THREE priest vestments designed and worn for the opening illegal mass in the UK’s oldest living convent in York will go on display together in the chapel for the first time since 1769.

As part of the York Georgian Festival in August, the historic vestments will be on show at the Bar Convent in the city.

The Bar Convent in York was first established in 1686 when Catholicism was illegal. The chapel was built in complete secrecy and took 20 years to complete. The first Mass was held on April 29, 1769 and the vestments were only worn together in the chapel on that occasion.

Since then, one vestment has been on display in the Bar Convent’s exhibition, but the remaining two have been in the possession of different churches - until now.

York Press: The chapel at the Bar Convent in YorkThe chapel at the Bar Convent in York (Image: Charlotte Graham)

Dr Hannah Thomas, of the Bar Convent, said: “Historically, these three vestments have been lent to different churches in the city and it has taken some time to arrange for their return to their original home. These incredibly significant vestments were designed and made as a set specifically for the opening of this very special chapel and we are both thrilled and moved to be able to share this historic reunion with the public.

“The vestments will be displayed behind the altar in the chapel where they were first worn together more than 250 years ago, at great risk to the priests and all those who attended.

“Not only have these Georgian vestments survived a time in which Catholic material was regularly seized and destroyed, but the fact that the chapel and the convent have also survived against all the odds is an incredible story that we will be highlighting as part of the inaugural York Georgian Festival 2023.”

York Press: Dr Hannah Thomas pictured with the vestmentsDr Hannah Thomas pictured with the vestments (Image: Charlotte Graham)

There are different types of priest’s vestments worn within the Catholic Church. This style is called a Chasuble - a sleeveless vestment which is the top layer worn by Catholic or High Anglican priests when celebrating Mass. The shape has varied over time, but this is typical of the 17th and 18th centuries. There is also a matching stole - the narrow, long piece of fabric which was worn underneath the Chasuble.

They are handmade with gold threads on a background of silk damask and feature an early use of sequins on liturgical clothing in England.

The icon of the pelican on the back is a direct reference to the pelican on the altar in the chapel. In Catholicism, the pelican is used to symbolise Jesus, as legend has it that the pelican fed its young with its own blood, as Jesus also sacrificed himself for others.

The display will take place from August 3-5. On August 5 the chapel is only open from 2pm-5pm.