02 October 2023

‘Listen to the Past,
Talk about the Present,
Look to the Future,’ in
conversation in York

‘Conversation Piece’ by the sculptor Ailsa Magnus at the corner of Bishopthorpe Road and Scarcroft Road in York (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

Two of us have been staying for the last few days off Scarcroft Road in York, close to the junction with Bishopthorpe Road, with its busy and bustling parades of shops, restaurants and caf├ęs.

‘Conversation Piece’ is a visually striking sculpture by the sculptor Ailsa Magnus and has been standing at the corner of Bishopthorpe Road and Scarcroft Road, close to these shops, since 2010. It tells any number of imaginary stories.

‘Conversation Piece’ was created by Ailsa Magnus when she was commissioned to create a sculpture representing the past, present and future of the community in this area of York.

Ailsa Magnus, who recently relocated from North Yorkshire to her native Scotland, has worked on many public commissions throughout the UK and has had several residencies. Her commissions include the glazed stoneware Ibstock Landmark Sculpture (1998), and carved brick wall reliefs for Chinese Ethnic Housing, Hull (1996) and for Henshaw’s, Conyngham Hall Arts and Crafts Centre (1998).

The woman, man, and child represent the past, present and future (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The three figures in ‘Conversation Piece’ on the corner Bishopthorpe Road and Scarcroft Road in York are a woman, a man, and a child, three ‘modern day guardians’ paying homage to the figures found on walls around the city. They represent the past, present and future development of this area in York.

The woman is a sweet maker holding a Terry’s Chocolate Orange to represent the past. She represents the past, as the factory closed many years ago. Many of its once large workforce lived in the area and worked in the Terry’s factory further up Bishopthorpe Road.

The man is a professional modern-day worker, and represents the present community. He is doing his shopping on his way home from work, clutching his bag and briefcase. His facial expression has been described variously as fretful, overworked, quizzical and bemused.

Ailsa Magnus asks us to imagine him as Michael, a Micklegate resident, at 5:30 on a Friday evening who has just finished another busy week at work. He stops to pick up a few bits and pieces from the shops on Bishopthorpe Road before heading home. He chats as he goes to his partner of 15 years, on his hands-free mobile phone. They discuss the day’s events and plan their weekend ahead.

The child, of course, represents the future and is holding a plant or a tree sapling, a symbol of the future.

The inscription on the stone base reads: ‘Listen to the Past, Talk about the Present, Look to the Future.’ Around it are bricks bearing shapes that also have inscriptions – fragments of conversations or questions – submitted by local residents. They range from the general ‘What if?’ to the more specific ‘Can we stop global warming?’

These shapes around the base are based on a popular 19th century sweet created by Terry’s, which featured conversation starters. They appealed to the Victorians, and someone who was tongue-tied could always offer their companion a little piece of sugar paste printed with a suitable inscription: ‘How do you flirt?’ or ‘Can you Polka?’ or ‘Love Me.’

Ailsa Magnus explains that the Terry’s Conversation Lozenge ‘was a very early version of texting or Twitter’ – and she set up a Twitter account so local people could engage with the project and tweet suggestions for a text on a 21st century ‘Conversation Lozenges.’

‘Perhaps an idea will come to you while sitting on the bus, or walking the dog,’ she suggests.

‘Listen to the Past, Talk about the Present, Look to the Future’ … the inscription on the stone base (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (127) 2 October 2023

Micklegate Bar was the southern entrance to York … there are three mediaeval churches on Micklegate, ‘the most architecturally rewarding street in York’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

We are in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar, and the week began yesterday with the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XVII, 1 October 2023).

Two of us are continuing our short break in York. Before today begins, I am taking some time this morning for prayer and reflection.

The Church celebrated Saint Michael and All Angels last Friday (29 September). So my reflections each morning during Michaelmas last week and this week are taking this format:

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 Priory Church of Holy Trinity … one of three three mediaeval churches on Micklegate, York (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Three churches on Micklegate, York:

Micklegate is an interesting streets in York, with three mediaeval churches a total of four Grade I listed buildings. The architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner said Micklegate is ‘without any doubt the most architecturally rewarding street in York.’ For its part, York City Council describes Micklegate as ‘one of the most handsome streets in Yorkshire.’

When I first visited York, I mistakenly imagined the name Micklegate was derived from Saint Michael, as is Michaelmas, or as with Michaelhouse in Cambridge. Although, of course, Micklegate leads directly onto Saint Michael’s Church, Spurriergate.

Micklegate is a street running east from the York city walls at Micklegate Bar, long the main southern entrance to the city, continuing the route of Blossom Street, and it ends at the junction of North Street and Skeldergate.

The street originated as part of a Roman road from Tadcaster to York, which ran through a civilian settlement in the Micklegate and Bishophill area, in the direction of the fortress on the other bank of the Ouse. Its alignment was altered in the Viking period, when the Ouse was bridged in a new location, and it has remained unaltered since.

By then, it was known as Great Street – ‘Myglagata’ – which evolved into Micklegate. The name means ‘Great Street,’ the suffix ‘gate’ coming from the Old Norse gata, or street.

The name Micklegate is sometimes applied to a slightly broader area, including the side streets Toft Green, Priory Street, Trinity Lane and St Martin’s Lane. There is also a ward of Micklegate in council elections, covering a much larger area that spreads beyond the city walls.

There are three mediaeval churches on the street, and the parish is known as Holy Trinity with Saint John, Micklegate and St Martin cum Gregory, York.

Holy Trinity Church, a Grade I listed parish church, is the only remaining part of Micklegate Priory, and should not be confused with Holy Trinity Church at Goodramgate in York.

Holy Trinity Church, Micklegate, on the west bank of the River Ouse inside the walled city, is the only pre-Reformation monastic building still in use in York. The church building is a complex structure incorporating parts of the fabric of a mediaeval priory church dedicated to the Holy Trinity and a mediaeval parish church dedicated to Saint Nicholas.

Holy Trinity is listed in the Domesday Book in 1086 as one of five great northern churches, alongside York Minster. The church was re-founded ca 1089 as a Benedictine priory, and for over 500 years this church was part of a large and important Benedictine monastery. It may be that a ‘double church’ was built at the end of the 11th century, with one half, Holy Trinity, used by the monastic community and a second, dedicated to Saint Nicholas, used by the parish.

The Benedictines created a large monastic complex, covering some seven acres, with a magnificent priory church at its heart.

Holy Trinity is a living, inclusive church. It has been locked during my previous visits to York, but it was open yesterday when I was returning from the Choral Eucharist and Harvest Thanksgiving in York Minister, and I may write about it in more detail later this week. 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, Micklegate. The Sunday Eucharist is at 11 am each week.

Saint John’s Church, on the north side of the street, is a Grade II* listed building. After a period as the York Arts Centre, it is currently used as a bar. Saint John’s Church, Micklegate, is simple rectangular building, with the earliest parts including the tower base dating from the 12th century.

The chancel is 14th century. The north aisle and arcade were rebuilt, and the west end extended in the 15th century. The tower collapsed in 1551 and part of the north aisle was rebuilt.

The church was restored and altered by George Fowler Jones in 1850 to enable the widening of North Street. The south porch was added, the east end was rebuilt and there was extensive restoration. The windows were reglazed, a new floor laid and new pews were added. JB and W Atkinson of York re-roofed the nave in 1866.

The church closed in 1934. It is a Grade II* listed church and later became the Institute of Architecture of the York Academic Trust, which merged into the new University of York.

The university later used the church as York Arts Centre in the 1960s. It was later sold and more recently has been used as a bar. The bell ropes hang around the bar float, and there is occasional ringing – though not very often.

Saint Martin-cum-Gregory in the Parish of Holy Trinity, Micklegate, is now a Stained Glass Centre. The church was originally only dedicated to Saint Martin, but acquired its present name when it merged with Saint Gregory’s Church in 1585.

The church dates from the 11th century. Part of the nave and the north and south arcades date from the 13th century, the north aisle dates form the mid-14th century, and the chancel, chapels and arcades were rebuilt around 1430.

The north porch was added in 1655, and the west tower was refaced with brick in 1677. Saint Martin-cum-Gregory contains some fascinating graffiti from the 14th to the 18th centuries and some important stained glass. York’s two most notable glass painters of the 17th and 18th centuries are buried there: Henry Gyles (1645-1709) and William Peckitt (1731-1795).

The clock was added in 1680. The upper stages of the tower were rebuilt again in 1844-1845 by JB and W Atkinson of York.

The church was restored in 1875 when the interior was cleared of the old square pews, the west gallery and the organ. The floor was levelled and laid with red and black tiles. The columns, arcades and walls were scraped and repaired. The roof of the nave was restored and painted. The organ was enlarged by Mr Denman of Skeldergate. New seating was fitted in the nave and Gurney stoves were introduced for heating. A further restoration was carried out in 1894 when the chancel was re-roofed.

The parish was united with Holy Trinity Church, Micklegate, in 1953. After being made redundant, the church was used as a public hall. Since 2008, it has been developed as a stained-glass centre and it is an occasional arts venue. The Stained Glass Centre at Saint Martin-cum-Gregory on Micklegate is open to the public next weekend (Saturday 7 October and Sunday 8 October 2023, 10 am to 4 pm, with man activities, including craft stalls, stained glass for sale, refreshments, demonstrations and children's activities. Entry is free.

In all, five churches of mediaeval origin survive within the Micklegate Quarter. The other two are Saint Mary Bishophill Junior and All Saints’ Church, North Street.

The Priory on Micklegate is a 14th-century pub on the south side of the street. It was renamed the Priory in 2003 after Micklegate Priory because the gateway to the priory was once next door to the building.

The peace bell at Holy Trinity Church, Micklegate, York (Photograph Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Luke 9: 46-50 (NRSVA):

46 An argument arose among them as to which one of them was the greatest. 47 But Jesus, aware of their inner thoughts, took a little child and put it by his side, 48 and said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest.’

49 John answered, ‘Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.’ 50 But Jesus said to him, ‘Do not stop him; for whoever is not against you is for you.’

Saint John’s Church, Micklegate, has been an architectural centre, an arts centre and a bar (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

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 ‘Supporting Justice for Women in Zambia.’ This theme was introduced yesterday.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (2 October 2023) invites us to reflect on these words:

As yesterday was International Day of older persons let us pray for the elderly. May their dignity be upheld and their vital contribution to society valued by all.

The Collect:

Almighty God,
you have made us for yourself,
and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you:
pour your love into our hearts and draw us to yourself,
and so bring us at last to your heavenly city
where we shall see you face to face;
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:

Lord, we pray that your grace
may always precede and follow us,
and make us continually to be given to all good works;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Saint Martin-cum-Gregory on Micklegate is now a Stained Glass Centre (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

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

The Priory is a 14th-century pub on Micklegate … the gateway to Micklegate Priory was once next to the building (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)