Norman Religious Buildings

The Norman Minster

The religious foundations laid by the Normans are perhaps their greatest legacy. 

The last Anglo-Saxon Archbishop of York was Ealdred, who had crowned William the Conqueror at Westminster Abbey. 

After Ealdred’s death in 1070 a Norman, Thomas of Bayeux, was appointed Archbishop of York and became the single most powerful person in the city.

A New Minster

Thomas set about rebuilding the Minster, a task completed in about 1100.  Although we don’t know the exact location of the Anglo-Saxon cathedral, most probably its successor was constructed directly in front of it – the far grander Norman Minster towering over its ruined predecessor as another symbol of the Conqueror’s dominance.

Fragments of Thomas’s cathedral remain, including a carved capital which is a copy of one from a Bayeux cathedral.  This suggests that stonemasons were brought over to York from Thomas's former home town.  Sections of the first Norman Cathedral can be seen in the Minster undercroft.

...and an Abbey

Viking raids had destroyed the Anglo-Saxon monasteries of the north.  But within a few years of the Norman Conquest new ones were being founded.

With all of Yorkshire’s major landowners as benefactors, St Mary's Abbey  became the largest and richest Benedictine monastery in the north.

...and lots of Churches

Most York citizens were far more at home in their local churches and chapels than at the Minster or monasteries.  The city was well blessed with churches, with 40 recorded in Norman times.

Churches were places of worship for everyone except the Jews. More than that, as almost the only stone buildings, they were pressed into service as meeting centres, courts, schools and parish gild halls.

Religion played a major part in people’s lives.  The ever-present risk of falling into sin was reinforced by depictions of the devil in stained glass windows, wall paintings and sculpture.  The Doom Stone in the crypt of York Minster portrays various devils forcing souls through the jaws of hell.

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