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new exhibition exploring York Minster’s medieval St Cuthbert Window, which is nearly 600 years old and one of the largest surviving narrative windows in the world, will open at the cathedral on Friday (25 June).
Light, Glass & Stone: Conserving the St Cuthbert Window explores the window’s history, its representation of the life of St Cuthbert through a series of exquisite stained glass panels and the new five year, £5m project to conserve its stained glass and the stonework of its tracery and the surrounding South East Transept.
The window, which dates from around 1440, tells the story of St Cuthbert, 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.
Visitors to the exhibition, which will run until 2024, will have the rare opportunity to see at close range a selection of stained glass panels removed from the window as part of the conservation work, alongside an animated projection and soundscape of one of St Cuthbert’s miracles.
Dr Helen Rawson, York Minster’s Head of Heritage, said: “The window, in its beauty, detail and technique, is one of the finest surviving examples of the art and craftsmanship of medieval glaziers and stonemasons and their skills show in detail the life, work and miracles of St Cuthbert, who was the leading saint of northern England in the Middle Ages.
“The conservation project has given us the rare opportunity to showcase the detail of some of the window’s richly decorated stained glass panels, which would normally only be visible to visitors from a distance.
“It has also created the opportunity for new research into the window’s history and the stories it tells, and we look forward to sharing this insight with our visitors.”
The exhibition is housed in a specially created gallery at the foot of the scaffolding which is currently surrounding the window to enable the conservation work to take place.
The first phase of work to conserve the window started in spring this year when experts from York Glaziers Trust removed all 152 stained glass panels from the window, allowing the Minster’s stonemasons to start carrying out urgent work to replace and repair eroded and decaying masonry.
Professor Sarah Brown, Director of York Glaziers Trust, explained: “York Minster is a treasure-trove of stained glass and the St Cuthbert Window is one of the jewels of the cathedral’s East End, sitting alongside the St William and Great East Windows which have both undergone major conservation and restoration projects in the last two decades.
“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.
“Now the glass has been removed, conservators at the Trust have started the intricate working of cleaning and repairing the medieval glass and lead matrix, before it is eventually returned to the window with state-of-the-art environmental protective glazing, to protect it for generations to come.”
Initially the exhibition will display three stained glass panels from the window which have already been conserved and cleaned, with additional panels added as the conservation work progresses.
Other exhibition highlights include images from a 12th century manuscript about St Cuthbert’s life, which was consulted when the window was designed, and details of how his remains were eventually placed in a shrine at Durham Cathedral following Viking raids on Lindisfarne, his original burial place.
Explanations of some of St Cuthbert’s most famous miracles are also accompanied by an animated projection and soundscape of his prediction of the end of a storm, while journeying by boat to Scotland.
The exhibition will run until 2024 and is free with general admission. All tickets must be booked in advance, visit www.yorkminster.org for further details.
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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