Discover new Monarchy Exhibition at York Minster after King Charles' Recent Visit
Having just hosted King Charles III for his first Royal Maundy Service and now sharing its centuries-old connections with the monarchy through a new exhibition, where better to celebrate the Coronation?
‘It was absolutely spectacular. Such a special day,’ recalls Helen Rawson, head of collections and interpretation at York Minster. ‘During the service, the King gave to the recipients two purses – a red purse which contained [two commemorative coins, symbolising] a nominal amount for clothing and provisions and a white purse containing the Maundy coins – that added up to as many as the sovereign’s age. The Maundy is actually legal tender but I’m quite sure people won’t be using it as that and will be keeping it safe. It was such a special event to honour those people and such a privilege for the Minster for King Charles to visit so early in his reign. I think it shows the affection he holds for York as a city and the people in the North of England. There was a great crowd on the day and a very warm and welcoming atmosphere.’
The museum, the library and the archives at York Minster hold around 300,000 items, some of which date back 1,000 years, including such treasures as the York Gospels and The Horn of Ulf (an 11th century carved elephant's tusk presented to the Minster by a Viking nobleman). Current exhibitions include Light, Glass & Stone: Conserving the St Cuthbert Window, which tells the story of one of Northern England’s most significant saints, and Sculpting the Sovereign, which offers a behind the scenes look at the making of the recently unveiled statue of Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (which you can read more about at livingnorth.com). But Helen is keen to tell Living North more about a new exhibition Majesty: Monarchy and York Minster.
This new exhibition, which is running until October, explores the cathedral’s connections with the monarchy in celebration of the Coronation of King Charles III. ‘York Minster was founded in 627AD, really through the influence of Queen Ethelburga of Kent who was a Christian Princess who married King Edwin,’ Helen explains. ‘York Minster was established on Easter Day when a little wooden church was built for Edwin’s baptism as he converted to the Christian faith. St Hilda was baptised at the same time and of course later became the famous founding abbess of the monastery at Whitby. Since then, we’ve had really far-reaching royal connections.’
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From a Minster police truncheon with royal arms to the Great Seal of Queen Anne used to authenticate important documents, there are plenty of fascinating objects in the exhibition, but there’s a particular focus on kings called Charles. ‘We have a Bible which was bought by York Minster with money given by Charles I and it’s absolutely spectacular. The Bible and its companion, the Book of Common Prayer, between them have 1.5kg of silver on their red velvet covers. We also have on display a Bible from 1660 from the reign of Charles II, bought by York Minster after the restoration of the monarchy as a show of loyalty by the Minster. We also have a beautiful portrait of King Charles II from the pardon issued to Thomas Strangeways of Pickering Lythe. He’d served in the Parliamentarian cavalry under Oliver Cromwell and after the restoration he sought a specific pardon from the new king for his actions.’
The exhibition also displays the ‘Coronation Chair’ of York Minster. ‘By centuries of legends, this is said to be the chair on which Anglo Saxon kings were crowned, but unfortunately it only dates from around 1400 so that may not actually be the case,’ Helen reveals. ‘It has been used for the enthronement of archbishops in the past though, and it was in fact so important to the Minster that in the fire of 1829 it was one of the things that people went into the building to save. It was carried out actually ablaze, we’re told, and although it’s been recovered in velvet since then, underneath there are char marks from the fire.
I really like the gown that was worn at the Coronation of the George III by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Secker. It was given to us by one of the Archbishop’s descendants and it’s just so special to have something that was such a key part of the Coronation. It’s glorious pink and green silk, spectacularly decorated with flowers and foliage and it hints at the splendour and the majesty of the ceremony and the excitement around a Coronation.’
And, although they haven’t been able to display any of the Maundy money from the most recent service, there is Maundy money from previous services on display. ‘Queen Elizabeth II performed the Royal Maundy in 1972 and again in 2012 and we’ve got some examples of the Maundy money on display from 2012, with some on loan from the family of Alf Patrick, a local man and former footballer for York City FC,’ says Helen. ‘We also have the distinguished visitors’ book on display showing the signatures of Queen Elizabeth’s visit in 1972. Our current King, then Prince of Wales, had visited a year earlier to look at the restoration work that was being done when the central tower was at risk of collapse. It was a major engineering project to stabilise that and he met the engineers and archeologists. His signature from this visit appears above his mother’s on the same page. It’s really lovely to be able to display that.’
‘We’ve got things that represent big events in history, but also the nice personal stories and I think it’s that combination that makes it so special and so unique to York Minster, to York and to the people of York’
As the head of the Church of England, the monarch has always had an influential role in the church and Helen believes this exhibition is a real celebration not only of the monarchy but also of British history. ‘There are so many meaningful events captured in the items we have on display. We move through the Reformation onto the Civil War period and then onto the Victorian period. We’ve got on display some really beautiful Chinese silk which the Emperor of China gave Queen Victoria on her wedding day in 1840. We believe it was hanging in the royal bed chamber and then it was displayed at the Royal School of Needlework and the Dean of York about a century later saw it, purchased it and had it made into vestments. We’ve got things that really represent big events in history, but also the really nice personal stories and I think it’s that combination that makes it so special and so unique to York Minster, to York and to the people of York.’
Visitors can also try on robes, bear a crown and sceptre, and pose for a photograph showing off their best royal wave with a toy corgi, before sharing their wishes for the Coronation year on a crown-shaped tag.
While the exhibition runs until October, York Minster will mark the Coronation of His Majesty King Charles III with worship, music and exhibitions. On 5th May, a special evensong service will take place and on Coronation Day the Minster will be open for worship and sightseeing as usual – a great time to visit the Monarchy exhibition. On 7th May, Holy Communion will be followed by Ring for the King. You’re invited to head to Dean’s Park to hear the bell ringers attempt a celebratory quarter peal. They’ll ring a minimum of 1,250 changes which will last around an hour. This leads up to the Full Peal Attempt the following day – consisting of more than 5,000 changes rung non-stop without any change being repeated (it will take around four hours to complete).
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‘It’s so nice for our local community, and Britain as a whole, but we also get so many international visitors and it’s really lovely that we can celebrate and share our history’
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As part of the Coronation celebrations, thousands of organisations across the country will come together to take part in The Big Help Out, the national charity campaign which will be encouraging everyone to have a go at volunteering. York Minster itself relies on the support of its volunteers and information about volunteering will be available during the day or online.
‘Come and visit the Minster,’ Helen says. ‘It’s free to residents of York and £16 for adults – and tickets last all year. That includes access to all the exhibitions, the Chapter House, the Quire, The Undercroft Museum, The Crypt, The Tomb of St William, and people can choose to additionally book Tower Tours. The really nice thing about York Minster is that people come for so many reasons; they might come for a place of worship, or the spectacular stained glass, the long history or the beautiful gardens – it’s just such a special place for so many people for so many reasons and we want to give that warm welcome to everyone who visits. It’s so nice for our local community, and Britain as a whole, but we also get so many international visitors and it’s really lovely that we can celebrate and share our history across the world.’