In 1686, a time of great danger for all Catholics in England, a woman named Frances Bedingfield purchased a small parcel of land just outside York's walls. She signed the deed under an alias. The creation of the Convent was inspired at least in part by Sir Thomas Gascoigne, a fervent Catholic who declared "we must have a school for our daughters". Gascoigne even went as far as providing a gift of £450, part of which purchased a property on the Convent site and a boarding school, and day school, for Catholic girls was set up at the site by the nuns. The order was a target for frequent discrimination, leading in 1694 to the incarceration of Mother Frances and her great niece in Ousebridge Gaol. They were released shortly after but two years later, in 1696, the house was attacked and severely damaged by an angry mob. The engraving of St Michael over the front door is to commemorate this, with a local legend stating that St Michael appeared over the house riding a horse and the mob, terrified, fled the scene. The convent later came under attack from Doctor Jaques Sterne, a religious campaigner who ordered the convent be shut down and the children at the school sent home. The situation culminated in Mother Hodshon and a colleague being summoned before the Spiritual Court to answer charges of not receiving holy communion at Holy Trinity Church. The case fell apart, largely due to no service being carried out that day and was thrown out. Doctor Sterne would go on to become a staunch ally and supporter of the Convent following this incident.
Under Mother Ann Aspinal, the convent was expanded and rebuilt, culminating in the original property being effectively demolished and rebuilt with the order moving to a neighbouring house for two years. The most significant addition to the new Convent was a Chapel. Mother Aspinal initially wanted the design to reflect Roman churches and hired Thomas Atkinson, the architect responsible for the Neo Gothic additions to Bishopthorpe Palace to do the work. However, due to the continuing hostility to Catholicism, Atkinson took the decision to modify the initial design, incorporating it into the structure of the house itself. Instead of the dome Mother Aspinal intended, the dome was concealed beneath a slate roof, meaning it was hidden from the street. Atkinson also built eight different escape routes into the Chapel, to ensure that if the building was stormed, the worshippers would be able to escape. The Chapel was completed in 1769. The passing of the First Catholic Repeal Act in 1778 made life easier for the Convent as it allowed them to legally practice their religion and legalised Catholic schools. This led to a new climate of religious freedom within Britain that allowed the nuns to wear the religious habit for the first time since the creation of the Convent. The passing of the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1791 in turn led to the Bar Convent being granted a licence to act as a public place of worship for the first time in its history. During the Napoleonic Wars the Convent found itself providing shelter to émigré priests from the continent. Mother Superior Catherine Rouby, the Superior at the time, also provided shelter to fugitive nuns including Carmelites from Brabant, Canonesses of the Holy Sepulchre from Liège and Poor Clares from Dunkirk.
Discover three hundred years of history and the remarkable people who have shaped it. Meet the radical Yorkshire nun and pioneer Mary Ward, whose devotion to her cause took her on foot across the Alps - twice. Learn about secrets and spies, angry mobs and Luftwaffe bombs. Hide yourself away inside a priest hole - then find out how to hide an entire chapel. Only guidedogs accepted. There is wheelchair access and toilets for the disabled as well as baby changing facilities.
Location : 17 Blossom Street, York, YO24 1AQ
Transport: York (National Rail) minutes. Bus routes 3, 4, 13, 14, 44, 66, 840, 843, X46 and X47 stop close by.
Opening Times : Monday to Saturday 10:00 to 17:00.
Tickets : Adults £4.50. Concessions £3.50. Children (6 - 15) £2.00.
Tel: 01904 643 238