Bar Convent

Bar Convent

The Convent of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin at Micklegate Bar, York, better known as Bar Convent, is the oldest surviving Roman Catholic convent in England, established in 1686. [ [ Bar Convent official site] ] The laws of England at this time prohibited the foundation of Catholic convents and as a result of this, the convent was both established and operated in secret. Frances Bedingfield, a member of the Sisters of Loreto (also known as Mary Ward's Institute) signed the deeds for the land the convent was to be built on on 5 November 1686 under the alias Frances Long. The Convent is now part of the Congregation of Jesus.



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. [cite book
last = Whitworth
first = Alan (Ed.)
Coauthor = Sister Gregory Kirkus
title = Aspects of York - Discovering Local History
publisher = Wharncliffe Books
date = 2000
location = Barnsley
pages = 55-56
isbn = 1 871647 83-5
] The order continued to maintain this school until 1985, when control of the school was handed over to the diocese and named All Saints School.


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.

Mother Bedingfield was recalled to Germany in 1699 and the original intention was that Mary Portington would succeed her. However, a family lawsuit made it politically difficult for Portington to take the post and the role fell instead to Dorothy Bedingfield nee Baston. Mother Baston's reign coincided with a period of intense poverty and this, combined with her own unpopularity meant that her reign, despite lasting 34 years, was turbulent.


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 foundation stone for the new house was laid March 4, 1766 and the house was covered by December 1768. Mother Aspinal also presided over the construction of what is described in the building licence as, "A new front wall to her house". What Mother Aspinal built was an entire extra level to the house, a Georgian Facade that added an extra set of rooms to the front of the house.

The Chapel

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.

World War II

The Convent was bombed during World War II, leading to the death of five nuns and the destruction of the East Wing.
Mother Mary Aikenhead, foundress of the Sisters of Charity was a novitiate there for three years (1812 - 1815).

Present day

Today, the convent is a Grade 1 listed building and houses a museum dealing with the history of the Convent, as well as a cafe and guest accommodation.


External links


Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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