York blaze recalled, 25 years on

08 July 2009

by Pat Ashworth

YORK MINSTER was due to hold a public service of thanksgiving yester­day for its survival and restora­tion, to mark the 25th anniversary of the fire that destroyed the south transept.

The fire broke out at about 2 a.m. on 9 July 1984, and was brought under control by 150 firefighters. Lightning was confirmed to the Home Office as the most likely cause, although it was variously attributed to the appointment of Dr David Jenkins as Bishop of Dur­ham, the General Synod’s first step to­wards women priests, taken the prev­ious day, a UFO, and even divine retribution for the massacre of Jews in medieval York.

Minster staff struggled through the smoke and flames to salvage artefacts. The vaulted roof was des­troyed, and the 16th-century rose window was badly damaged. Repairs costing £2.25 million took four years, and the Minster was re-dedicated in November 1988.

John David, now Master Stone­mason at the Minster, lived close to the building, and remembers being alerted by a neighbour at 2 a.m. and unable to believe what he was hear­ing. He was one of those who helped carry out valuables. “They were frightened at the time that the whole Minster might go up. The ceiling started dropping down and all we could do was go out and look at it,” he said on Tuesday.

Mr David worked on the restora­tion. “Being craftsmen, our instinct was just to put it back. That’s what we do,” he said.

Everyone involved in saving York Minster on that night was invited to the service of thanksgiving, to be followed by a picnic in Dean’s Park, weather permitting, or in the Chap­ter House. An exhibition has been organised. The General Synod will attend the sung eucharist at the Minster next Sunday.

The Dean, the Very Revd Keith Jones, said on Tuesday: “The anni­versary is an appropriate time for us to pause and thank God for the heroism, skill, and dedication of all those involved in fighting the fire, dealing with the devastation after­wards, and restoring the Minster over the next four years.”



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