York has had a Christian presence from the 300s. The first church on the site was a wooden structure built hurriedly in 627 to provide a place to baptise Edwin, King of Northumbria. Moves toward a more substantial building began in the 630s. A stone structure was completed in 637 by Oswald and was dedicated to Saint Peter. The church soon fell into disrepair and was dilapidated by 670 when Saint Wilfred ascended to the see of York; he put in place efforts to repair and renew the structure. The attached school and library were established and by the 8th century were some of the most substantial in northern Europe.
In 741 the church was destroyed in a fire, it was rebuilt as a more impressive structure, containing thirty altars. The church and the entire area then passed through the hands of numerous invaders, and its history is obscure until the 10th century. There was a series of Benedictine archbishops, including Saint Oswald, Wulfstan, and Ealdred, who travelled to Westminster to crown William in 1066. Ealdred died in 1069 and was buried in the church.
The church was damaged in 1069, but the first Norman archbishop, arriving in 1070, organised repairs. The Danes destroyed the church in 1075, but it was again rebuilt from 1080. Built in the Norman style, it was 365 feet long and rendered in white and red lines. The new structure was damaged by fire in 1137 but was soon repaired. The choir and crypt were remodelled in 1154, and a new chapel was built, all in the Norman style.
Gothic style in cathedrals had arrived in the mid 12th century. Walter de Gray was made archbishop in 1215 and ordered the construction of a Gothic structure to compare to Canterbury; building began in 1220. The north and south transepts were the first new structures; completed in the 1250s, both were built in the Early English Gothic style but had markedly different walls. A substantial central tower was also completed, with a wooden spire. Building continued into the 15th century. The Chapter House was completed in the 1260s. The wide nave was constructed from the 1280s on the Norman foundations. The outer roof was completed in the 1330s, but the vaulting was not finished until 1360. Construction then moved on to the eastern arm and chapels, with the last Norman structure, the choir, being demolished in the 1390s. In 1407 the central tower collapsed; the piers were then reinforced, and a new tower was built from 1420. The cathedral was declared complete in 1472.
The Reformation led to the first Protestant archbishop, the looting of much of the cathedral's treasures, and the loss of much of the church lands. Under Elizabeth I there was a concerted effort to remove all traces of Catholicism from the cathedral; there was much destruction of tombs, windows, and altars. In the English Civil War the city was besieged and fell to the forces of Cromwell in 1644, but Thomas Fairfax prevented any further damage to the cathedral.
Following the easing of religious tensions there was some work to restore the cathedral. From 1730 to 1736 the whole floor of the Minster was relaid in patterned marble, and from 1802 there was a major restoration. However, in 1829 an arson attack inflicted heavy damage on the east arm, and an accidental fire in 1840 left the nave, south west tower, and south aisle roofless, blackened shells. The cathedral slumped deeply into debt, and in the 1850s services were suspended, but from 1858 Augustus Duncome worked successfully to revive the cathedral.
During the 20th century there was more concerted preservation work, especially following a 1967 survey that revealed the building was close to collapse. £2,000,000 was raised and spent by 1972 to reinforce and strengthen the building foundations and roof. A fire in 1984 destroyed the roof in the south transept, and around £2.5 million was spent on repairs.
See also: Archbishop's Palace, Bishopthorpe