“Eternal light, shine in our hearts;”
I enter the west doors of York Minster and I am met by an orcehstra of color. The sun’s evening rays are saturated in blues, pinks, and yellows as they meet the pilgrim-trodden ground. The story of the people of God shines through brilliant windows, and the heroes of Yorkshire are not afraid to stand beside the saints of old.
I am not alone in northern Europe’s largest medieval cathedral. Ranks of stone angels, carvings of saints, and effigies of kings line the walls, floor, and pillars of the sacred space.
“Eternal power, be our support;”
I am drawn to the ancient floor of this holy place. I walk over the names of those who have gone before me: dukes, martyrs, soldiers, princes. The cathedral’s crpyt contains more memorials to men and women of ages past. It is quieting and humbling.
“Eternal wisdom, scatter the darkness of our ignorace;”
My eyes travel upward to the majestic vaulted ceiling of the nave. Ribs of stone shoot off from the tops of pillars to meet in perfect symmetry in the middle, telling tiny stories of the Virgin along the way. This divine geometry extends down from the ceiling to the aisles, each bay dedicated to a piece of Yorkshire history or a sacred story.
“Eternal pity, have mercy on us”
I am driven to my knees in the war memorial chapel, still adorned with red poppies – a British tradition for Rememberance Day on November 11th. The Roll of Honour stands higher than my bowed head in a glass case. The names of Yorkshire’s lost generation lay enshrined in more than glass – racks of votive lights send our prayers upward.
“That with all our heart and mind
And soul and strength we may see your face,”
I walk under the sounding organ and through the quire. The stalls breathe, lying empty as I make my way towards the high altar. Cloth of gold, stone of finest marble, and intricate wood and ironwork surround me. The entire cathedral points to this one spot. The air yearns for a meeting with the divine.
“And be brought by your infinite mercy
To your holy presence.”
The heavenly sound of the cathedral choir breaks the vaulted stillness as I make my way to the south aisle of the nave. As the angelic chorus rehearses for tonight’s Choral Evensong, I leave the minster behind. I step into the cool night air and walk through the busy streets of York. The mighty city walls call to me, and I leave this foreign place inspired and renewed. The treasures of this country continue to amaze me.
-Samuel Vaught ’16
*Prayer of Alcuin, 8th century York scholar