York, Yorkshire

St. Helen's Church, York, Yorkshire

St. Helen was the mother of Constantine the Great, the first Roman Emperor to allow Christian worship – he was proclaimed Emperor in York in 306 AD.

It is unclear when this church was first built, but by the 13th Century it was the church of the City’s glass-makers who worked in nearby Stonegate. A font inside dates to the 12th Century, so it seems likely that St. Helen’s is at least that old. The core of the church dates to the 14th Century and one aisle is from the 15th. However, most of the church was demolished in 1552 before being immediately rebuilt – by Royal Decree – by the parishioners themselves. This was when the little lantern tower was added as quickly afterwards as 1558.

The church stood in a churchyard until 1733 when the Corporation of York moved the burials, paved the churchyard over and created St. Helen’s Square. Rebuilding work was necessary in the mid 1800s, and work continued in the 20th Century. In World War II the parish church of St. Martin was destroyed by bombing and St. Helen’s suddenly became York’s parish church – a role which it struggled to maintain due to its small size. Today it is no longer York’s parish church, the role having been split amongst the other churches in the City and it has returned to its sleepy role passed by thousands of tourists a week.

The most interesting memorial in the church is that to the Davyes sisters who were born in the reign of King Charles II and died in the reign of King George III – having seen no fewer than eight sovereigns (Charles II, James II, Mary II, William III, Anne, George I, George II, and George III)!

Photo - Andrew J. Müller

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