Medieval Gothic churches are like books. Stone, pointed arches, and flying buttresses form the spine and cover, which contain “pages” of stained glass windows telling the story of God’s love for us in Christ, This pane from a much larger window at Chartres tells part of the story of the Good Samaritan.
York Cathedral in England was the first Medieval Gothic “Book” I ever stood in and therefore, holds a special place in my heart. I will always remember seeing the tall stone towers soaring above me as we approached and the strong stones holding it all up.
Once in the nave I tilted my head back and back so my eyes could travel up slender columns past pointed arches, and clerestory windows to the ribbed vault high above me. All around me “pages” of blue, red, and yellow stained glass sparkled in the light streaming through. And yes, even though it was England, it was sunny!
Each cathedral is as individual as the people who built it, but York has two features that make it a great cathedral to focus on for Valentine’s Day.
1. Not only is York a cathedral because it has the chair or cathedra from which its archbishop speaks authoritatively or ex cathedra but it’s also a Minster and is more commonly called York Minster. Minster is the old Saxon word for missionary church.
There’s been a minster on this site, bringing the light of God’s love to pagan peoples for over 1400 years. You can still see columns and foundation stones from earlier churches in the undercroft and ruins of the Roman headquarters and barracks for this region lie farther down.
God’s love shines through the stories in the glass and also continues through the many people from this region who ministered to others in unique ways. Here are just a few people God inspired to be minsters of gospel light.
There was Constantine, not even a Christian when his legions proclaimed him emperor at York. But God used him and gave him a dream for his soldiers to put the Chi Rho symbol for Christ on their shields. Constantine won a decisive battle outside Rome, and as emperor, legalized Christianity in 313. He was later himself baptized.
There was Ethelbrugh and the courage God gave this Christian princess, to come from southern England to marry a pagan Saxon king in York in the 600s and help bring him to faith.
There was Ulf, and the redemption God gave him and other Christian descendants of pagan Vikings who had earlier conquered this region. Ulf gave a 3 foot long carved elephant tusk drinking horn to York Minster in the late 11th century as a pledge for land to help support the minster. The horn is still part of York’s treasury.
I especially want to tell about Alcuin, a Christian scholar, writer, and head of the York cathedral school and its library. In the 700s God took Alcuin to Charlemagne’s court to advise the emperor on religious and educational matters.
Alcuin set up schools and libraries throughout the empire and worked to revise and standardize the Bible and preserve other ancient writings.
He introduced lower case letters, spaces between words, and punctuation– making it much easier for people to learn to read. He wrote poems, textbooks, essays, and hundreds of letters.
And he mentored younger writers as shown in the photo above.
2. Gothic churches usually have rose windows, but York Minster has a unique stained glass window, completed in the 1300s, that for me symbolizes that God is at the heart of all these stories, the bibical ones in the stained glass and the continuing story of God’s people who minister in His name.
May this window remind us each of us is part of His Story as we shine the light of Christ’s love into a dark world wherever we live and work.