The Mix Six: Ancient York churches on your smartphone

26 Feb 2013 @ 9.04 am
| News

A screenshot from the new York Churches smartphone app. Photograph: the Centre for the Study of Christianity & Culture
Now you can fit York’s historic churches in your pocket. Louise Hampson reports on a project combining ancient and modern

christianity-and-culture-logoThe York Churches app is a fun and interactive way of exploring the city’s religious life and heritage on your smartphone or tablet.

Created by the Centre for the Study of Christianity & Culture at the University of York, the app is accessed via a GPS-enabled map of the city. Churches of all denominations are shown as “pins”. Each pin opens a landing page of introductory text and, developing over the course of the two-year project, an option to access a more detailed plug-in about each church.

Additional layers on the map will show the former location of “lost” churches, whose traces may be slight (a few gravestones, a bit of stonework) or non-existent, but whose story is part of York’s rich past, as well as churches and chapels which now serve another purpose – a nightclub, a fire station, or a stained glass centre.

Here are six of the fabulous buildings which are (or will be) covered on the app…


All Saints, Pavement


A pre-Conquest foundation, the present church is largely 14th century. The dominant feature of this church is the lantern tower, which was originally built around 1400 reputedly to provide a beacon for travellers through the dangerous Forest of Galtres to the north of the city. However, as the bulk of the Minster would block the view of the lantern from the north, it is perhaps more likely it was for river traffic on the Ouse.

Inside, the treasure of this church today is its stained glass, especially the unique 14th century west window depicting the Passion and Resurrection of Christ, which was originally in St Saviour’s Church (now Jorvik Dig). Other glass includes a window commemorating Mary Craven, the pioneering York confectioner who lived in Coppergate. Now the guild and civic church of York, it is host to a large number of special services in addition to the three regular Sunday services and the 12 noon Tuesday service. It is part of the City Centre Group of churches which includes St. Denys’, St Helen’s, St Martin’s Coney Street and St Olave’s.


St Olave’s, Marygate


Founded c.1050 by Earl Siward (who was buried here), this fascinating church was largely rebuilt in the late 15th century and again in the 18th century after Civil War damage when it served as a gun emplacement! The church is built into the walls of St Mary’s Abbey and has been at the sharp end of so much of York’s history, being at various times the church of the pre-Conquest earl’s borough, the responsibility of St Mary’s Abbey in the Middle Ages and the burial place of York artist, William Etty.

It is not all about the past, however: the carving of the corbels in the chancel has been done to designs by the noted sculptor Charles Gurrey, a member of the present congregation, to mark the start of the 21st century

Regular Friday and Sunday services are held and Mon-Fri: morning-prayer is said at 8.45am. There is a lively and flourishing choir and a fantastic pipe organ. It is part of the City Centre Group of churches which includes All Saints Pavement, St. Denys’, St Helen’s and St Martin’s Coney Street.


St Columba’s United Reform Church, Priory Street


This imposing church was built in 1879 as the York Presbyterian Church. Built in the neo-Classical style, it originally had a tall, slender tower on the corner, but this became unsafe in 1949 and sadly had to be removed. The church was named St Columba’s in 1969 and, after the union of the Presbyterian church with the Congregationalists, became St Columba’s United Reformed Church in 1972. The joint pastorate of St Columba’s with New Lendal was formed in 1994 and from 2012 the church is known simply as St Columba’s United Reformed.

Built to accommodate up to 700 with a Sunday school and meeting rooms, the building houses a fine pipe organ, a 1907 T.C. Lewis recently restored, and some very fine stained glass windows. In the rooms beneath the church is the St Columba’s Community Foundation, an initiative started by the church in 2007, giving space in the building for York based charities which provid support to families, those in difficulties and vulnerable young people. There is worship every Sunday at 10.15am and a short service on Tuesdays at noon held in All Saints Pavement.


St Denys Church, Walmgate


Founded before 1154 (we know this from a reference to it in documents) the church was built on the site of a late Anglo-Saxon church and a Roman building. The present building dates mostly from the 14th and 15th centuries, when York’s merchant prosperity encouraged a lot of church rebuilding and “modernisation”. The unusual shape of the church is due to a series of unfortunate events: the spire was lost Civil War cannon fire and lightning damage, and the nave and transepts were demolished in 1797 leaving only the chancel.

There is a fine Norman doorway, a survivor of the early phase of the church, but the glory of St Denys is its wonderful mediaeval stained glass. This includes two 12th century roundels, amongst the oldest stained glass in York. The church’s special mission is to the deaf and hearing impaired with a service at 10.30am on the first Sunday of each month which is signed and has a ‘signing choir’. Regular services are Wednesday and Sunday at 9.30am. It is part of the City Centre Group of churches which includes All Saints Pavement, St. Helen’s, St Martin’s Coney Street, and St. Olave’s. (Photograph: Wikipedia).


St Mary, Bishophill Junior


This church was built between the 11th and 14th centuries, but (unusually) reused Roman stonework and tiles. These can be found in the unique feature of St Mary’s, its early 11th century tower which pre-dates the rest of the church and is built of re-used Roman stone from the civilian settlement or “colonia”. The church also contains some pre-Conquest carved stones from a lost Anglo-Saxon church, and some lovely 15th century stained glass.

The “Junior” in the name relates to a second, now demolished St Mary’s church nearby which was older and larger and known as St Mary’s Bishophill Senior. Main services are Sundays 9.15am and Wednesdays 7.30pm. The parish of St. Mary’s is joined with St Clement’s, which is a fine Victorian church on Scarcroft Road with a good east window by Capronnier of Brussels. The church is also host to the Greek Orthodox Congregation of St. Constantine whose services are at 11am on the 2nd and 4th Sundays.


Central Methodist Church, St Saviourgate


This amazing neo-Classical church tucked away in St Saviourgate looks like a Greek temple! It was built by subscription in 1839-40 as the Centenary Wesleyan Chapel, in celebration of one hundred years of Methodism and was originally one of several Methodist chapels in York. The congregation joined with the Priory Street Wesley Chapel to form Central in 1982.

The building was designed by James Simpson of Leeds, who also built the Priory Street Methodist chapel, now the Rock Church, but in a radically different style. The neo-Classical style of Central was intended to emphasise the difference between the Methodists and the Anglican church, which had returned to using the Gothic style we associated with Victorian churches. Central retains its fine box pews, and beautiful oval gallery focussing attention on the mahogany pulpit. It is a fine example of neo Classical chapel design and a Grade II* listed building and contains an exceptional organ.

There is worship every Sunday at 10am and 6.30pm led by a variety of lay and ordained ministers, as well as numerous talks and events. Central is also the home of Carecent, a project which originated here but has now expanded to be run by people from several different churches which provides breakfasts, friendship and other facilities for homeless people in York.