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New exhibition reveals the fire that threatened to destroy York Minster

York Minster

Visitors to York Minster can rediscover the 1984 fire that threatened to destroy the cathedral in a new exhibition opening Saturday 29 June.

The exhibition journeys through the dramatic events of 9 July 1984, when the roof of the South Transept was struck by lightning.

Through powerful eyewitness accounts and dramatic archive photographs captured by horrified onlookers, visitors can rediscover the heroic rescue efforts, go behind the scenes of the clean-up operation, and delve into four years of restoration works that returned the cathedral to its former glory.

Running until June 2025, the exhibition – Out of the Ashes – is in the cathedral’s North Transept, opposite where the fire took hold. Entry to the exhibition is included with a standard admission ticket at no extra cost and is part of a series of activities and events commemorating the 40thanniversary of the blaze.

Fire damaged furniture that survived the blaze and the original drawings for six roof bosses designed by Blue Peter competition winners will also be on display.

Kirsty Mitchell, Curator at York Minster, explains: “The 1984 fire is a pivotal moment in York Minster’s history. The archive accounts reveal tragedy and the sense of horror, but also the resilience and huge community strength as people came together to do what had to be done.

“We hope this exhibition does justice to the incredible efforts of those who fought the fire and all those who supported and carried out the beautiful restoration works.”

York Minster is renowned for its commitment to heritage craft skills. The exhibition features information about the restoration of the roof, vault, and Rose Window, as well as the ongoing cycle of restoration and conservation that continues today, led by a multidisciplinary team of skilled heritage craftspeople.

Master Mason Emeritus John David, who has worked at the cathedral for over forty years, remembers the night of the fire: “To be part of the team inside the Minster on the night was both a shocking and memorable experience. But by the next morning, when we could see that the rest of the Minster had been saved, despair turned into an eagerness to get on with the restoration. We had the skills here and it was our job.”

Visitors can also stand in the footsteps of those who saw the 1984 fire and its aftermath in a brand-new digital-visual trail – On This Spot. The shocking events of 9 July 1984 will be revealed through vivid photographs allowing visitors to imagine seeing the blaze for themselves. Each stop on the trail can be unlocked by scanning QR codes placed in and around the cathedral and will include chance for reflection and prayer.

The exhibition and trail are part of a series of activities at York Minster to commemorate the anniversary of the fire. For further details go to https://yorkminster.org/fire/

The exhibition and trail will be open from Saturday 29 June during normal visiting times. Entry is included with a standard admission ticket and entry to the Minster is free for York residents with valid proof of address.

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