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Hope Valley Catholic Churches visit York and send us a message.

  Thinking of organising a Parish outing?  Been to Walsingham and other places of pilgrimage?  Want something more than a day out with stately home and shopping?

  Well then, think The Bar Convent which has everything – a fascinating history, a stunning new exhibition, an award-winning café and first class accommodation if a day isn’t enough. 

  For Catholics this is a special place.  We began our visit with a guided tour led by one of the Sisters who explained how much the present congregation owed to Mary Ward (1585-1645).

  At a time of persecution and great difficulty for Catholics, her vision was for women to live a new kind of religious life based on the principles of the Society of Jesus.  They would not be enclosed in their convents, shut away from the world but free to respond to the needs of the people they served.  She believed passionately in the dignity and worth of women and that girls should be educated to play a full part both in the Church and in society.

  This was radical thinking, way ahead of its time and did not find favour with the Church authorities.  Mary Ward’s Institute was originally suppressed but her vision and her work now live on in the Congregation of Jesus (to which the Sisters of the Bar Convent belong) and the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Loreto.

  The Bar Convent was established in 1685, in great secrecy to avoid punishment or even death. Frances Bedingfield purchased a house just outside York’s walls and set up a school for girls.  It flourished under the care of a small group of dedicated women who endured poverty, persecution and imprisonment.

The Chapel in the Bar Convent

  We visited the beautiful chapel built in 1767 when anti-Catholic feelings were still running high.  Its cupola is hidden beneath a slate roof so it could not be seen from outside.  It has eight exits for a quick escape and a priest hole where the priest, vestments and chalice could be hidden if the house was searched.  It was our special privilege to have Mass here, celebrated by our own parish priest, Fr Martin Clayton.  We felt embraced by history and by the endurance, devotion and suffering of the faithful women who lived in this place.

  There was no shortage of history.  The Exhibition tells the story of the Bar Convent using up to date technology and a variety of displays.  You come away with a real sense of how the sisters lived and the obstacles they faced in 17th Century Penal times.

The visitors from Hope Valley outside St Wilfrid’s Church with Fr Martin Clayton and Fr Richard Duffield (left)

  We left the Bar Convent for a leisurely stroll (yes, there was shopping!) through the city to St Wilfrid’s Church, opposite the Minster.  The Parish Priest, Fr Richard Duffield, entertained us with a gallop through the history of York followed by a walk that took most of us to places in the city that we had never visited before.  We ended in the Shambles at the shrine of Margaret Clitherow, English Saint and Martyr who died for her faith in 1585.  She had been arrested for harbouring Catholic priests but refused to plead, thus avoiding a trial in which her family would have been made to testify.  She was executed in the Toll Booth at Ouse Bridge by being crushed to death under the weight of rocks placed on the door of her own house.  She died within 15 minutes without a word. Margaret Clitherow, the Pearl of York, is the patron saint of the Catholic Women’s League.

  The parishioners of St Michael’s, Hathersage and Our Lady of Sorrows, Bamford and their guests and friends ended the day in style with supper at the Designer Outlet outside York.

  We had left home in torrential rain but the sun shone on us in York.  A most perfect day!

Maria Kenyon