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Britain > North England > York > St Michael Belfrey

A parish church in shadow of York Minster, with plenty of historic connections

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Church Organ
East Window
Rood Screen
The first church to be built on this site was constructed at least 700 years ago, but in the following years, its maintenance was badly neglected. By the early 1500s, the building was in such bad condition that York's Christian community was too terrified to actually go inside! The church leaders sensibly decided to erect a new one, and so they enlisted the master mason from St. Michael's next-door-neighbour - York Minster. In fact, the first church building to stand on this site was actually the Minster's belfrey - which is where the name St. Michael Le Belfrey comes from.

Inside St Michael le Belfrey
The most famous event in this church's past occurred in 1570, when a baby only three days old was christened here. The baby grew up to become one of the most notorious criminals in British history. His name was Guy Fawkes. Although he was baptised as an Anglican, he became part of a group of revolutionary Catholics, who developed the infamous Gunpowder Plot. In 1605, they tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament while the King, and most of the aristocracy, were inside. However, a group of armed men searched the vaults beneath the House of Lords, and discovered Fawkes with around twenty barrels of gunpowder. Despite attempting to pose as a Mr. John Johnson, he was promptly arrested, and sentenced to death, with entry to his public execution costing up to ten shillings. Today, St. Michael's displays an enlarged page from its church register, recording the baptism of this historical figure.
Also on display in the church is the famous east window, which depicts an image of the martyrdom of Thomas Becket. In the mid 1100s, he became the Archbishop of Canterbury - but he only lasted 8 years in the position. After severe disputes with King Henry II, The King in his anger questioned why no-one had dealt with Beckett? This was interpreted as a Royal command to assassinate the Archbishop though most historians agree this wasn't the Kings actual intension. Nevertheless, the order was carried out by his Knights and despite the fact that the Pope turned Becket into a Saint just three years later, the monarchy continued to despise his memory for years to come. In fact, a full two and a half centuries later, King Henry VIII ordered the destruction of every single image of Thomas Becket - which makes St Michael Le Belfrey's window extremely rare.

The Church Organ, built in 1885
Today, the church has an enthusiastic community, and is well-known for its innovative ideas - such as informal services held in a gym, and services held entirely in Mandarin Chinese. St. Michael is usually open to visitors every day, so why not pop along for a look?
Visitor Information
The church is open Mon to Fri 10am - 5pm . Entry is FREE. Tel: 01904 624190

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