Minster Quarter

All in the Heart of York

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Minster Quarter History


The importance of the Minster Quarter starts in Roman times. The legendary 9th Roman legion arrived here in AD71, and quickly began building a fortress as a defence against the local Celtic tribe, the Brigantes. The fortress of Eboracum, as the Romans called it, was designed to house the entire legion – up to 6,000 men and at its centre stood a large headquarters building or principia. In AD306, it was at York, probably in the principia, that Constantine the Great was proclaimed Emperor. Much later in history, the central tower of York Minster was built over one corner of the principia. York Minster is one of the greatest Christian cathedrals in Europe and the largest Gothic building in the northern hemisphere. The remains of the Roman Legionary Headquarters can be seen in York Minster’s Undercroft, Treasury and Crypt, where visitors are taken through 2,000 years of history.

The following are some of the highlights you might discover as you follow our trail or indeed wander around the area.

Constantine and the Roman Column
The statue by the South Door of York Minster shows Constantine the Great who was proclaimed Emperor of Rome, here in York, in AD306. This event probably took place in the main hall (the basilica) at the back of the Roman headquarters building (the principia). Part of the basilica lies under the Minster’s central tower. Across the road, the Roman column came originally from the interior of the basilica. Beginning in York, Constantine’s reign (306-337) initiated momentous changes in the course of world history. It saw the lifting of religious persecution in the Roman Empire and also the positive promotion of Christianity.

St Michael le Belfrey
Sitting adjacent to, and dwarfed by, York Minster, St Michael le Belfrey was built in the 1530s to serve the people of its own particular parish. In April 1570, one of York’s most famous sons was baptised here: Guy Fawkes. In 1605 Guy Fawkes and his associates were caught attempting to blow up the Houses of Parliament, as part of a Catholic plot to kill King James I. For his part in the conspiracy he was publicly hanged, drawn and quartered. This treasonous plot is remembered every year in Britain on Bonfire Night, the 5th of November.

York Minster
The full name of York Minster is The Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of St. Peter in York. It is the seat of the Archbishop of York who is the head of the Northern Province of the Church of England (the Anglican Church). The first York Minster was a small temporary wooden structure built for the baptism of Edwin, King of Northumbria, in 627 and very unlike today’s great Cathedral. The York Minster you see today was built over a period of about 250 years beginning around 1220 in the time of Archbishop Walter S de Grey.

The ‘Robin Hoods Tower’
This is in fact not a medieval tower, but was remodelled by the Victorians in a ‘fairy tale’ idea of how an ancient tower might look.

Via Decumana
Stand outside numbers 24 and 26 Lord Mayor’s Walk and face the Minster. You are looking along the line of the ancient Roman street, the via decumana that passed through the Roman fortress wall in the middle of its north east side. This wall was almost directly under the present city wall; on the right it stretched as far as the Robin Hood Tower and on the left it stretched as far again to a point beyond Monk Bar. The central tower of the Minster marks the position of the headquarters building of the Roman fortress.

The Salvation Army Citadel
Gillygate takes its name from the former church of St Giles which lay on the Claremont Terrace side of the Salvation Army Citadel. Gillygate (pronounced‘Jillygate’) is one of the streets in the
Minster Quarter that best typifies the area’s wonderful eclectic and artisan shopping: contemporary homewares, interior designers to toy shops and vintage clothes.

St William’s College
Named after St William of York, Archbishop, who died in York in 1154. His shrine was in the Minster where there is also a tomb. St William’s College was originally built around 1465-
1467 to house the Chantry priests and is the only surviving building of its kind in the country.

Treasurer’s House
The present Treasurer’s House takes its name from the Treasurers of York Minster. In medieval times, part of it, together with the adjoining Gray’s Court, was their official residence. The southern end (next to Chapter House Street) was built over the line of a Roman road (the via decumana). The ghosts of Roman soldiers have been seen in the cellars, marching along the old road. Behind the 17th century façade of Dutch gables lies the work of a remarkable Yorkshireman, Mr Frank Green; a Victorian industrialist and patron of the arts.

Peter’s Prison
It may seem odd that a church would have had its own prison, but as the area, called the Liberty of St Peter, had its own laws, it needed its own prison to punish offenders. The Peter prison was used until 1837. Nowadays, York Minster is one of only two cathedrals in the world to still have its own police force.

Minster Quarter Trail

Download our trail map
Take our Trail from Constantine's Statue to St Michael Belfry.

Staying Here

View our member hotels
All our recommended hotels are ideally placed for visiting Minster Quarter.

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