Bar Convent

Bar Convent

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The Bar Convent in Blossom Street, York, is home to the Congregation of Jesus Community, founded by Mary Ward, whose Sisters have been serving the City of York for over 300 years. Their aims are to engage with people to encourage spiritual growth, education and provision of hospitality.

In 1986 The Bar Convent Trust was set up enabling the Sisters to continue in their charitable aims and maintain the Grade 1 listed building. The Bar Convent, nearby Micklegate Bar, provides meeting rooms and welcoming accommodation plus a superb café, shop and museum. The glazed courtyard with its striking Coalbrookdale tiled floor is a light and spacious area, ideally suited for sitting and reflecting. The Convent is open daily to the public, (except Sundays and Bank Holidays) and its libraries which include the antique library and the Archives are open upon application to the Archivist.

The Bar Convent was originally established in 1686, by nuns led by Frances Bedingfield, as a school for girls, first as a Catholic boarding school then a day school. This was a dangerous time for Catholics who lived in constant fear of persecution; the Community had to be discreet, even wearing inappropriate dress to hide their religious bearing. The Convent’s eight exits were escape routes in the event of a raid and there is also a priest’s hole for concealing the priest during a raid. The Sisters suffered extreme poverty and persecution, even imprisonments.

In 1727 their fortunes improved when two new Sisters joined their ranks, one of whom brought them financial stability and in 1766 work began on the new Georgian building led by York architect Thomas Atkinson. At this time it was still illegal to construct a Catholic church; consequently the chapel was disguised from outside by its pitched roof, which covered the dome. The plain lunette windows disclosed nothing of its religious purpose.

The Community aided French refugees and priests during the French Revolution and in the mid-19th century some Sisters taught at the new St George’s School in Walmgate. In WWI Belgian nuns and refugee children were sheltered in the convent and the Concert Hall became a hospital ward for wounded servicemen. Five Sisters died when the convent was bombed in WWII.

The day school and boarding schools merged in 1921, eventually becoming the Bar Convent Grammar School which in 1985 became All Saints Catholic School under the Diocese of Middlesbrough.

The Convent’s Chapel houses the hand, a relic, of Saint Margaret Clitherow who was executed in 1586 in York for failing to denounce her Catholic faith.

Plaque on the front of Bar Convent

Plaque on the front of Bar Convent

The Bar Convent Museum tells the story of Mary Ward, a woman of vision who saw women’s potential and the need to develop this through education. She was a deeply religious Catholic woman; born in 1585, near Ripon, her beliefs were nurtured by many staunch Catholic relatives.

Mary set up communities and schools on the Continent, and her members worked under cover on the English Mission supporting priests. She was a hardy woman, making several foot crossings of the Alps in winter, and she walked from Flanders to Rome to present her plans for her Institute personally to the Pope. Fierce opposition came from the Catholic Church, and in 1631 her Institute was quashed by the Pope; Mary was denounced as a heretic and imprisoned by the Inquisition.

In 1639 she returned to Yorkshire to live in a small village near York. She died in 1645. Through her companions’ devotion her Institute grew again, though Church approval was not granted until 1877. Mary’s legacy lives on in the Congregation of Jesus Community’s work at the Bar Convent.

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