and the solid, the fleeting and the eternal.

Design Objectives

• To improve visitor engagement across all target visitor groups, sustain existing visitors and broaden the Minster’s appeal, design will be as multi-sensory, participatory, pictorial and interactive as possible. This means deploying a palette of media that will appeal variously to visual, auditory, read/write and kinaesthetic learners.

• Design must ensure that all visitors have equivalent physical and intellectual access to the Minster and its story.

• Revealing York Minster is an experiential space, combining areas that evoke emotions around objects and archaeology, as well as areas that are more interactive, through:

• A use of the new ramping to physically support the unfolding interpretation in the space

• Creative use of sound and light

• Key moments of surprise and revelation

• Contemporary materials and styling

• Re-structuring and re-focusing the interpretative messages objects on display to give greater emphasis to understanding of the archaeology, to meaningful themes and to key items from the collection.

Design Points

The ‘ribbon’ is a primary interpretative tool, and is extended through into each chamber forming a key part of the visitor experience. Developed as a visual chronology device this will now be the backbone of the main Revealing York Minster interpretation. It allows primary content to be delivered through a range of mixed media. Its form and structure complement the irregular spaces of the Undercroft. It is flexible enough to flow around each space maximising void spaces and changes in gallery ceiling heights.

The ribbon begins and ends in the entrance chamber as a 3D form, starting out as a change in floor colour on the entrance stairs. Throughout Revealing York Minster it flows as a continual form around each space providing a constant point of reference for the visitor. As an interpretative tool its role is to carry the main narrative in small manageable sections throughout the six chambers of the Undercroft. It is a key part of the visitor experience. It is primarily graphic in treatment but includes sections of interactivity, media and Audio Visual, objects, textures and imagery. It uses the floor, ceiling and walls to move through each chamber touching down in key areas as monolithic graphics, seating or interactive tables.

It is flexible enough to flow around each space maximising void spaces and changes in gallery floor and ceiling heights. The change in height of the ramp means that in some instances this ledge creates a wider sense of space, in particular chamber 1 and 6. The ribbon uses the space effectively whilst allowing them still to be read architecturally. The use of the ribbon structure also reduces the number of permanent structures required for graphics and partitions in each chamber maximising the sense of space and open vistas.

The graphical approach in these spaces is more immersive than a regular series of panels with traditional hierarchy of information. The use of large scale typography, line artwork and applied images provide areas of focus and the change of scale creates areas of drama or intimacy.

The Chambers are lit with a low level of light to create an immersive and atmospheric experience. Chambers 1 – 3 in particular will benefit from this where archaeology can be properly lit and picked out. The Ribbon and adjacent interactive stations or displays will have direct lighting but it expected that the rest of the space will be unlit relying on reflected ambient light for circulation and ambience.

Areas are provided off the main flow where visitors can slow down and spend more time investigating the different layers of interpretations. Generally these areas include some seating, and a range of media including hands on interactives, multimedia and AV.

Ramped floor makes the Undercroft accessible to non-ambulant visitors for first time. This is an architect creation however which changes the perspectives of the spaces and makes for some interesting design challenges.

The visitor experience is completely remodelled to tell a much more compelling story both around these remains and around York Minster’s extensive collections – archaeological, architectural, liturgical and social-historical.

Visitor Journey

Chamber E – Threat of Collapse
This is the main circulation area with people entering and exiting, as a result there is minimal interpretation in first part. Second part explores how the Undercroft came to be, highlighting the damage being caused by subsidence in the 1960’s. A simple AV installation along the ribbon recreates some of the urgent concerns and importance at the time to rectify the problems and save the Minster from collapse.

Chamber 1 – Rescued and Revealed
The Undercroft is made up of spaces around the bases of York Minster’s central tower. The spaces were created when the tower bases were reinforced with concrete between 1967 and1972. This reinforcement was undertaken as a result of the discovery of serious structural problems. Here visitors are shown how York Minster was saved from collapse and the important unexpected discoveries that were made whilst strengthening the foundations. Chamber 1 is the space where the various layers of archaeology and the masses of concrete are explained so that visitors have these as references when they explore the other chambers later on.

A glass section in the floor allows the remains of the Roman fort to be seen. Interactives help explain the different building phases unearthed during the excavations. From one vista you can see four major building developments on the site over the last 2000 years.

Chamber 2 – A crossroads of Empires
Chamber 2 begins to explore the early physical developments on the site before the completion of the current Gothic masterpiece. Starting with the heart of the Roman fort, the displays chart the Roman camps creation (and subsequent decline) before telling the story of the ‘Lost’ Saxon Minster. Chamber 2 has the largest section of Roman remains still standing in the Undercroft along with an original section of Roman Wall plaster and working drain.

This chamber is object rich highlighting the collection of material unearthed just from the 1960’s excavations. The use of interaction and AV help bring to life the story of the physical development of the site as well as show glimpses of what life would have been like for soldiers based here.

3D computer reconstructions take visitors from their standing point and fly them around the huge sprawling complex, the layout of which can be seen in the modern streets of York today.
Chamber 2 also tells the story of Constantine who was proclaimed Emperor here in York. His proclamation signified the end of the persecution of Christians and encouraged the growth of Christianity across the Roman Empire. The story began right here.

Key objects here include the Chi-Rho tile, a Roman symbol scribed by hand onto a tile and the Horn of Ulph. The horn was a symbol of promise of grants of land to the Minster handed over in the Saxon period.

Chamber 3 – The Church of the North
The creation of the Norman Minster in York symbolises the impact the Norman invasion of England had. It was not only the biggest church but also the biggest building in England at the time. Chamber 3a charts the development of this huge building cutting right across the Roman foundations.

Chamber 3 has the most physical evidence of the Norman Minster in its archaeology along with signs of the development and subsequent building phases which followed resulting in the Gothic building we see today. Evidence can still be seen on what would have been the outer walls of the white plaster and decoration.

Chamber 3b shows the creation of the Gothic masterpiece and explains through 3D models and interactives how and in what sequence. Key objects include the Tree of Jesse, an original piece of stained glass form the Norman Church. Located in Chamber 3b a recreated section of a Norman Door Jamb reveals a small glimpse of the fine detail the original church must have had.

Chamber 4 – Lives through the Minster
York Minster is a living, working church. Chamber 4 tells the stories of everyone who plays a part in the spiritual, governing, running, development and upkeep of the building. Who are the people who form its past and present life? What do objects - many still used today - tell us about their lives within these ancient stones?

Chamber 4 now has a people focus to the narrative. Objects dominate this gallery. Two large cases house a variety of people-based collections creating a stunning and diverse range of stories. Integrated media and interactivity help bring some of these objects to life through sensory exploration, visual and music. Located in the middle of the space a large touch table explores the close integration of all the different ‘users’ of the building helping to show that without any of them playing their part, the building would begin to fall down. The interactive table allows visitors the chance to engage with real people as well as collections. York Minster and its people are represented now through a collection of objects interpreted using liquid labels, interactives and graphic imagery. The table can be converted into a resource handling area for school groups increasing flexibility and use of space.

Chamber 5 – Fragility and Continuity, 2000 Years of change and continuity
Using the York Gospels as a powerful symbol of continuity, Chamber 5 celebrates York Minster as a Living Church, a place of people. The book is a 1,000 years old and has survived wars, fires and the ravages of time. It is still used in the Minster today. This chamber also has a section of Roman fort still visible and it is this juxtaposition which demonstrates this continual presence. The foundations surrounding Chamber 5 are part of the main central tower and will continue to support it 1,000 years from now.

The positioning of the book at the end of the long passageway creates a sense of importance and it is the only thing in the visitors view as they leave Chamber 4. Media touch screens allow the book to be explored in detail. Once visitors move past the book the rest of the Chamber opens out to celebrate York Minster using graphics and stunning imagery.

Chamber 6 – Revealing York Minster
Chamber 6 is an AV theatre with tiered seating providing a space where up to 35 visitors can gather and immerse themselves in the stunning imagery created by three short AV films. Running as a continual loop each film shows York Minster in a different light, from a behind the scenes look at the building, through to a ‘day in the life’. The Constantine story takes visitors back 1,700 years to the turning point of Christianity.

A changing exhibition space, the Treasury is home to a large proportion of the Minster collections. Told through theme based displays these objects are presented in new high quality showcases configured to give a great sense of space to the room.

For further media information or images, please contact:

Jay Commins
Tel: 01904 500698
Mob: 07810 546567

Leanne Woodhurst / Pamela Anthony
Tel: 0844 939 0014 ext 2480
Email: or