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England: An Experience of York Minster

October 15, 2015

I have always thought that the best way to see a new sight or a new city, is to eschew guide books and photographs before the fact, to arrive innocent and without expectation. Of course I am not the first person to entertain this notion. Many are the travel writers who’ve bemoaned visiting the Grand Canyon or the Great Pyramid only to stare jadedly at images they’ve experienced a thousand times already in the virtual world.

Luckily I was shrewd enough to follow my own advice when we visited the city of York and its great cathedral. I knew that York was old, that it had a street or a quarter called “The Shambes,” and yes, I had looked at a bad photo or three of the city. But I never had I viewed pictures of its church, York Minster.

When we arrived in town the taxi driver we hired at the train station didn’t know exactly where our B & B was located. I informed him that it was close by the church and so he drove to the correct area and stopped at the church’s western facade.  I didn’t look up at it but concentrated on figuring out with the driver the location of our destination. Happily he drove away from Yorkminster, then circled it from a distance. Which allowed us only an occasional glimpse.

We knew instinctively that this place was special even if our sightings were indistinct and inconclusive.

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Eventually we found our lodgings and setttled in briefly. Then it was time to take a first walk to Yorkminster.  Our eyes grew bigger with each successive step.  I’d had no idea, no grasp of how big York Minster really is.  Gawd, I thoguht, this place is comparable to the Pyramid of Giza. Now that was an idea I didn’t think I’d ever let into my head, ever. So utterly gigantic I couldn’t even fit my camera viewfinder around it.

We gasped, without words.

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When we arrived again at the western facade with its towers, I had to obscure part of the view, just to render my tiny self more significant.

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Not only was the church massive in scope and execution, it was a work of art beyond my wildest imagination. Perfection shouted down from every angle, from every pinnacle, and from every distant flourish hundreds of feet in the air.

We began to notice details. Exquisite statuary and terrifying demons both.

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Finally we crossed to the northern transept. Across the way an older gentleman strummed his guitar to an old James Taylor tune. I felt a sudden appreciation for his presence and walked to his open guitar case to deposit a coin. Our eyes met and a mutual recognition was exchanged and acknowledged.

I turned to wife and met her eyes. We embraced, reveling in the glory of the moment, in the stupendous accomplishment of York Minster’s builders, and in our suddenly realized dream of being. The Earth moved and we moved with her, having found yet another of humankind’s masterworks.

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