Out of the Ashes: York Minster’s Unique Story of Survival

28th June 2024

It was 2.30am on Monday 9 July, 1984 when fire alarms rang out at York Minster after lightning struck the roof.

What happened next is the subject of a new exhibition to mark the fortieth anniversary of that fateful night.

Out of the Ashes: York Minster’s Unique Story of Survival

Out of the Ashes tells the story of the fire that threatened to destroy York Minster through the eyes of those that were there.

Like Master Mason Emeritus John David, who has worked at the cathedral for over forty years, and 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.”

Through eyewitness testimony, archive footage and photographs, visitors to the exhibition will go on a journey to 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.

Kirsty Mitchell, Curator at York Minster, said:

“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.”

The exhibition opens on Saturday (29 June) in the cathedral’s North Transept, opposite where the fire took hold, and is just one event in a series to commemorate the 40th anniversary.

Other activities include a new digital-visual trail – On This Spot which allows visitors to stand in the footsteps of those who witnessed the 1984 fire and imagine seeing it for themselves.

Each stop on the trail can be unlocked by scanning QR codes placed in and around the cathedral, and include the chance for reflection and prayer.

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.

The Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell first visited York Minster in August 1984 on his honeymoon and saw the devastation of the fire for himself.  And on Tuesday 9 July, he will preach at the commemorative anniversary service at 5pm.

 Later this Autumn, Phoenix, a new light and sound project by award-winning artists Ross Ashton and Karen Monid will bring the fire into sharp focus in a piece of artwork that will transform the nave.

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.

For further details of all the fire events click here.