Bar Convent to celebrate trailblazing Catholic women in audio trail at living heritage centre. Who’s in the spotlight?

Mary Ward (Augsberg portrait): Foundress of the Bar Convent

THE Trailblazers of the Bar Convent will be celebrated in a new audio trail that opens at the living heritage centre, in Blossom Street, York, on May 25 to mark half-term week.

Focusing on uncovering the amazing stories of key characters from the history of the oldest surviving convent in Great Britain, the exhibition trail spotlights:

* Mary Ward, who believed that girls deserved an equal education to boys;

* Mother Superior Ann Aspinal, who determined to build a secret chapel totally hidden from the outside world;

* Sister Gregory Kirkus, who set up the first ever museum at the convent;

* Plus many more incredible women who have lived there over the centuries, dedicating their lives to helping those in need, protecting the Catholic faith and supporting the Catholic community across the city.

Saint Margaret Clitherow

The foundress of the order – resident at the Bar Convent since 1686 – was a Yorkshire woman, Mary Ward, who has such international significance that her followers and supporters are building a case to have her officially recognised as a saint by the Catholic Church.

She believed that women were intellectually equal to men and deserved an education that reflected that equality. Providing a proper education for girls was central to her work, and she duly travelled widely across Europe, founding schools in ten European cities by 1628.

She noted in 1617 that “there is no such difference between men and women that women may not do great things – and I hope in God it will be seen that women in time to come will do much”.

In the mid-18th century, Mother Ann Aspinal wanted to construct a new convent chapel with an Italianate style dome but it was still illegal to build Catholic churches at that time. Rather than hiding the building project, she instead added a new suite of rooms to the front of the building, including a beautiful Georgian parlour, to disguise the real building project taking place at the back of the house: the secret chapel.

Sister Gregory Kirkus: Author of 20 books about the Bar Cinvent

Sister Gregory Kirkus wrote more than 20 books on the history of the convent and researched the lives of many of the sisters who have lived here. She established the inaugural museum at the Bar Convent and saved its historic books and documents. Thanks to her, so much of the building’s history is known.

The Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre is open to the public and welcomes all faiths and none. The chapel is free to visit and a public mass is celebrated on Fridays at 12 noon. The relic of Saint Margaret Clitherow is housed there.

Using QR codes throughout the Trailblazers trail, visitors are invited to discover more about the trailblazing women of the Bar Convent story, whose bravery and determination made history locally, nationally and globally.

Entry to the convent is free. The trail is included in admission to the Bar Convent exhibition. Complete the trail to be in with a chance to win a £30 voucher for the café. Tickets:

Opening hours for the exhibition, chapel and Georgian parlour:  10am to 5pm; last entry 4pm. Café: Monday to Saturday, 8am to 3pm (hot food served until 2.30pm).