York, Yorkshire – St Martin, Coney Street

Now for church 4, St Martin’s Coney Street was the next one we visited on our crawl of medieval churches in York – https://stmartinsyork.org.uk/ I have walked past this church lots of times, as the City Screen Picturehouse next to it does a very good fish finger sandwich (they show interesting films too). We also looked across the river to All Saints’ North Street – we’ll be there later. York was a port city, and this would have been a useful route to the quayside – logically it would also have led to a  bridge, but there are no remains of that. Apparently the newspaper was the last firm to receive its supplies by water.

On this occasion we went into the church rather than the cinema – and there is a wow as soon as you enter the door. The church was practically destroyed in the Blitz in 1942. The west window had been put into storage, and when the church was rebuilt in the 1950s (the south aisle becoming the Nave), it was installed in the north wall, opposite the door. George Pace was the architect for the rebuilding, and he cleverly rebuilt the C15 church, which was a rebuild of a church of about 1080.

The window was made around 1447 and shows the life of St Martin of Tours. He was born circa 316 in Pannonia (in modern-day Hungary), and was a soldier in the Roman army. He was also a Christian and found the two roles conflicted. The legend is that he chopped his army cloak in half, and gave half to a beggar. Under the influence of Hilary, Bishop of Poitiers, he founded a monastery in 360, the first such foundation in Gaul. It was a centre for missionary work in the local countryside, setting a new example where, previously, all Christian activity had been centred in cities and undertaken from the cathedral there. In 372, Martin was elected Bishop of Tours by popular acclaim and he continued his monastic lifestyle as a bishop, remaining in that ministry until his death on 11 November 397. Always makes me ponder that his feast day is Armistice Day. The window was paid for by Robert Semer, the Vicar – the point was made that this is the window the priest sees. (I remember on one occasion I told the choristers to open their eyes and turn and look at the west window as the sun shone through). We also discussed the role of the bishop in medieval York, and how the story of Martin fitted in. The tower and west wall had been rebuilt in 1411, then the window was added. The church was one of those under the control of the Minster. York would have been a fascinating city in the middle ages – Robert Semer was Vicar 1425 to 1443, imagine being able to sit and talk to him!

Some other windows with old glass – I love this St George and the dragon.

There is also an amazing East Window – Harry Stammers again, 1965.

The Last Supper is by Frank Roper, and was installed in 1968. He was a Yorkshireman, taught sculpture at Cardiff College of Art for many years, and retired back to York before dying in 2000. There is a book review about him at https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2004/19-november/books-arts/book-reviews/the-religious-art-of-frank-roper-an-introduction and a Cardiff church, the Church of the Resurrection in Ely, looks worth a visit – https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2019/8-march/books-arts/visual-arts/art-review-frank-roper-centre-in-the-church-of-the-resurrection-ely-in-cardiff

Let us enjoy three of the older monuments. Sir William Sheffield and his wife Elizabeth – he was knighted by James I in York in 1617, and died in 1633. Robert Horsfield was Sheriff 1672/3 and thrice Master of the Merchant Taylors. If I read the notice right, four of his five wives and eight of his children are buried here too. I love the script on the brass plaque.

The font is medieval, with a cover which dates to 1717. Margaret Clitherow was baptised here in 1553 – you can read about her here http://www.historyofyork.org.uk/themes/tudor-stuart/margaret-clitherow

Looking up is rather good too. Most of the bosses are medieval, and there are others in the Yorkshire Museum. All restored and painted in the reconstruction.

We went outside. This area was planned as a memorial garden, but is now locked and barred – makes you think how our town centres have changed since the 1960s. The clock is the part of this church most people know – and I failed to go any closer! 

And let us remember it was not just buildings that were destroyed in the Blitz – many men lost their lives too. Yves was one of the lucky ones – he lived on, dying in the year I was born.

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