Collections Unlocked – York Minster’s treasures revealed

23rd October 2014

More than 300,000 historic objects and treasures will be revealed to the public through Collections Unlocked – interactive sessions running from September 2014 until April 2015 as part of York Minster’s Adult Learning Programme.

Housed in the Old Palace in Dean’s Park, York, the Minster’s collection includes, books, silver, textiles and glass covering more than 2000 years of life at the Minster and the city of York.

The objects in the collection provide a direct link to important and momentous historical events including invasion, conquest, the birth of Christianity and religious conflict. The pieces range from exquisitely crafted internationally important masterpieces right through to small, domestic objects much used and much loved in their time. Many items have been upcycled and recycled and are still in use at the Minster today.
The Old Palace Collection also includes amazing and unexpected items that would not normally be associated with a cathedral collection. Collections Unlocked will investigate the story behind some of these items through discussion, touching and holding the objects `and seeking to understand the items in the context of contemporary events and our current hopes, fears and concerns.

Some of the items that will feature in Collections Unlocked include:

  • A Chinese dragon robe (c.1820), made of blue grey silk and decorated with five-clawed dragons which were historical representations of the Emperor of China. The robe is used on 6 January every year as part of York Minster’s Epiphany Procession
  • A rare, hand-coloured edition of the world’s earliest printed atlas, printed by Abraham Ortelius – the first person to think of putting all the maps of the world into a single volume
  • ‘The Acts and Monuments’ – better known as ‘Foxe’s Book of Martyrs’ – which contains graphic depictions of protestant deaths and religious persecution. This was an Elizabethan propaganda tool, possibly bought for the Minster in 1571
  • A German cope, or robe, with a scene from the Nativity on the hood. Made in 1946 for an RAF chaplain serving with the British Forces of occupation in Germany, the hood design includes two tobacco leaves. The robe was bartered for tobacco.

Commenting on Collections Unlocked, the Chancellor of York Minster, the Reverend Canon Dr Chris Collingwood, said:

“This is a new, ground-breaking event for York Minster. Opportunities for people to examine and handle precious historical objects are very rare. We will reveal items that are exquisite, extraordinary and quirky. Many of our objects will reveal stories of conflict, discrimination, religious tolerance and intolerance – issues which continue to challenge humanity on a global scale. We hope that experiencing these items in such an intimate way will open discussions about their original purpose, the historical context for their creation, how the items survived through the years and what they can teach us and tell us about our lives right now.”