The pilgrim to York stands in the center of the largest shire in England, and is surrounded by castles and monasteries, now mostly in ruins, but teeming with those associations of history and literature that are the glory of this delightful land. From the summit of the great central tower of the cathedral, which is reached by 237 steps, I gazed, one morning, over the vale of York and be-held one of the loveliest spectacles that ever blest the eyes of man. The wind was fierce, the sun brilliant, and the vanquished storm-clouds were streaming away before the northern blast. Par beneath lay the red-roofed city, its devious lanes and its many great churches,crumbling relics of ancient ecclesiastical power,distinctly visible.
Through the plain, and far away toward the south and east, ran the silver thread of the Ouse, while all around, as far as the eye could see, stretched forth a smiling landscape of green meadow and cultivated field; here a patch of woodland, and there a silver gleam of wave; here a manor house nestled amid stately trees, and there an ivy-covered fragment of ruined masonry; and everywhere the green lines of the flowering hedge. .
In the city that lies at your feet stood once the potent Constantine, to be proclaimed Emperor, A.D. 306, and to be vested with the imperial purple of Rome. In the original York Minster (the present is the fourth church that has been erected upon this site) was buried that valiant soldier, “old Siward,” whom “gracious England” lent to the Scottish cause, under Malcolm and Macduff, when time at length was ripe for the ruin of Glands and Cawdor. Close by is the field of Stamford, where Harold defeated the Norwegians with terrible slaughter, only nine days before he was himself defeated, and slain, at Hastings. South-ward, following the line of the Ouse, you look down upon the ruins of Clifford’s Tower, built by King William the Conqueror in 1068, and destroyed by the explosion of its powder magazine in 1684. Not far away is the battlefield of Tow-ton. King Henry the Sixth and Queen Margaret were waiting in York for news of the event of that fatal battle,which, in its effect, made them exiles, and bore to supremacy the rightful standard of the White Rose. In this church King Edward the Fourth was crowned, 1464, and King Richard the Third was proclaimed king and had his second coronation.
Southward you can see the open space called the Pavement, connecting with Parliament Street, and the red brick church of St. Crux. In the Pavement the Earl of Northumberland was be-headed for treason against Queen Elizabeth, in 1572, and in St. Crux, one of Wren’s churches, his remains lie buried, beneath a dark blue slab which is shown to visitors. A few miles away, but easily within reach of your vision, is the field of Marston Moor, where the impetuous Prince Rupert imperiled and well-nigh lost the cause of King Charles the First in 1644; and as you look toward that fatal spot you almost bear, in the chamber of your fancy, the paeans of thanksgiving for the victory, that were uttered in the church beneath. Cromwell, then a subordinate officer in the Parliamentary army, was one of the worshipers. Of the fifteen kings, from William of Normandy to Henry of Windsor, whose sculptured effigies appear upon the chancel screen in York Minster, there is scarcely one who has not worshiped in this cathedral. .
There it stands, symbolizing, as no other object on earth can ever do, except one of its own great kindred, the promise of immortal life to man and man’s pathetic faith in that promise. Dark and lonely it comes back upon my vision, but during all hours of its daily and nightly life sentient, eloquent, vital, participating in all the thought, conduct, and experience of those who dwell around it. . .
York is the loftiest of all the English cathedrals, and the third in length,both St. Alban’s and Winchester being longer. The present structure is 600 years old, and more than 200 years were occupied in the building of it. They show you, in the crypt, some fine remains of the Norman church that preceded it on the same site, together with traces of the still older Saxon church that preceded the Norman. The first one was of wood, and was totally destroyed. The Saxon remains are a fragment of stone staircase and a piece of wall built in the ancient herring-bone fashion. The Norman remains are four clustered columns, embellished in the zig-zag style. There is not much of commemorative statuary at York, and what there is of it was placed chiefly in the chancel.