Project to restore York Minster windows halfway completed

Conservators working on the restoration of the Great East Window at York Minster have completed the conservation of half of the panels in the stunning medieval window depicting the story of the Apocalypse.

York Minster’s Great East Window contains the largest expanse of medieval stained glass in Britain, and was designed by one of the stained glass master John Thornton of Coventry. Started in 1405 and completed in 1408, the main part of the window depicts the Apocalypse, and is recognised around the world as being some of the finest medieval stained glass still in existence. The restoration of half of the Apocalypse panels is now complete thanks to the tireless work of the York Glaziers Trust.

“This is a significant landmark in the restoration project, as each of the 108 panels require painstaking research, documentation, examination, conservation and repair of the many thousands of components that make up this incredible glass masterpiece,” says Sarah Brown, Director of York Glaziers Trust. “Each panel is a work of art in its own right, each piece painted with the skills of a Van Eyck or a Vermeer, with an amazing delicacy that can now be fully appreciated as we look at the panels up close.”

The window is being restored as part of the five year York Minster Revealed project, generously supported by a £10.5 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), due for completion in 2016. However, visitors to York Minster will not have to wait until 2016 to see some of the completed restoration work, as a number of the panels will go on display later this year when a new state-of-the-art exhibition space, known as The Orb, is installed in York Minster’s East End.

It is envisaged that the new exhibition will give visitors a better understanding of the artistry that went into creating hundreds of stained glass masterpieces that are on display in York Minster.

“The scale of the building, and the abundance of beautiful stained glass in it can often mean that it becomes somewhat overwhelming – there is such a huge amount of glass to look at, and the scale is so great, it is not until you take some time to look at some of the individual windows that you begin to appreciate these great works of art,” comments Canon Glyn Webster, Acting Dean of York. “These windows are so much more than mosaics of coloured glass, as each piece is diligently hand painted as part of a much larger design to create a beautiful image that changes as daylight filters through it.”

The window’s artist, John Thornton, was invited to York from his native Coventry to complete one of the fifteenth-century’s most prestigious commissions in a city already famed for the skill of its glaziers.

York Minster holds a copy of the contract by which John Thornton was commissioned to undertake the work, which is the only document linking him to a specific window in existence. It required Thornton to do all of the ‘cartooning’ (full-scale design of the window) of the window’s 311 panels himself, and also to do some of the painting ‘with his own hand’, although with a project of this size, he would have had a team of artists working under his direction.

Visitors to York Minster can see a nearly life-size replica of the window hanging in its place at the moment, and watch conservators of the York Glaziers Trust at work on tours of the Bedern Glaziers Studio each Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 2.00pm. Tours can be prebooked online at and cost £7.50 per person.

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Source: York Glaziers Trust

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