Literary Places: York Minster


We spent P’s birthday weekend in beautiful York, tramping around in those medieval streets, exploring the city walls and avoiding all those Christmas market shoppers. We spent a lovely couple of hours in the cathedral where I couldn’t take my eyes off these:


There are over two hundred of these carved faces, mainly in the Chapter House, but dotted around elsewhere too. Each one is different: some are said to represent local townsfolk and the cathedral craftsmen, but there are also monsters and animals and other grotesque faces, as well as hundreds of larger, figures and statues.

I couldn’t help but remember the bit in Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell where Mr Norrell summons his rivals to York Minster so they can witness him perform an amazing feat of magic, the first magical act witnessed in England for hundreds of years:

“And then the gentlemen of the York society peered up again into the gloom above their heads in the direction of the first unearthly voice. And this time very few of them had any doubts that it was the little stone figure that spoke, for as they watched they could perceive its stubby stone arms that it waved about in its distress. 

Then all the other statues and monuments in the Cathedral began to speak and to say in their stony voices all that they had seen in their stony lives and the noise was, as Mr Segundus later told Mrs Pleasance, beyond description. For York Cathedral had many little carved people and strange animals that flapped their wings.” 

This was my favourite part of the book, the bit that I always remember most vividly, so it was nice to recall it while were standing there.


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