St Martin Le Grand Church
One of the most beautiful churches in the city, according to The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland, 1868.
With its impressive double-sided clock, topped by the 18th century ‘Little Admiral’, St Martin-le-Grand has one of York’s most distinctive and charming facades. But what you see now is a mere fragment of the medieval original.
St Martin’s is now a haven of calm in the heart of York, but in 1942 it was reduced to a smouldering ruin during a bombing raid on the city. The church stood desolate until restoration work began in 1961.
The south aisle became the nave and a new north wall was built with a 5-sided tower to frame the large 15th century St Martin window, which had been removed for safety in 1940 before the raid.
The north side of the church became an enclosed garden, and in 1968 the building was re-consecrated as a ‘shrine of remembrance for all men who died in the two world wars.’
The church has Norman origins, being founded in the late 11th century; there are still remnants of masonry from that period. However it was extensively rebuilt in the 15th century, when it was at the heart of the thriving business sector of medieval York.
The clock, first fitted in 1668, and the gilded head of Father Time are replacements for the originals destroyed in the air raid. The jaunty ‘Little Admiral’ however, survived the fire and is still taking a sighting of the sun with his sextant.
In 1730 when the Mansion House was built nearby as the residence of the Lord Mayor, St Martin's became the official civic church.
The church is named after St Martin of Tours, the patron saint of soldiers. His Feast Day is 11th November - Armistice Day. The great west window dates from around 1440 and shows scenes from the life of St Martin. In one panel Martin is shown rescuing a hare from four hounds; in another he forces the devil to carry his prayerbook.
This great wall of glass is 9m high and 4m wide, and is the largest window of any parish church in the city.