Anglo Saxon

The First Minster

Image from the glass of York Minster. The middle figure is Ecgbert, the first Archbishop of York (732-766)

627AD - 640AD

By the beginning of the 5th century the Roman forces had withdrawn from Britain to defend the heart of the Empire and York was left open to attack from the Picts and the Saxons.  The stones of the fortress were dug up and reused in new buildings, and Christianity once again became unpopular, with the ruling kings preferring the Pagan gods.

However, in 627, King Edwin of Deira, who was in control of York, married the Christian princess Ethelburga of Kent.   As part of the marriage agreement, Ethelburga persuaded her new husband to convert to Christianity.  Ethelburga’s priest, Paulinus, was sent North with Ethelburga to baptise Edwin.

A small wooden church was built for the baptism.  This church is thought to be the first one built in the area of the current Minster, so it's often considered  to be 'the first Minster'.  Only churches that have their origins in the Saxon period are referred to as ‘Minsters’.

After the baptism on Easter Day 627, Edwin ordered the wooden church to be replaced with a more substantial stone structure.  Edwin never saw the completed stone church as he was killed in battle in 633.  Paulinus accompanied Ethelburga and her children back to Kent, leaving Oswald to complete the church.  The church is thought to have been finished by c.640 and was dedicated to St Peter.  However, the building soon fell into disrepair.  Wilfrid set about repairs in 669, glazing the windows for the first time and leading the roof.  He also established a school and library. 

In 732, the papal pallium finally arrived in York.  This is the sign from the Pope that enables the Bishop to call himself an Archbishop.  Ecgbert was therefore the first Archbishop of York.  Ecgbert continued to expand and develop both the school and library, making York a centre for learning.

In 741 the first stone church burnt to the ground and Ecgbert set about building a lofty structure with a panelled ceiling supported by columns with rounded arches between them.  The church is said to have housed 30 altars.


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