For the last few weeks St Martin le Grand church in Coney Street - like churches elsewhere across the country - has lain quiet: just another 'victim' of the lockdown dictated by the coronavirus.

In normal times, however, this beautiful church is a haven of piece and quiet in the hubbub of a bustling city centre - even if it doesn't seem quite as grand as that name suggests.

There's a reason why the church seems a little at odds with its name. The building we have today is really just the shell of the far grander church that once stood here, but which was badly damaged (like so many important buildings in the city, the nearby Guildhall included) in the Baedeker Raid of April 1942.

As its name suggests, the church was once one of the most important in York.

Founded in the late 11th century, it was extensively rebuilt in the 15th century, when it was at the heart of the thriving business sector of medieval York.

In 1730 when the Mansion House was built nearby as the residence of the Lord Mayor, St Martin's - named after St Martin of Tours, the patron saint of soldiers - became the official civic church.

But it was reduced to a smouldering ruin in the early hours of April 29, 1942, when bombs rained down on the city. Much of the church was destroyed, with just the south aisle surviving.

A church is more than just a building, of course. In the hours following the raid, attempts were made for the church's business, at least, to carry on as normal. Arrangements were made for a wedding booked that day to be held in St Helen's in nearby St Helen's Square, which became the parish church.

Initially, despite the destruction, there were hopes of restoring the St Martin's to its former glory. But the north arcade proved to be too badly damaged, and there were fears it would collapse.

The church was to stand desolate for many years, as York itself gradually recovered from the war. It wasn't until 1961 that restoration work finally began under the supervision of the architect George Pace.

The restoration was to take several years. The south aisle became the nave of the smaller, restored church, and a new north wall was built with a 5-sided tower to frame the large 15th century St Martin window, which tells the life-story of the saint. This window had fortunately been removed for safety in 1940 before the raid, so survived the war.

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 distinctive clock is a replacement for one first fitted in 1668, which was destroyed in the air raid in 1942. The jaunty ‘Little Admiral’ on top, however, survived the fire and can still be seen today, taking a sighting of the sun with his sextant.

We have dug out a series of photos from our archives, today, which show the process of reconstruction of this lovely church. They begin with the damage caused by the Blitz...

1. The smouldering ruins of St Martins Church, Coney Street, in the aftermath of the bombing raid of April 1942

2. The shell of St Martins following the air raid

3. November 1963: Mr C Reeder, the foreman in charge of the restoration of St Martin's, crouches beside the new 30-foot window later to be fitted with stained glass

4. January 1968: Mr Arthur Cooper, York area manager of organ builders J W Walkers, at work on the new organ installed in St Martin's Church, Coney Street. The instrument was a gift of the German government and German Evangelical Church, as a token of reconciliation

5. May 1966: The restored St Martin le Grand Church clock, weighing a quarter of a ton, being hoisted into position over Coney Street by a crane. The street was closed for the operation

6. August 1966: Final work by York Minster stained glass craftsman Mr Peter Gibson on the 600-year-old St Martin window, which had been in safe keeping since the war and was being readied for replacing in the church of St Martin le Grand.

Stephen Lewis