Explore the Jorvik Group

A medieval alchemist is set to walk visitors along the fine line between science and magic at Barley Hall during the opening weekend of Magic & Mystery, a new exhibition which explores how ‘magic’ played an important role in medieval life.

“It is easy to forget that modern science has explained many mysteries of the world around us, but in medieval times, strange phenomena that we now know to have perfectly logical explanations would have appeared magical, and this is what we’ll be exploring during the opening weekend of Magic & Mystery,” explains Sarah Maltby, director of attractions for York Archaeological Trust.

One of the characters that particularly appeared to blur the lines between science and magic was the alchemist – an early form of chemist who would pursue the ultimate goal of trying to transform cheap base metals into precious elements like gold and silver.  “To the uninitiated, simple chemical processes would have appeared magical, but the act of transforming substances from one form to another inspired many alchemists to attempt what we now know to be impossible; the lure of creating precious gold from a widely available metals including lead was incredibly attractive to anyone seeking wealth and power,” adds Sarah.  “This may have been a foolhardy pursuit, but one of the key substances that was believed to be required was called the philosopher’s stone, which still crops up in modern magical tales – a legendary substance which is first mentioned in writings in the third century AD.”

Demonstrations of the mysterious art will take place in Barley Hall’s Great Hall, whilst throughout the rest of the building and courtyard, hands-on crafting activities will see children making their own wands, medieval telescopes to watch the movements of the heavens, or even a potion bottle for a witch’s brew!

Alongside the live demonstrations and activities, visitors will be able to explore the Magic & Mystery exhibition itself.  The exhibition shows how the lines were blurred between magic, science and religion in the medieval period as people sought explanations for things they could not understand, with a particular focus on ‘natural’ magic, where everyday foods, plants or herbs were attributed mystical properties.

Alchemist demonstrations are includedin admission to Barley Hall (a small charge is made for crafting activities), which is open daily from 10am to 5pm (activities run 10am to 4pm).  Admission prices are £6.00 for adults, £4.50 for concessions and £3.00 for children.  Family tickets and joint tickets to other JORVIK Group attractions are also available – please see the website barleyhall.co.uk for details.

Magical crafting activities will also be hosted every weekend during the school summer holidays, with pre-booking recommended as demand is expected to be high.  The herbs and flowers used by medieval mystics will also feature in special displays for York’s Bloom! festival, running 5 – 8 July, with historic-inspired arrangements that could influence mind, body and soul!




For further media information or photographs, please contact:

Jay Commins

Pyper York Limited

Tel:         01904 500698

Email:    [email protected]