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Micklegate Priory Revealed

A still from the touch screen display

York’s Centre for Christianity and Culture brings history to life

Holy Trinity Church in York is all that remains of a much larger Benedictine priory church which, before the Reformation, stood at the heart of a seven-acre monastery. Thanks to an interactive touch-screen display created by the University of York’s Centre for the Study of Christianity and Culture, visitors to the Micklegate church can now experience the sights and sounds of the former priory.

York Minster’s equal before the Norman Conquest, the later Micklegate Priory was home to 32 monks at its height, with the monastery playing a vital role in the religious and economic life of the local community. Now thanks to a new interactive touch-screen installation, visitors to Holy Trinity Church can gain an insight into the daily lives of the monks who lived and worshipped there in the 15th century.

Centred round a series of animated movies, the display recreates Trinity Sunday in 1450 – the patronal festival of the church and a day when the monastery threw open its church’s doors to the York community. By clicking on a time-wheel, visitors can see what would have been happening at any given point of the day, with the option to learn more by touching interest points. To increase authenticity, the display includes music and chanting from present-day Benedictine monks from Ampleforth near York, as well as specially sourced readings in Latin.

The new display, which immerses visitors in the daily life of the priory, is the second phase of the Micklegate Priory Revealed project. In 2010, the first phase saw the introduction of a digital recreation of the former priory precinct, which presents visitors with a detailed 3D visualisation of the 15th century priory. Twelve areas of the priory can be investigated, including the cloister, workshops, gardens and fishponds. 

Louise Hampson, Development Officer at the University’s Centre for the Study of Christianity and Culture, says: “The aim of this on-going project is to put Micklegate Priory back on the map and to show people how it helped shape the geography of this area. Members of today’s parish are very keen to tell the story of the church’s fascinating monastic past to a wide audience and to demonstrate the importance of Christianity to this area.

“The beauty of the touch-screen is that information is layered so that visitors can choose their own entry point and the level of detail they want to go into. In this way we hope to keep people’s interest and provide value in coming back.”

The beauty of the touch-screen is that information is layered so that visitors can choose their own entry point and the level of detail they want to go into

Louise Hampson

Micklegate was once the main entry point to the city and the priory, and with its Benedictine culture of hospitality was generally the first port of call for travellers and pilgrims. The Mystery Play pageant wagons formed up in the courtyard at dawn in readiness for the plays, while the half-timbered out-buildings in the precinct may have housed some of the Mystery Play props or staging.

The interactive touch-screen display was designed to complement the church’s existing ‘Monks of Micklegate’ exhibition which has been in place since 2007. The free-standing display explains the importance and legacy of the Micklegate Priory and includes a board dedicated to the Bestiary, a 13th century book of beasts depicting Christian virtues, which was made by Holy Trinity monks.

Dean Whitehouse from Holy Trinity Church says, “This is very much a living parish church with a thriving community and we see the exhibitions not just as part of our outreach to the wider community, but as an integral part of our worship.

“The digital touch-screen recreations have allowed us to widen the influence of our existing exhibition and provide a very useful resource for Micklegate. It’s important to find engaging ways of interesting people of different ages and interests through a range of media.”

Animations for the touch-screen were created by Heritage Technology in collaboration with Christianity & Culture and the project was funded by the Holy Trinity and St Martins Ecclesiastical Trust.

The next phase of the Micklegate Priory Revealed project will involve producing a CD-ROM which visitors can take away and explore at their leisure and which teachers can incorporate into lessons. More topic-specific content around themes such as music and monuments is also planned to further enhance the touch-screen.

Further information