08 October 2023

The Priory Church of
the Holy Trinity, York,
a monastic building is still
a living parish church

The Priory Church of the Holy Trinity, Micklegate, is the only monastic building in York to have survived as a regular place of worship (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

The Priory Church of the Holy Trinity, Micklegate, which I visited last week, is one of the three surviving mediaeval churches on Micklegate in York. Today, Holy Trinity Church is only about half the length and width of the church before the dissolution of the monastic houses at the Tudor Reformation, but it is the only monastic building in York to have survived as a regular place of worship.

Holy Trinity Church predates the Norman Conquest and is recorded by 1066 as a church dedicated to Christ Church supported by a community of secular priests or canons.

Christ Church was a collegiate church on a large site at the highest and most central point of the walled enclosure on the west bank of the Ouse. This mirrors the similar prominent position of York Minster on the east bank of the Ouse, and the two communities were the only collegiate churches in the city before the Norman Conquest.

Both sites were of great importance in the Roman town plan: the Minster at the centre of the former walled garrison and Christ Church at the centre of the prosperous civilian town or colonia, the centre of administration for the Roman province of Britannia Inferior.

Inside the Priory Church of the Holy Trinity, Micklegate, facing east (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Christ Church (or Holy Trinity) may have been founded at about the same time as York Minster in the first phase of the conversion of Northumbria to Christianity in the seventh century and was a major Anglican minster. Some suggest it was the site of Alma Sophia, a sister church to York Minster founded in 780.

The early Christ Church may have been part of a single larger ecclesiastical enclosure covering over eight acres. This enclosure may have contained a cluster of chapels around an early church foundation, including Saint Mary Bishophill Junior and two small churches between the Roman road and Micklegate – Saint Gregory in Micklegate and All Saints in North Street.

Christ Church was listed in the Domesday Book in 1086 as one of five great northern churches, together with the minsters of Beverley, Durham and Ripon, as well as York Minster, and they were exempt from paying customary dues to either the king or the earl. But Christ Church was described as ‘a ruined and poverty stricken church.’

Inside the Priory Church of the Holy Trinity, Micklegate, facing west (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The church was re-founded ca 1089 as a Benedictine priory by Ralph Paynel and dedicated to the Holy Trinity. It was under the care of the Benedictine Abbey of Marmoutier in Normandy, and the French monks who rebuilt the church became known as the ‘Alien’ Benedictines.

A double church was built, with one half (Holy Trinity) providing a place of worship for the monastic community and a second (Saint Nicholas) serving the parish. However, almost no evidence survives of the early churches on the site. The re-foundation of Christ Church as a Benedictine priory contributed to a general reform of a new parochial system completed in York by the 1230s.

The nave pillars in the south aisle date from the 13th century. The pillars in the north wall, also from the 13th century, indicate there was once a north aisle. The nave is all that remains of the original monastic church, although it has been much reduced in height and width over the centuries.

A beautiful 13th century Bestiary, or Book of Beasts, was produced by the Benedictine monks of Holy Trinity, and is now in Saint John’s College, Oxford.

The High Altar, reredos and east window in the Priory Church of the Holy Trinity, Micklegate (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

York’s mediaeval Mystery Plays began each year outside the gateway of Holy Trinity and for generations the scripts for the plays were kept there. This was an annual theatrical spectacle, and the plays were performed by the guilds or trades of York to tell Bible stories.

The Guild of Corpus Christi was one of the greatest of these guilds. Its shrine was in Holy Trinity until 1431, when it was moved to the civic chapel of Saint William on Ouse Bridge at the foot of Micklegate. A Corpus Christi procession was held in York from at least 1366, and the guild may have been in existence by 1388.

The procession was the focus of the mystery plays. It started at Holy Trinity Church and continued down Micklegate over Ouse Bridge along Coney Street and up Stonegate to York Minster. This processional route, also used for royal processional entries to the city, and linked the sites of the two great pre-Conquest Minster churches in York.

The reredos in the Priory Church of the Holy Trinity, Micklegate, depicts the Supper at Emmaus and six saints associated with the north (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The feast of Corpus Christi and the popularity of the guild increased in the early 15th century, following the execution of Archbishop Richard Scrope for his role in an uprising against Henry IV in 1405. Although he was never formally canonised, he was venerated in York as Saint Richard. A chapel containing a reliquary of his severed head was built where he was executed in the fields of Clementhorpe, near Micklegate.

Scrope had strong associations with Micklegate. His family owned the church of Saint Martin in Micklegate, which was rebuilt 20 years after his death, possibly incorporating a shrine to Richard.

The growth of the guild was boosted by its association with Scrope’s cult and a wooden cup blessed by Scrope was bequeathed to the Guild of Corpus Christi in Holy Trinity Church in 1413.

The chapel dedicated to Saint Nicholas beneath the tower at the north-west corner (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Historians discuss whether there was a separate church dedicated to Saint Nicholas or if this was an altar dedicated to Saint Nicholas in the nave of Holy Trinity. The parishioners of Saint Nicholas built a stone belfry tower above the Saint Nicholas Chapel in 1453.

Holy Trinity continued to serve as a parish church throughout the Middle Ages, and wealthy parishioners founded chantries in the church. When the priory was dissolved with the other monastic houses in 1538, the parishioners continued to worship in the nave, which survived as a parish church.

Holy Trinity survived as a parish church after the Dissolution of the monastic houses (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The central tower collapsed in a great storm in 1551. The chancel of the former priory church was demolished, the stone was used to repair the city walls and Ouse Bridge, and the nave was restored but reduced in size.

For about 200 years from 1700, many of the sisters from the Bar Convent were buried in the churchyard and the chancel. The stocks in the churchyard date from the 18th century.

An 18th century memorial commemorates Dr John Burton, who wrote a two-volume book on monasteries in York. He was lampooned in Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy (1760) as Dr Slop.

The Peace Bell beside the tower and the north door (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The south aisle was rebuilt in 1850-1851 by JB and W Atkinson of York. A new aisle, 3 metres (10 ft) wide and 18 metres (60 ft) long was added on the south side by opening the original arcades, and new pews were installed throughout the church.

The chancel and vestry were rebuilt in 1886-1887 by the York architects Charles Fisher and William Hepper. The chancel was rebuilt on the site of the central tower of the former monastery church, and truncated remnants of the 12th century masonry piers can still be seen. The chancel was 12 metres (38 ft) long and 7 metres (23 ft) wide, and included a new vestry and organ chamber.

The east window and the reredos depict saints associated with York and the north of England. The panels of the reredos flanking the central scene of the Supper at Emmaus depict six saints associated with the north: Cuthbert and Aidan of Lindisfarne with Hilda of Whitby; and Paulinus, Wilfred and John of Beverley, Bishops of York.

The west front was rebuilt by Charles Hodgson Fowler in 1902-1905. The fine roof bosses at the west end originally came from two other York churches, Saint Crux and Saint Martin, Coney Street.

The East Window (1907) is one of CE Kempe’s last great works before he died (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The church has stained glass of national significance, with many works by Charles Eamer Kempe (1837-1907), one of the leading figures in 19th and 20th century decorative arts. His distinctive wheatsheaf monogram is seen in several windows.

The East Window (1907) is one of Kempe’s last great works before he died. The window shows the Crucifixion and saints and church figures associated with York, including Saint John, Saint Helena, Eborius who was Bishop of York in 314, and Alcuin, the renowned scholar and Benedictine monk.

Kempe’s West Window (1904) depicts Saint Benedict, Saint James, Saint Martin and Saint Thomas (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Kempe’s West Window (1904) depicts Saint Benedict of Nursia, Saint James, Saint Martin and Saint Thomas whose altars were in the former priory church.

Kempe’s window in Saint Nicholas Chapel (1905) depicts Saint Nicholas restoring to life three children who had been killed by a wicked inn keeper and kept in a brine tub. A window in Saint Nicholas Chapel (1953) by George Pace and Harry Stammers is a collaboration between an influential modern architect and an important 20th century stained glass designer.

The church also has windows by two of York’s most significant exponents of the Gothic Revival, John Joseph Barnett (1789-1859) and John Ward Knowles. The North Chancel window (1850) by Barnett is the earliest surviving stained glass in the church. The North Nave window (1877) is by Knowles.

The octagonal font has a carved cover (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The octagonal font has a carved cover, and a gilded dove is suspended over the font.

The organ was built by Hill, Norman and Beard of London.

The sculpture of the Holy Trinity (2010) by Matthias Garn (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The sculpture of the Holy Trinity, carved by Matthias Garn in 2010, is a reproduction of the mediaeval original once in the church and now in the chapel of the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall, York.

The church was united with Saint John’s Church, Micklegate, York, in 1934 and with Saint Martin-cum-Gregory, Micklegate, in 1953.

Holy Trinity is a living, inclusive church. The Revd Simon Askey, former Dean of Undergraduate Law, University of London, and Honorary Assistant Curate of Walworth Saint John in the Diocese of Southwark, is the Priest-in-Charge of Holy Trinity. The Sung Eucharist on Sunday mornings is at 11 am. The church is currently only open during and after the Sunday , and I availed of a welcome opportunity to visit the church last Sunday after the Choral Eucharist in York Minster.

Holy Trinity is a living, inclusive church and is open during and after the Sunday services (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (133) 8 October 2023

Inside the Church of Saint Mary and Saint Michael, New Ross, Co Wexford … designed by William Glynn Doolin and built in 1894-1902 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

We are in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar, and today is the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XVIII, 8 October 2023).

Later this morning, I hope to be present at the Parish Eucharist in Holy Trinity Church, Old Wolverton. But, before the day begins, I am taking some time early this morning for prayer and reflection.

The Church recently celebrated Saint Michael and All Angels last month (29 September). So in my reflections each morning this week I am continuing the Michaelmas theme of the last two weeks in this way:

1, A reflection on a church named after Saint Michael or his depiction in Church Art;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

The Church of Saint Mary and Saint Michael, New Ross, is an important Gothic Revival church in Co Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint Mary and Saint Michael Church, New Ross, Co Wexford:

In my reflections yesterday, I was revisiting Saint Michael’s in New Ross, which was the parish church of the Co Wexford town for almost a century, from 1806 until 1902.

At one time, New Ross in Co Wexford, had a large number of churches and meeting streets scattered through its streets. In the 19th century, there were at least two Church of Ireland churches, a Quaker meeting house, a Methodist chapel and a number of churches attached to religious orders.

At the end of the Victorian era, Saint Michael’s, the Roman Catholic parish church built on South Street in 1804-1806, no longer seemed to be adequate or elegant enough for the Catholic professional classes and merchants of the old borough, and they decided to build a new church that would not only rival the other churches in the town but also equal Saint Aidan’s Cathedral by AWN Pugin in Enniscorthy and the newly-built ‘Twin Churches’ in Wexford Town.

The new parish church, the Church of Saint Mary and Saint Michael, was built at the junction of Robert Street and Cross Street (originally Cross Lane) in 1894-1902. This church, built on an old Franciscan foundation, was designed in 1894 by the architect Walter Glynn Doolin (1850-1902) in the Early English style, and with a capacity to seat 1,200 people.

A tablet to the memory of the Right Revd Michael Kavanagh (1840-1915), Parish Priest of New Ross and Dean of Ferns, says ‘this beautiful church’ is ‘the enduring monument of his genius and his zeal for the glory of God’ of its builder. However, in truth, the church is the very antithesis of Dean Kavanagh’s grand ambitions.

His original proposal was for a thrifty ‘improvement’ or rebuilding of the then parish church, Saint Michael’s Chapel on South Street. However, his proposals were ruled out by a parish committee that coveted a church to rival those in Enniscorthy and Wexford Town.

Kavanagh negotiated four potential sites for a new church with the landlords of New Ross, the Tottenham family, but the parish committee selected his least preferred site, and over-ruled his preference for a Romanesque style church, selecting instead an architect who was a steadfast advocate of the Gothic Revival.

WG Doolin was born in Dublin, the son of William Doolin of 204 Brunswick Street and his wife Anne Eliza (Glynn). He was educated at Tullabeg College, Castleknock College and Trinity College, Dublin, where he received a BA and a Licentiate in Engineering.

He received his architectural training with his father and in the office of John Joseph O’Callaghan, and later worked in London in the Architects’ Department of the School Board and the office of William Burges.

He had returned to Dublin by the beginning of 1872, when he was living in his father’s house at 204 Great Brunswick Street. By 1875, WG Doolin had offices at 204 Brunswick Street in Dublin and in Waterford. He later worked from 20 Ely Place and 12 Dawson Street, Dublin, and 2 Beresford Street, Waterford.

He designed a theatre in Waterford in 1874, and he then received a number of commissions in the area, particularly in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Cashel.

He was regarded as ‘a competent classical scholar, a ripe student of English and foreign literature … and in all that pertained to the arts and sciences a thinker of no mean originality.’ He died at his home, 11 Pembroke Road, Dublin, on 10 March 1902, aged 52, and was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery. His wife, Marion (Creedon) died in 1930.

The principal source of information about Doolin is Gearoid Crookes, ‘The Career and Architectural Works of Walter G Doolin (1850-1902),’ unpublished MA thesis, UCD (1987).

The foundation stone of Doolin’s church was laid on 29 September 1895. It was built by Andrew Cullen of New Ross at a cost of £25,000, and the church was completed in 1902. The church was opened by Bishop Browne of Ferns that year, and the preacher at the opening ceremony was the Jesuit Father Conmee.

The interior includes a pipe organ by Telford and Sons; side altars dating from 1901 by Edmund Sharp (1853-1930) of Dublin; a ‘flèche’-topped high altar (1901) by James Pearse (1839-1900), the Birmingham sculptor who was father of the brothers Patrick and William Pearse, leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin; stained glass by Mayer and Company of Munich and London; and an exposed hammer-beam timber roof.

The carving throughout the church and the external sculptures are the work of John Aloysius O’Connell of Cork.

The church has many similarities with the churches Doolin designed around the same time in Nenagh, Co Tipperary (1892-1906), and Castlebar, Co Mayo (1897-1901), sharing features as the cruciform plan form, aligned along a liturgically-correct axis.

The slender profile of the coupled openings underpinning a mediaeval Gothic theme, with the polygonal apse defined by cusped East Windows, and the turreted spire embellishing the tower make this church a prominent feature in New Ross.

This is an eight-bay, double-height Catholic church, designed on a cruciform plan, with a five-bay, double-height nave opening into five-bay, single-storey lean-to side aisles. There are single-bay, two-bay deep, double-height, double-pile transepts centred on a single-bay, double-height apse at the crossing on a projecting polygonal plan.

The church has a single-bay, six-stage tower built on a square plan and supporting an octagonal spire.

The details of the church include cut-granite coping to the gables on gabled ‘Hollow’ kneelers with Celtic Cross finials to the apexes, a cut-granite gabled bellcote at the apex framing a cast-bronze bell, cut-granite ‘Cavetto’ corbels, stepped buttresses, paired lancet windows in the clerestories and side aisles, lancet windows in tripartite arrangements in the transepts, pointed-arch windows in the apse, a pair of shouldered square-headed door openings at the west front in a pointed-arch recess, mosaic tiled cut-granite steps, a pair of pointed-arch windows, and a Rose Window.

Inside, the church has a full-height interior open into the roof with a pointed-arch tripartite arcade at the west end supporting the arcaded choir gallery with a timber panelled pipe organ (1902).

The pointed-arch arcades have polished Aberdeen granite pillars with hood mouldings on foliate label stops. There is an exposed hammer-beam timber roof, a ‘flèche’-topped, cut-veined white marble high altar below stained-glass memorial windows (1899), stained glass memorial windows (1899), and Gothic-style timber Stations of the Cross.

The church was well maintained, although both the exterior and the interior were reordered in line with the liturgical reforms introduced by the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). Nevertheless, it remains one of the important Gothic Revival churches that decorate the landscape of Co Wexford.

An angel with the coat-of-arms of New Ross on the west façade (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 21: 17-24 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 33 ‘Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watch-tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. 34 When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. 35 But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. 37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” 39 So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40 Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ 41 They said to him, ‘He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.’

42 Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the scriptures:

“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes”?

43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. 44 The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.’

45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. 46 They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

The High Altar in the church was designed by James Pearse (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayer:

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘After the Storm.’ This theme is introduced today:

Cyclone Freddy, one of the longest-lasting tropical cyclones ever recorded, wreaked havoc on Mozambique and surrounding countries in March 2023. The storm result in thousands of deaths and many more displaced. Storms like Cyclone Freddy are becoming more regular and intense as a result of the climate crisis.

After the cyclone passed, affected countries still had to battle continuous rain and power outages which made search and rescue efforts difficult. The storm has also caused severe flooding, swept away roads and left buildings buried in mud.

The Acting Presiding Bishop of the Anglican Church of Mozambique and Angola, the Most Revd Carlos Simao Matsinhe, told USPG at the time:

‘Our bishops in the four dioceses of Zambezia, Niassa, Rio Pungwe, and Nampula report that there is an urgent need for emergency food, clothing, tents, and plastic materials to offer immediate protection. There is also a great need for soap, basic sanitary and water purification supplies to help prevent the outbreak of water-related diseases like cholera, which has already claimed lives in some places. There is wreckage among the many churches, clergy residences, and church schools. We urgently need to save lives.’

USPG responded by releasing emergency funds to the dioceses of Zambezia, Niassa and Ri Pungwe. We remain in communication with our partners in the area, to offer prayerful and practical support.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (8 October 2023, Trinity XVIII) invites us to pray in these words:

O Lord, even the winds and waves obey your voice.
Calm the winds and still the seas.
Keep us safe
Grant us peace this night.

A figure above the west door shows Christ the King in blessing, surrounded by figures representing the four Evangelists (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God,
increase in us your gift of faith
that, forsaking what lies behind
and reaching out to that which is before,
we may run the way of your commandments
and win the crown of everlasting joy;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post Communion Prayer:

We praise and thank you, O Christ, for this sacred feast:
for here we receive you,
here the memory of your passion is renewed,
here our minds are filled with grace,
and here a pledge of future glory is given,
when we shall feast at that table where you reign
with all your saints for ever.

A stained-glass window shows the Holy Trinity vertically and the Holy Family horizontally (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Yesterday’s Reflection

Continued Tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Four Wexford saints represented on the arcaded choir gallery at the west end of the church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)