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York Minster Fire

Sue MacGregor reunites those who battled to save York Minster and its contents when fire broke out in 1984.

Sue MacGregor reunites those who battled to save York Minster and its contents when fire broke out in 1984.

In April 2019, the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris made world headlines but, in July 1984, a similar fate befell York Minster, one of Britain’s best loved Gothic cathedrals. It was in the early hours of the morning on July 9th that fire broke out, destroying the roof of the South Transep, and causing extensive damage to the magnificent medieval Rose Window.

York Minster was one of Britain’s best loved and most visited Cathedrals, and an active place of worship under Archbishop John Habgood and the Dean, Ronald Jasper. Three days before the fire, senior clergy were assembled in the Minster for the ordination of the new Bishop of Durham, David Jenkins. But the new Bishop held somewhat non-traditional theological views and his observations were too controversial for many in the Church of England to stomach. The belief that the York Minster fire was some sort of sign of discontent from God about his appointment found an outlet on the letters page of The Times. “‘Just lightening,’ says the Bishop dismissively. To those as old-fashioned as I, lightening is the wrath of God,” wrote one correspondent.

In the event, York Minster was restored within four years, re-opening a year ahead of schedule. The BBC children’s show Blue Peter ran a competition to design six new bosses in part of the restored roof, and the young winners got to meet the Queen when she re-dedicated the Minster in 1988.

Joining Sue in York Minster’s Consistory Court to reflect on the fire and its aftermath are former Canon Chancellor John Toy; Alan Stow, retired divisional fire commander; Bishop David Wilbourne, a chaplain in York at the time; master mason John David; and lead joiner Geoff Brayshaw.

Producer: Howard Shannon
Series Producer: David Prest
A Whistledown production for BBC Radio 4

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42 minutes

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