The Bar Convent

The Bar Convent in 2010

The story of the Bar Convent is one of secrecy, resistance and determination.

The Convent was founded in 1686, at a time when Catholics were being persecuted by the state.  The community was run in secret in a house bought by its founder, Frances Bedingfield.

The community took its inspiration from the ideas of Mary Ward (1585-1645) who created the 'Congregation of Jesus and the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary'.  Mary Ward was a pioneer of women's education and the Convent ran a school for Catholic girls, known as the 'Ladies at the Bar'.

In 1696 the house was attacked by a mob but, according to the occupants of a public house opposite, was saved by the appearance of St Michael.  

It was also searched by the authorities several times and both Frances Bedingfield and her niece Dorothy spent time in prison for their activities.

Even in the 1760s, when the present elegant building was constructed, Catholic places of worship were illegal.  The nuns flouted the law and built a beautiful chapel, but one hidden from the outside.  In preparation for raids by magistrates the chapel was complete with eight exits and a priest hole, in which to hide.

The school was taken over by the Church in 1985 but the community is still active and the Chapel is used every day.  It is open to visitors, as is the Museum that opened on the site in 1987.


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