A Catholic lady’s guide to York

If there ever were two strange bedfellows {figuratively, of course} on a trip to York, that would be a Presbyterian and a Roman Catholic.

You walk into the historical town from the station and you will be crossing a bridge with three symbols: the coat of arms of the city of York {with the cross of St George and the five gold lions of England}, the white rose of the House of York and the keys of St Peter {for the Minster}. Quite a statement when Yorkshire saw the rising of the Pilgrimage of Grace, and the rebellion of the Northern Earls in favour of Mary Queen of Scots.

Over lunch I’ve had a look around the Visit York website, only to discover that they still put on mystery plays, which are one of my favourite things ever, and I’m dying to see one.
We walked up to the Minster, which is as impressive as one should expect, and I’ve been tempted by Evensong later in the evening. We decided against paying the 10£ fee because we only had one day in York and to make it worth it you have to really look at all the finest details.
I’ve managed to stop by St Wilfrid’s on the way, as Mass was just over, discovering that it has been taken over by the Fathers of the Oratory. If you are used to Birmingham or London, the building itself is much less grand and far away from Doris Day’s ideal of giving a foretaste of Heaven to the poor, instead it’s a small and recollected church that reminds me more of Oxford.
Obviously being accompanied by someone who’d rather see the church disappear I had to text my surprise to a Catholic friend back in London, who replied to my pointing out the young age of the priests with an excited “Good! Vocations!”. As you do.
If only we could take the Minster back!

York is delightfully Medieval. We had a stroll down the Shambles, which was the Butcher’s street, and is now noticeable for being a shrine to Catholic history. They are not far away from the house where Guy Fawkes was born, and St. Michael le Belfrey where he was baptised, now according to Google a charismatic Church of England parish, but most importantly the Shambles are the site of the Shrine to St Margaret Clitherow, one of the martyrs of the Reformation. I’ve always been instinctively fond of the North for their obstinate refusal to comply with what the South wanted.

We’ve seen the town hall, castle, the Crown Court and Clifford’s tower from outside. There’s a plaque to commemorate the massacre of the town’s Jews in 1190, which is very personal and very sad because of my heritage.
The Town Hall was closed because of a private event, which was very sad, but it was nice that the tourist information outside of it talked about how the Queen paid 20£ of her own purse for the well being of the Parliamentarian prisoners during the Civil Wars.
However, on our way to the Viking museum {which turned out to be closed because of a flood}, we passed by Fairfax house, which is a little gem of Georgian décor and history.

Despite the presence of the portrait of the 2nd Lord Fairfax, the Parliamentarian commander who recaptured York from the Royalists, it is very much an architectural piece of Catholic piety and Jacobite propaganda. Said portrait sits on the same wall as the one of the Old Pretender {Prince James Francis Edward Stuart}, due to the fact that most of the paintings available now are not the original ones from when the townhouse was used. The choices of the curator turn the house from a private house which you might visit to look at pretty things to a real museum of Early Modern History, so even when they seem very peculiar (like maritime scenes in the dining room) they don’t feel out of place. The library has a very interesting ceiling with the portrait of Augustan writers {earlier this year I have written about Alexander Pope}, and there are two wonderful musical instruments for those who are into classical music. It’s all very splendid and it was exciting for me to be able to wander around what looks like my ideal home.
It’s a fairly small townhouse but the volunteers are very knowledgeable and happy to speak to you about anything for a very long time, and you’re welcome to look at things in many details. You can even keep the ticket for a year and go back to visit it as much as you want.

We’ve had a coffee at Newgate Coffee Bar, which is in the oldest building in York, and it’s in the very centre near beautiful street markets with lots of flowers. There are also plenty of delightfully quirky tea rooms other than the obligatory Betty’s, which was very crowded when we went, and which is almost sacrilegious not to go to (at least, so it seems if you have ever dated a Yorkshireman). I tend to prefer more intimate and less crowded places, although I’m booked for tea at the Wolseley this week. If you are looking for food, I gather from a local foodie with good judgement the go to places are Rustique on Castlegate, or any establishment down Fossgate going onto Walmgate, and there is also a very good Italian on Peaseholme Green but I did not enquire for the name because I see no point in going to Italian restaurants when I can compete with Jamie Oliver. A quick Google search suggests that the place might be “Le Langhe”.
The last place we visited was the garden of the Museum of York, with the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey and some other interesting buildings as well as, you can guess, more flowers.

My experience of York is definitely one of a romantic city that is very attuned to my dispositions, and if you like old buildings, pretty things and wandering around in the rain you’ll love it.

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