Eduardo Carrero Santamaria

title.none: Brown, York Minster (Eduardo Carrero Santamaria)

identifier.other: baj9928.0606.020 06.06.20

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Eduardo Carrero Santamaria, Universidad de Oviedo,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2006

identifier.citation: Brown, Sarah. York Minster: An Architectural History c 1220-1500. Swindon, UK: English Heritage, 2003. Pp. xv, 332. $115.00 1-873592-68-x. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 06.06.20

Brown, Sarah. York Minster: An Architectural History c 1220-1500. Swindon, UK: English Heritage, 2003. Pp. xv, 332. $115.00 1-873592-68-x. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Eduardo Carrero Santamaria
Universidad de Oviedo

England has had the honour, for four centuries, of teaching to us how to study a medieval cathedral. Since the Monasticon Anglicorum and the other works done by of the circle of antique dealers of William Dugdale, the study of how the English cathedrals worked during the Middle Ages was made much easier for later historians. On the other hand, England is important because of what, largely, has disappeared in the rest of Europe: the outstanding conservation of the ecclesiastical topography of its temples. After the Reformation, the English cathedrals did not undergo excessive changes compared with the cathedrals of France, Spain or Italy. If images and altarpieces were partially destroyed, the position of the choir stalls was largely respected, and also some of the altars, the relations between sanctuaries and shrines (even with the suppression of many of them), the stained glass windows, the tombs, etc. Except in some private works, English cathedral development was frozen in 1534. In other countries modern history and modern works were more aggressive. While the cathedrals of France underwent the wars of religion and the destruction and plundering of the Revolution, in Spain or Italy the splendour of Renaissance and Baroque transformed choir stalls, altars and liturgical furniture, leaving a Cathedral image very distant from how a cathedral could be in the fourteenth century (actions to which we must add the almost harmful performances of the architects of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries).

In addition, England had an important tradition of studies dedicated to the functionality of the cathedral and its daily life during the Middle Ages. Thus, in the nineteenth century, we have the surprising career of the Victorian canon Mackenzie E. C. Walcott (1821-1880), apersonage to whom deserved honours have still not been extended. His work was focussed on the study of the relations between architecture, church topography and daily life of the clergy in the English cathedrals.

In the twentieth century, contemporary historiography has treated most of the English cathedrals well. The monographs that the British Archaeological Association has dedicated specifically to several cathedrals are an important sample of what we deal with here. In addition, many cathedrals like St. Paul's of London, Hereford, Exeter, Winchester, Durham and Lincoln have generated their own monographs. The common denominator of these works is clear: a collection of chapters written up by specialists in the matter, and dedicated to history, the architecture, the stained- glass windows, the tombs, the liturgical furniture, the music, the Renaissance and Baroque works, and even the reforms of the nineteenth century. [1]

Even so, we do not find the same profusion of studies dedicated exclusively to studying the construction of a building. It is peculiar that cathedrals such as Canterbury or Durham lack global studies on their building history. Here is where the outstanding study of Sarah Brown on the cathedral of York enters the game, demonstrating to us that the construction history of a cathedral must be understood like a continuous sequence, that is to say, like a constant that could affect its architecture or its liturgical furniture, but that was not interrupted in the two hundred and eighty years included in Sarah Brown's book.

The book begins with a prologue on the history of the cathedral of York before thirteenth century, that is to say, the building between the years 627 and 1220. After this, the work is articulated in five chapters that gather the works of the cathedral between 1220 and 1500 in a chronological way: the construction of transepts, the building of the Chapter House, the nave, the reconstruction of the choir with the Lady Chapel, and the Western Choir and the Central Tower. Finally, a sixth chapter gathers a brilliant reflection in which the author theorises on the relations between image and patronage in the Cathedral during the fifteenth century, the iconographic repercussion that the patrons--kings and archbishops--had on their own cathedral, fundamentally in the stained-glass windows and the choir screen. In fact, throughout her work, Brown insists on the role of the heraldry on the stone shields conserved in the Cathedral as documentary evidence for its construction history.

The book has one second part, made up of five interesting appendices. First is a list of the Archbishops and Deans of York between 1154 and 1540; the second is an exhaustive compilation of the Stone Shields today visible in the cathedral; the third is dedicated to the stained-glass windows; the fourth to the study of the ceiling of the Chapter House from its dendrochronology and, finally, a complete fifth appendix on the works of the cathedral from the Reformation to the present time.

The notes, the rich bibliography and the amount of documentary sources that Sarah Brown uses and the use of a rigorous methodology guarantee the scientific quality of her study. Fortunately, the book is accompanied by an excellent plans and a good number of images of great quality. Although it can seem striking, in many books of history of architecture the plans are usually the least important part of the volume. On the contrary, York Minster. An Architectural History includes the necessary plans for a correct understanding of the text (p. 269-276). We must congratulate the English Heritage on publishing such an interesting study as that of Sarah Brown.


[1] Most of them are quoted in S. Lehmberg, English Cathedrals. A History , Hambledon and London, 2005.