St. Michael le Belfrey Church, York
The church of St Michael le Belfrey is situated in the centre of York, next to York Minster and stands on the southern side of Minster Yard adjacent to where High and Low Petergate meet. It takes its name from the Minster Belfrey which occupied the site before the church was built.
The present building was constructed in the reign of King Henry VIII, between 1525 and 1536, under the direction of the master mason to the Minster, John Forman. It was constructed in the Tudor gothic style with renaissance influence. It replaced a previous church that had occupied the site which dated back to at least 1294. Saxon burials unearthed in and around Petergate indicate that a Saxon church has stood on this site since the eighth century.
St. Michael le Belfrey is the only church in York to have been built in the sixteenth century and the largest pre-Reformation parish church in the city. The striking bell tower above the west door was built in 1848, when the west front was rebuilt but is an exact replica of the earlier tower, which was depicted in a drawing of 1705.
In his book 'England's Thousand Best Churches' Simon Jenkins describes St Michael le Belfrey as 'pompous, squat and rather fat' while The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland, 1868, praised it at the time as 'the most spacious and the most elegant of the York parochial churches'.
St. Michael le Belfrey is famous for being the church where the Gunpowder Plot conspirator Guy Fawkes worshipped. Fawkes as a native of York who lived on nearby Petergate. He was the second of four children born to Edward Fawkes, a proctor and an advocate of the consistory court at York, and his wife, Edith Blake and the church recgisters record he was baptised at St. Michael le Belfrey on 16 April 1570. Fawkes later converted to Roman Catholicism and led to a failed attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament and the Protestant James I in 1605. He was sentenced to hung, drawn and quartered in January 1606. An enlarged page from the church register recording Guy Fawkes baptismal entry is on display inside the building.
The church was also the scene of the wedding of Christopher Levett of York, the English explorer, to Mercy More, daughter of the Revd Robert More of Guiseley, Yorkshire, in 1608.
Inside the church are boards bearing the names of York Lord Mayors who lived within the parish. The east window depicts the martyrdom of St. Thomas Becket, it is a rare survival as in 1538, Henry VIII's ordered all images of St Thomas, whom he regarded to be a traitor to his king, to be destroyed. The window contains some fourteenth century panels from the previous church.
The superb gilded reredos (pictured left) with its four fluted Corinthian columns and altar rails were designed by John Etty and completed by his son, William, in 1712. The lectern was made by Thompson's of Kilburn and displays their trademark mouse on its plinth.
The gallery was added in 1785.