The medieval stained glass York Minster's Great East Window has been described as the English equivalent of the Sistine Chapel, and from this weekend, visitors have been able to see some of the newly conserved panels up close when a new gallery is installed in a contemporary metallic 'Orb' within York Minster's historic East End.
The Orb is a 10 metre wide, three metre tall dome that has been installed to the East of York Minster's Quire, directly below the Great East Window. Visitors are now able to walk inside The Orb to see displays of five newly-conserved panels taken from the Great East Window - four permanently on display and one which will change each month during the Orb's three year tenancy of the space. The panels are the brainchild of unsung British artist, John Thornton. They are of such international importance that this collection is comparable with an exhibition of Rembrandt or Vermeer.
The Acting Dean of York, Canon Glyn Webster said: "It is too easy for us to take for granted the amazing architecture and painting of the Great East Window. It is almost impossible to imagine the effect of this astonishing wall of glass must have had when it was first unveiled to the medieval public. It is my hope that the superb restoration of the glass, undertaken by the York Glaziers Trust, will reveal anew the marvels of the window, designed and painted between 1405 and 1408 by John Thornton of Coventry."
The metallic exterior of the Orb is subtly illuminated with moving projections of stained glass to add extra colour and movement to the domed roof. "The positioning of five panels within The Orb represents a fascinating juxtaposition of old and new. Visitors will be able to step into a contemporary metallic structure and see the detail of the painting of the medieval glass," added Canon Webster.
Of the 108 major panels in the East Window, 81 illustrate scenes from the last book of the New Testament -The Book of Revelation (Apocalypse) - which describes, sometimes in graphic detail, the end of the world. John Thornton clearly had access to Royal illuminated manuscripts which contained images from the Apocalypse - a mark of the ambition and scale of the project in its day.
Flanking the Orb, which sits in the central Lady Chapel, St Stephen's Chapel and All Saints Chapel feature interactive exhibitions inspired by the major works taking place on the Minster's east front. The work of York Minster's stonemasons is highlighted in the All Saints Chapel with displays explaining the scale of the work facing the artisans in restoring the stone tracery that supports the glass. A touch screen game allows children to virtually chip away at a block of stone, with interactive displays featuring tools and stone taken from the building.
In St Stephen's Chapel, the role of the glaziers is examined. A second touch -screen game invites young visitors to join John Thornton's team of artists and glaziers to create a virtual stained glass window, whilst display panels explain the huge scale of the project currently being undertaken by conservators at the York Glaziers Trust.
The Orb was opened to the public on Saturday and in special evening events, as part of the Illuminating York Festival from 31 October to 3 November. The East End, beyond the Quire, has been closed off for the last few weeks to allow the installation to take place out of public view.
The installation of The Orb is part of York Minster Revealed, a five-year project supported by a £10.5 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, which incorporates the largest restoration and conservation project of its kind in the UK. The 108 restored panels from the Great East Window will be reinstalled by the summer of 2016, but in the meantime, a major new visitor experience in York Minster's Undercroft will open in Spring 2013.
Entry into The Orb is included in admission to York Minster, which is £9 for adults (including up to four children).
For more information, please visit: http://www.yorkminster.org/home.html