There has been a church on the site of Michael le Belfrey Church from the 8th Century. The present building dates from the 1500's.
There have been Christians in York since Roman times and church buildings in this area since at least the year 627 when Bishop Paulinus baptised Edwin king of Northumbria. Saxon burials discovered in Petergate are evidence that St Michael's is of early origin. The "le Belfrey" either refers to the next-door Minster belfry or to an older church on this site which had a bell tower. It was controlled by the Minster's Dean and Chapter from 1294 for several hundred years. It is a parish church serving the local community. (The Minster is not a parish church.)
St Michael's was rebuilt between 1525 and 1537, during King Henry VIII's break with Rome. John Forman, the Minster's master mason was responsible for the Tudor gothic style with renaissance influence. It was, and still is, the largest parish church in the city, originally serving a wealthy community of merchants and craftsmen.
The building is rectangular, with a nave and two aisles. In the church are boards bearing the names of York Lord Mayors who lived within the parish, and information about Guy Fawkes who was baptised here in 1570.
The 1848 bell tower is a replica of the earliest known bell tower, first depicted in 1705. The west front was thoroughly "restored" in 1867 after houses attached to the church had been pulled down. Generally it represents what had stood earlier. The slender pillars separating the aisles from the nave have angels with shields showing Henry's crown and crossed swords or keys, which are the symbols of St Paul and St Peter. The lathe and plaster ceilings, originally painted blue, probably with gold stars, date back to 1766 and cost £24. The dark marble slab in the floor of the nave is believed to have been the original altar stone from the Minster brought to St Michael le Belfrey in 1617.
John Etty designed the large Reredos with its four fluted Corinthian columns. His son William completed it in 1712 at a cost of £68. The communion rails are contemporary with this. Originally the Ten Commandments appeared in the centre. In 1924/6 the reredos was "beautified." The P.C.C. commissioned a copy of Zurbaran's "Adoration of the Shepherds" (school of Velasquez, original in the National Gallery) to replace the Ten Commandments. Queen Anne's coat of arms was moved from the top of the screen to the front of the gallery at the same time.
The choir stalls and the pulpit were removed from the chancel in 1973. There is now a modern pulpit, and a lectern made by Thompson's of Kilburn with their trademark mouse on its plinth, and a stage area for the musicians who lead our singing. The large early-eighteenth century stone memorial at the end of the south aisle - blocking out a previous window - is of Scarborough MP Robert Squires and his wife Priscilla. The 3-manual organ, with its oak carved case was built by John Denman in 1885.
Two periods of notable growth have occurred here in the last 200 years. William Richardson was vicar from 1771 to 1821. His powerful preaching urged people "to turn from sin and trust in Jesus Christ". In 1785 the gallery was built for the bigger congregations. About 100 years later doors from the pews in the nave were used to form its front. Richardson founded the York Sunday Schools Committee. He visited the poor and cared for prisoners. He became known as the "Father of the York clergy".
There was talk of closure in the 1960's and of using the building for a museum. In 1973 Revd. David Watson, a gifted preacher, moved the half-mile from St Cuthbert's to St Michael le Belfrey with a congregation which over eight years of his ministry had outgrown its premises. Faithful preaching of the Christian gospel, regular and believing prayer, trust in God's Holy Spirit, and good leadership resulted in sustaining and developing a dynamic witness within and beyond York which still continues today.
The present church community continues to emphasise the priority of mission and has a vision to be Serving God's Transformation of the North.