Beverley Minster – St John & St Martin

Today (3 May 2014) I have photographed another Northumberland church, and when I came to blog it I realised I’d written up two Yorkshire churches and not the third. So, wheel history back to Monday 27 January and let’s travel South (with apologies for my tardiness). I’m now on sabbatical for three months, so I promise you’ll get a few more churches to read about. I will also mention that my George Herbert talks (see Leighton Bromswold) are on Ponteland church’s website. I have also promised my kids that I will mention in my blog that a group of them (i.e. Hannah, Harry plus others) are running the Great North Run and the BUPA London 10k in memory of Gareth. They would love you to read their fundraising page for the British Heart Foundation.


We last came to Beverley when we were at Lincoln (1991-4) and I have been through it on the train. It was now 2.30 pm, and we really ought to come back for a full day (especially as they do a roof tour at 11.15 am). Nice flat access at the north east end, a welcoming shop (with own tomb, Nicholas de Huggate, I think) and a “help yourself” coffee. Excellent guidebook – though more photos than text. The Vicar here was Precentor of York Minster. I can understand how anyone would love to have such a beautiful church, but they only have Choral Evensong on a Thursday – then again, after a few years at York, you might want a slightly less timetabled life. Good Minster website.


Bede tells us that this area was uninhabited until Bishop John of York (bishop 706-c714) founded a monastery here.


The black slab of his tomb is the traditional site, and became a focus of pilgrimage and healing. It is probable that the Vikings sacked it, and possible that King Athelstan (reigned 924-39) refounded it with a college of canons.



There is a C17 painting of Athelstan handing a charter to John. Archbishop Aelfric secured John’s canonization as John of Beverley in 1037, and over the next century a substantial church was built. However a fire damaged the church in 1188 and the central tower collapsed in 1213.


Building of a new church started at the east end about 1220 and proceeded rapidly. The first bay of the nave was completed by 1270. John’s relics were transferred to a new shrine behind the high altar soon after 1300 and a beautiful reredos built for it. The nave was completed in the 1390s, the western towers and north porch soon after 1400. Despite a two hundred years process of building, the church is a whole (and a beautiful whole at that). In 1377 Beverley was taxed as the eleventh largest town in England – it was a wealthy collegiate church and a centre for pilgrims. Thomas Becket was provost c1153-62, though he is unlikely to have come this far north! The Battle of Agincourt took place on St John of Beverley’s Feast Day, and Henry V made John one of the patron saints of the royal family.


Henry VIII was not as supportive! The college of canons was suppressed in 1548. By 1700 the church was in a bad state, but Nicholas Hawksmoor led a major restoration between 1717 and 1731, George Gilbert Scott another one 1866 and 1878, then Canon Nolloth (vicar 1880-1921) added lots of new furnishings and the exterior statues (it was too dark to do much photography outside – but I’m sure I saw Elizabeth I). Another restoration 1975-86.


The font is Norman – when I was in St Edmundsbury Cathedral we had another hanging font cover. Ecclesiastical Insurance got worried about it collapsing onto a baby and suggested we had supporting pillars. I pointed out that, while holding a baby, I would more likely to dash its brains out on a pillar than the lid collapse on us! I think we won that argument.











There are wonderful figures along the Nave walls – I love the bagpipe players. I think it is in March (Cambridgeshire) that there is an angelic bagpipe player – on the theory there must be at least one Scotsman in heaven!


















Nice stained glass from Hardman & Co. and Clayton and Bell, and a rather interesting memorial.




The military chapels are splendid, the central cenotaph (Pearson 1921) commemorates the men of the East Yorkshire Regiment who died in WW1, and the angel is on Major General Bowes’ tomb.


The wooden screen (Scott 1878), with an organ by Johann Snetzler (1769) – or, at least, some of it dates back to 1769. There are 68 misericords, but they are too fragile to be viewed. The reredos was renewed in 1826 and covered with statues and mosaics in 1897. The Northumberland Chapel houses the tomb of Henry Percy, 4th Earl, murdered by rebels in 1489.




In the retro-choir is a meditation entitled “pilgrimage” by Helen Whittaker, in stained glass and sculpture (2004). She did the Josephine Butler window at Kirknewton. The stained glass window in the south wall has a pilgrim sitting at the bottom, in prayer, contemplating his journey, and others making their way towards the light. The two figures are made of sheeted copper, looking towards the window, formed as if they are shards of glass which have fallen from the window – indeed their hearts are full of the light. I didn’t realise that the benches were part of the art – how sensible to design somewhere to sit, contemplate and pray – and the candle stand is in the form of a cross; I lit candles for my boys.




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One Response to Beverley Minster – St John & St Martin

  1. neiltheasby says:

    I enjoyed reading this enthusiastic, well-informed yet personal take on Beverley Minster. One can only wonder what the original shrine to St John of Beverley may have looked like for this was surely why the church was built on such a magnificent scale. He was literally a legend in his lifetime and seems to have taken on a significance that went beyond the bounds of religious belief. Pilgrims travelled so many miles and endured hardships simply to pay homage to him. Like a Buddha or Elvis Presley perhaps.

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