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A five-year, £5m project to conserve the medieval St Cuthbert Window, which is one of the largest surviving narrative windows in the world, and the stonework of its surrounding Transept has started at York Minster.
Experts from York Glaziers Trust have begun to remove all 152 stained glass panels from the window, which tells the story of the life and miracles of one of Northern England’s most significant saints.
The removal of the glass is the first phase of work in the conservation project and needs to be completed to allow the Minster’s stonemasons to carry out urgent work to replace and repair eroded and decaying masonry.
The stained glass panels, which are nearly 600-years-old, will undergo painstaking cleaning and repair by the Trust’s conservators, with a selection going on display inside the cathedral as part of a new exhibition – Light, Glass & Stone: Conserving the St Cuthbert Window – opening in June.
Alex McCallion, Director of Works and Precinct at York Minster, said: “The St Cuthbert Window is one of the three great windows in the Minster’s East End alongside the St William and Great East Windows, both of which have undergone major conservation and restoration projects in the last two decades.
“Now, after centuries of exposure to the elements, the stonework of the window and South East Transept in which it sits has eroded and decayed in places and needs urgent attention.
“The removal of the stained glass will allow a thorough inspection of the masonry to be undertaken, before we start the programme of stone work which includes dismantling and rebuilding two huge supporting buttresses, repairs to the window’s tracery and the carving of new grotesques.”
Professor Sarah Brown, Director of York Glaziers Trust, explained: “The window dates from around 1440 and is a rare surviving example of a medieval narrative window, telling the story of St Cuthbert’s life on a monumental scale.
“The essential repair of the stone of the South East Transept has created a once in a lifetime opportunity to conserve the window, which was last restored following the Second World War.
“The team’s work will include intricate cleaning and repairs to the glass and the lead matrix before it is returned to the window with state-of-the-art protective glazing. This will replace external quarry glazing installed in the 1930s and provide a barrier between the medieval glass and the elements to ensure its survival for generations to come.”
St Cuthbert was an Anglo-Saxon monk and bishop of Lindisfarne who lived between c.634 and 687 and was renowned for his good works and miracles, which made him for many centuries the most important saint in northern England.
To help visitors explore his story and the conservation project, a new exhibition will open at the cathedral next month and run until 2024. Light, Glass & Stone: Conserving the St Cuthbert Window will give visitors the rare opportunity to see at close range a selection of stained glass panels from the window.
The exhibition is part of a series of activities at the cathedral to mark the start of the conservation project. Two talks in July and September by renowned experts Dr Katharine Harrison and Professor Sarah Brown will offer the opportunity to explore the window in more detail, including its history and significance, and to learn more about the conservation project. For full details visit www.yorkminster.org/whats-on.
A fundraising campaign for the conservation project is ongoing, and people can support the work by adopting a piece of the window’s stained glass. St Cuthbert Window Adoption Packs are available from the York Minster Shops inside the cathedral and at Minster Gates or online at shop.yorkminster.org.
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