New digital resource allows unique access to York Minster’s medieval stained glass windows

Virtual visitors can now explore the hidden stories of York Minster’s Great East Window, the country’s largest single expanse of medieval stained glass, through a new online resource.

The new Stained Glass Navigator site features high-resolution photos of all 311 panels from the recently restored medieval masterpiece, allowing people to explore the whole window online for the first time and view the detail of its intricately painted 600-year old glass.

The resource has been created by York Glaziers Trust, Britain’s oldest and largest specialist stained glass conservation studio, with support from the Chapter of York and the York Minster Fund.

It uses photos taken during the ten year project to restore and conserve the window, which was completed in 2018, presented together with new views of the St Cuthbert Window, which will be the subject of the cathedral’s next major stained glass conservation project, due to start in 2021.

“The new navigator tool offers visitors a unique insight into the details of the two windows’ stained glass and their stories, creating views which would be physically impossible for people to see even if they were standing inside the cathedral,” explains Sarah Brown, Director of York Glaziers Trust.

“The photography has been taken by conservators during our work to care for the Minster’s treasure trove of stained glass, allowing us to share with the public the amazing artwork and stories in a completely new way.”

Visitors to the site can navigate through all the stained glass panels in the two windows and read explanations of the stories they tell.

“The biggest technical challenge was how to display an enormous photograph without users having to wait for it to download,” explains Sarah.

“The photograph is split into tiles at various resolutions that are loaded as the user moves around and zooms in to the image of the window. This means the window displays quickly initially, and high-resolution tiles are only loaded when needed.”

The Great East Window was created between 1405 and 1408 by a team of artists and craftsmen led by master-glazier and glass-painter John Thornton, and depicts the beginning and end of all things from the first book of the bible, the book of Genesis, to the last, the book of Revelation.

It was revealed in May 2018 after a decade long conservation and restoration project, one of the largest of its kind in Europe, which included repairing and replacing nearly 2,500 stones in the cathedral’s East End, which houses the window.

The project included installing state-of-the-art environmental protective glazing, incorporating newly developed UV resistant glass, to provide a barrier between the 600-year old glass and the environment. It was the first time the material had been used in the UK and the largest worldwide use to date.

The development of the new technique for protecting the glass helped shape plans to protect the cathedral’s other windows, which hold the largest in-situ collection of medieval stained glass in the country.

In 2017 a 20-year partnership project was announced by the Chapter of York, the York Glaziers Trust and the York Minster Fund, with support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, to extend protective glazing to all 128 of the Minster’s mostly medieval windows.

Currently, around 50% of the windows have no protection, leaving their delicate surfaces exposed to the elements and subject to corrosion and decay, meaning the irreplaceable glass could be lost for future generations.

The St Cuthbert Window will be the next major window in the cathedral to benefit from the scheme, with work to repair and restore its glass due to start in 2021.

The window dates from c.1440 and is one of the largest surviving narrative windows in Europe, telling the story of the life and miracles of one of Northern England’s most significant saints.

The project will take around three years to complete, with the window’s existing external quarry glazing, which was installed in the 1930s, being replaced by the new state-of-the art protective glazing before the repaired and restored stained glass is returned.

The new website currently focuses on the Great East and St Cuthbert Windows, but it is hoped images from more windows in the Minster’s collection will be added over time.

To view the new stained glass navigator site visit: www.stainedglass-navigator.yorkglazierstrust.org/