There is no doubt that all of you will have seen the huge ‘little admiral’ clock hanging over Coney Street. The 1778 timepiece is an intimidating icon on the riverside shopping district, and it is very hard to ignore it. Less of you, however, will have paid much attention to the small church the clock adjoins.
St. Martin Coney Street (or St. Martin Le Grand, to quote its unofficial name), is a medieval parish church, The earliest masonry that still stands dates back to c.1080, but the church is thought to be much older. Originally standing in its own grounds, right down to the Ouse, the church stood happily and without event. However, during the Baedeker Raid of April 1942, St. Martin’s was almost completely destroyed, but the inventive and innovative restoration by eminent English architect George Pace which took place between 1961 and 1968 cemented the church’s position as one of the only surviving (in part) medieval churches in York. The north side of the church remains a calm area for reflection, echoing the church’s re-consecration as ‘a shrine of remembrance for all men who died in the two world wars’.
The most interesting aspect of St. Martin Le Grand is the St. Martin Window, dating from 1437. The stained glass edifice is nine metres high and four metres wide, the largest of any parish church in the city, and is quite simply breath-taking. It is the shock of its discovery that aids to the overall effect. Positioned perfectly to allow the correct amount of light through, the window is a joy to behold. Although, it is very difficult to take it all in in one view, owing to the small quarters of the building; consequently, it requires you to pay much more attention to it and to look at it from different angles. The window features various scenes, centring round the life and legend of St. Martin of Tours (c.316-397). It is beautifully preserved, and begs continued and prolonged study to fully appreciate the work and history of the piece.
Fortunately, the St. Martin Window was removed for safety in 1940, or the wonder of the auspicious yet unassuming glasswork would have been lost forever. As with most churches in York, entry is completely and utterly free.