The first public place of worship for Catholics since the Reformation opened in York in 1760 in Little Blake Street, now Duncombe Place. It was replaced in 1802 by another chapel built across the road on site of the present church. This older chapel was hidden from the street by the priests’ house so as to be discreet at a time of anti-Catholic feeling. It could hold 700 people, a sign of the growing Catholic population of the day.
Plans for a new church had been drawn up in 1848 but funds were diverted to build a church in the Walmgate area for the large number of Irish Catholics who settled there during the famine.
The present St Wilfrid’s Church was built on the site of the old chapel in the newly enlarged street now renamed Duncombe Place. The foundation stone was laid in April 1862 by the Bishop of Beverley, Robert Cornthwaite. The architect was George Goldie a parishioner who had been baptised in the original chapel.
[Goldie worked on many other ecclesiastical buildings, including St Wilfrid’s School and the Poor Clares’ Monastery in York; churches and cathedrals throughout Britain and Ireland; and even the old Cathedral of Bloemfontein, South Africa.]
St Wilfrid’s was completed in 1864 and opened by Cardinal Wiseman in June of the same year.
At its opening St Wilfrid’s became the Pro-Cathedral of the Diocese of Beverley a role it lost when the Diocese of Beverley was divided in 1878 to form two new dioceses centred on Middlesbrough and Leeds. But the church is still considered to be the Mother Church for the Catholics of Yorkshire.
Much of the fine decoration and stained glass was lost during an air raid in 1942. The church still contains the Shrine of Our Lady of York, a revival of a pre- reformation devotion. St Wilfrid’s was restored at the end of the war and consecrated on 14 July 1945.