York Minster (Exterior)

York Minster, York, England


Info and corrections →

Mystery Worshipper:
Church: York Minster
Location: York, England
Date of visit: Saturday, 17 September 2011, 12:00pm

The building

A lovely honey-coloured Gothic stone church, the largest cathedral built in England in the Middle Ages. Started in 1220, it took 250 years to complete, and shows fine examples of Early English, Decorated, and Perpendicular architecture. The medieval glass is a rival to Chartres, even though some was damaged by fire in the past.

The church

York Minster (the Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of St Peter) is the spiritual home for many Christians in the Northern province of the Church of England: the "Mother Church" of the north.

The neighborhood

York is completely overshadowed by the magnificence and grandeur of its minster, a draw for tourists from all over the world, especially Japanese and Americans. And there are several parish churches within a small radius, one of them being right next door!

The cast

The Rt Revd Martin Warner, Bishop of Whitby and Master of the College of Guardians, presided. The Rt Revd Lindsay Urwin, Administrator of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, preached. Also taking part were the Very Revd Keith Jones, Dean of York, plus an assortment of male clergy.

What was the name of the service?

The Pilgrimage Eucharist, "1061 and All That." The occasion was part of the 950th anniversary of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, one of Britain's most revered Christian places.

How full was the building?

Bursting at the seams! Seemed like hundreds of people, a real gathering of the clans for fans of Walsingham.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Yes. A smiling lady steward in her 60s welcomed me with a service booklet and escorted my companion and me to two seats close to the nave altar.

Was your pew comfortable?

Metal chair with padded seat. Comfy.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Rather noisy, a bit like a cattle market with animated talking as people greeted one another. Chairs scraping on the stone floor. A general hubbub.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"A very warm welcome to you all."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Specially printed service booklet containing everything we needed for the service, including the music for the communion.

What musical instruments were played?

The magnificent organ.

Did anything distract you?

My bladder! I realised during the service that, after travelling a fairly long distance, I should have visited the "necessarium" before I took my seat in the nave. I was also trying to see if I could spot anybody I knew, so I did find my mind wandering from time to time. As usual, someone's telephone rang – during the bishop's sermon! – and continued to tune its merry note for quite some time.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Formal Church of England stuff with the right amount of pomp for the occasion, not overdone. It began with a fanfare and procession, a wonderful spectacle: Our Lady borne high on the shoulders of the Guardians, the building wreathed with clouds of incense, attar of roses perfuming the air, and the heavenly singing of the Angelus. I espied many a tear-bedewed eye.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

23 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

6 – A tad tedious; reminded me of my old history master.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

In a nutshell, Our Lady Of Walsingham! Billed as a homily, the bishop's talk invited us to consider the significance of Our Lady of Walsingham in the world and in our own personal lives.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The fanfare that preceded the entrance into the minster of the statue of Our Lady of Walsingham sent a tingle down my spine. The statue had been resting overnight in the Church of St Wilfrid, Harrogate.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

The communion distribution took an absolute age, despite numerous clergy dotted about. While waiting, I had a devilish thought: a burning desire to place whoopee cushions on all the clergy's chairs! I had to fight my way back to my seat, tripping over handbags and other detritus scattered around the floor.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

A charming couple complimented me on my singing and asked if I had enjoyed the service. They had travelled from Preston with a party from their church. I also spotted some people from the town I live in. One of the stewards came over and asked if the coat she was holding belonged to any of us. (It didn't.) All in all, a very friendly after-service atmosphere.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Before the dismissal, we were all invited to go outside with our packed lunches or to the refectory if we wished to purchase anything. There was to be another service an hour later for devotees of Our Lady, the Rite of Sprinkling and Ministry of Healing. My companion and I headed for that other noble old York institution, Betty's Tea Room, for a spot of Yorkshire high tea. There, we enjoyed scones, apple pie, and parkin (a soft oatmeal-molasses cake).

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

7 – Although I gave it 7, I wouldnt "get the Abbey habit," as they say (joke). However, I love good choral and organ music, so that would certainly be a big incentive for me.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

Yes, but if I did not understand about high church ritual, it would probably put me off.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The fanfare and entry procession.

Our Mystery Worshippers are volunteers who warm church pews for us around the world. If you’d like to become a Mystery Worshipper, start here.

Find out how to reproduce this report in your church magazine or website.

Comments and corrections

To comment, please scroll to the end of this report and add your thoughts there. To send us factual corrections, please contact us. We also discuss reports on our Ecclesiantics bulletin board.

© Ship of Fools