£11.5m restoration of York Minster’s Great East Window complete

by Laura

For the first time in a decade, the country’s largest single expanse of medieval stained glass is again complete following one of the largest conservation and restoration projects of its kind in Europe.

The final panel in York Minster’s 600-year-old Great East Window has been returned to the world-famous masterpiece, 10 years after all 311 panels were removed by York Glaziers Trust.

The £11.5m project also included extensive work by York Minster’s stonemasons to repair and replace hundreds of stones at the cathedral’s East End, which houses the window.

The project has used pioneering technology alongside traditional craft-skills, with the cathedral becoming the first building in the UK to install state-of-the-art, UV resistant external glazing to protect the priceless stained glass. It remains the largest world-wide use to date of the revolutionary protective material.

Trust director Sarah Brown said it had been a once in a lifetime project for the team. “The Great East Window is one of the great artistic achievements of the Middle Ages, a stunning expanse of stained glass of unparalleled size and beauty in Britain,” she said, adding that the work would ensure the masterpiece was preserved for hundreds of years to come.

The Dean of York, The Very Reverend Vivienne Faull, said: “It’s a triumph to have the Great East Window complete once again.” She said the completion marked the start of a multi-million pound campaign in partnership with the York Minster Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to provide state-of-the-art protective glazing to all 128 of the cathedral’s medieval stained glass windows over the next 20 years.

She said this would stop the corrosion and decay caused by the glass being exposed to the elements, buying time for conservation work to preserve it for generations to come.

The spokeswoman said scaffolding will be removed over the next few months followed by extensive cleaning, before a celebration to formally mark the completion of the project in May. The Lady Chapel at the foot of the window will then once again be used for worship.

The window was created between 1405 and 1408 by Master Glazier John Thornton, who was paid £56 by the Chapter of York. As the cost of materials and the wages for the other craftsmen involved in making the window under Thornton’s direction is unrecorded, the overall cost of the window is unknown. It is however a work of enormous ambition, depicting the beginning and end of all things from the book of Genesis to the book of Revelation, known in the Middle Ages as the Apocalypse.

Work to restore the window originally started in 2005, when the East End and Great East Window were covered in 16 miles of scaffolding so stonemasons and conservators could assess the condition of the 14th century stonework.

Centuries of exposure to the elements had left the stone so badly weathered that the window had begun to bow. The size of the task prompted a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund, which in turn led to York Minster Revealed – a five year, £18m project generously supported by a £9m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, matched by funding from the York Minster Fund and the Chapter of York.

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