A VIKING drinking-horn that doubles as the original title-deeds
for York Minster, and "wallpaper" from the headquarters of the
Romans' Ninth Legion, which once stood on the same site, feature in
a new display that opens tomorrow at York Minster.
"Revealing York Minster" is said to be the largest
visitor-attraction inside a British cathedral, and displays the
location's history over the past two millennia, from Roman fortress
to church, and treasure-house of historic regalia still in use
The ornately carved drinking-horn is fashioned from an elephant
tusk, and its presentation was a Viking tradition signifying the
completion of a deal. It was given by a Danish nobleman, Ulf, who
donated the land on which the first church in York was built.
The story was that Ulf, a favourite of King Cnut (Canute) rode
into York shortly before his death in about 1029, bearing his
favourite drinking-horn. There he filled it with wine, knelt before
the altar, and bestowed upon "God and the blessed St Peter, Prince
of the Apostles, all his lands and tenements".
Experts believe that it is Persian, and dates from the tenth
century. The scholar Cyril Bunt once suggested that it might have
been exchanged by Viking traders for Anglo-Saxon slaves.
It is now a centrepiece of displays in six chambers in the
medieval minster's undercroft. The spaces have been opened up in an
area first excavated in the 1970s, when emergency work was done to
shore up the fragile fabric of the cathedral's central tower.
New surveys have also unearthed the foundations of the earlier
Norman cathedral, and, below them, the walls of the Roman fortress
that was home to the Legio IX Hispana, the Ninth Legion, which
vanished in mysterious circumstances in about AD 117, after
marching north from York to quell an uprising.
Large portions of a brightly coloured fresco that once decorated
a senior legionary officer's quarters were rescued from the rubble
around the walls, which are now covered by a glass floor, allowing
visitors to look down into the first-century stonework.
Also on show will be the York Gospels, an exquisitely decorated
11th-century volume that includes the oaths still in use by the
Archbishop, Dean, and Canons of York when they take up office.
The displays are the latest part of a £20-million restoration,
supported by a £10.5-million grant from the Heritage Lottery
The Dean of York, the Very Revd Vivienne Faull, said: "York
Minster has stood at the heart of the city for centuries, but even
before that, this site was instrumental in the growth of York from
a military barracks into a major conurbation.
"The land on which the cathedral now stands has been a centre -
military, political, social, and theological - for that whole time,
influencing not only regional but national history. 'Revealing York
Minster' brings together the archaeological discoveries and the
written archives dating back to the seventh century."