Having just hopped off the train in York and left our luggage in the hotel room, we decided to go for a walk. As we ambled down Museum Street, past the gardens, my mom stopped to look at a sign. The obviously homemade sign advertised a walking tour around the Old Town, which we decided to do after the man who made the sign (who was also the guide) came up to talk to us about it. That was one of the best walking tours I’ve ever been on. One of the things that made it so great was that he took us up and down some of the snickets, into places that other tour guides probably just wouldn’t bother to take people.
First things first: Snicket is a northern English word for a narrow alley. They have them in abundance in the Old Town in York, where many of the buildings remain more or less exactly as they were in the medieval era. (General rule of thumb, if you can see the sky at any point, the place probably doesn’t look exactly like it did in medieval times; but more on that next week!)
Second things second: Why would you want to walk down snickets? The first reason would be so that you can tell people back home you’ve been down a snicket. If you’ve never seen the look of confusion that comes over a person’s face when you say things like that, you should really give it a go. I find it very entertaining. But a(n arguably) better reason is to see some cool things. When the snickets were built in the cramped medieval city, people regularly walked down dark alleys. It was usually the only way to get from Point A to Point B. That means that people built wonderful things that could only be accessed by snickets. Even York Minster at one point could only be visited by meandering through various snickets. That means that, for the modern tourist, some very interesting things which are not completely overrun by tourists can be found nestled away down a snicket.
As our tour guide led us on our windy way through the Old Town, he pointed out one snicket in particular that he recommended we go down. Down this way, he said, there’s a little church that very few people know about, but it’s just charming. So, the next day, we went and visited the church in the snicket.
Holy Trinity Church Goodramgate, as it’s called, was built in the 15th century on the site of a 12th-century church. While it’s well worth your time to visit the grand churches and cathedrals of Europe, I would argue that it’s also well worth your time to visit a church like Holy Trinity Goodramgate. In places like that, you can see how the average Joe went to church back in the day.
Holy Trinity Goodramgate is unique in York because, among other things, it has box pews. These types of pews, with little doors at either end separating it from the others, are fairly common in 18th-century churches in the US, but not so much in Europe. Most churches don’t use box pews because they limit how many people you can fit in the church. On the other hand, it also guarantees a weekly revenue for the church, because families would rent the boxes for weekly use. The closer to the altar your box was, the more you paid for it. The box pews in Holy Trinity all date from the 17th century.
The small church also has some fine stained glass windows, which were donated by a parishioner in the 1470s. Stained glass was important in churches, because that was how illiterate people learned their Bible: Even if they couldn’t read the words on the page, they can see the scenes depicted in the glass, and learn the stories that way.
Another cool feature of this church is the memorial slabs worked into the undulating floor. The ground has shifted over the centuries, leaving parts of the floor higher than others, but the memorial slabs have survived. It was quite common for medieval churches for people to be buried inside the church or to have a memorial constructed for them in the church itself. Along the main altar in Holy Trinity, you can see several slabs that originated in this tradition.
Holy Trinity used to be an Anglican parish church, but it is no longer home to a parish family and the building is a protected historical site. Visitors from up the snicket are more than welcome.
Visiting Holy Trinity Goodramgate:
Getting there: The main entrance is through the snicket on Goodramgate, although there is another entrance through a snicket on Petergate. Goodramgate is near the Shambles, so if you’re visiting those, you’re right nearby. Due to the nature of the church’s location, better directions aren’t really possible, but you can check out a map here.
Admission: Entry to the church is by donation only, which goes toward restoration costs.
Opening hours: The church is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11am to 3pm.