ONE of York’s most historic buildings owes part of its ‘secret’ design to one of its female pioneers, a new exhibition and audio trail reveals.

The Bar Convent, the oldest living convent in the UK, is celebrating the key characters in its history in ‘York Trailblazers – brave women who have dedicated their lives to helping those in need and protecting the Catholic faith’, from May 25 at its Living Heritage Centre in Blossom Street.

The Bar Convent was established in 1686 by a group of religious sisters and is of the highest significance to the worldwide order, the Congregation of Jesus, and more than 200 schools around the world can trace their beginnings to the house, according to its spokesperson.

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The exhibition and audio trail include QR codes where visitors will discover more about the women within the story and their impact locally, nationally and around the world.

In the mid-18th century, Mother Ann Aspinal wanted to construct a new convent chapel on the site, with an Italianate-style dome, but it was still illegal to construct Catholic churches at that time.

So she added a whole new suite of rooms to the front of the building, including a Georgian parlour, to disguise the real building project taking place at the back of the house.

The exhibition also includes the work of foundress Mary Ward, who placed at the centre of her work the provision of a proper education for girls and did so by founding schools in ten European cities by 1628.

More recently, Sister Gregory Kirkus wrote over 20 books about the history of the convent and researched the lives of many of the sisters who have lived here. 

She also set up the first ever museum at Bar Convent.

York Trailblazers runs from May 25 at The Bar Convent Heritage Centre in Blossom Street and you can read more about it at