Twenty years ago on Friday, York nearly lost its Minster. CHRIS TITLEY looks back.

In the early days of July, 1984, were there any clues about the disaster that lay ahead?

With the benefit of hindsight, yes, there were one or two. Those who adhere to the official explanation - a lightning strike setting the Minster roof alight - need look no further than the weather forecast.

York was sweltering in temperatures topping 80 degrees. It had been hot and sunny for so long that farmers were desperate for rain to save their scorched crops.

But while folk weathermen were predicting the dazzling spell would continue indefinitely, an official meteorologist poured heavy rain on the idea.

"I can't knock the amateurs, but our charts go to Wednesday," he told the Evening Press a couple of days before the blaze. And these foresaw the onset of "thundery showers", he added.

On the other hand, anyone sure that the York Minster fire was a literal Act of God could also find circumstantial evidence to support the supernatural theory.

All that kerfuffle over the ordination of Dr David Jenkins as Bishop of Durham in the Minster, for a start. Could the Almighty really have sent down a biblical thunderbolt to show his displeasure at the new Bishop's doubts over the literal truth of the Virgin Birth?

Certainly the 12,500 churchgoers who had signed a petition against Dr Jenkins' promotion mortally disapproved. So did the clergyman who had to be dragged from the lectern of the Minster during the ordination service three days before the fire.

Perhaps a different religious reason sparked a spontaneous combustion. Controversialist, Evening Press columnist and Vicar of Tockwith the Rev Peter Mullen had just taken a public swipe at the denigration of the Minster's dignity caused by a "cattle market" of tourists.

Their lack of respect, and the signs demanding a gift of 75p from each visitor, had Mr Mullen smouldering.

"It is a wonder the Blessed Sacrament did not burst into flames long since at the institutional blasphemy of this great cathedral," he fumed.

Yes, looking back, there were signs, portents, hints. But York was blissfully unaware of them.

In truth, no one could have predicted what would happen in the early hours of Monday, July 9, 1994. It came as a bolt from the blackness.

The then Archbishop of York, Dr John Habgood was told in the middle of the night that the Minster was on fire.

"I hurriedly dressed, called my driver, threw my luggage into the car and we drove to the Minster," he said later.

"The fire was under control at that time. There was just a lot of smoke and water. I went inside the Minster and saw a pall of smoke inside it, then I waited outside until I could be certain there was no further damage."

Most of York woke later that day to learn that the Minster had been saved from destruction by the valiant efforts of more than 100 firefighters. But the news was still shocking.

The South Transept roof was open to the heavens, the Rose Window cracked and smoke damaged, the Central Tower blackened by soot.

After being assured the Minster was saved, Dr Habgood flew out to Geneva for a meeting of the World Council of Churches.

"I arrived in Geneva to find the world's press waiting for me. They had the news that the whole Minster had burnt down.

"I made a statement about it and appealed for help. Money started pouring in on a worldwide basis.

"I think it brought out the best in people, in particular the way the people of York rallied around to clear up."

Cash came flooding in to the restoration appeal from around the world. Skilled craftsmen painstakingly recreated the lost fabric.

Six years later the Queen reopened the South Transept.

Every time we admire York Minster, we should spare a thought for those who did so much to save and restore this astonishing building.