Beverley is a beautiful town just outside Hull in Yorkshire. Aside from its beautiful nearby countryside, quaint tea rooms and enormous collection of high street charity shops, Beverley has a lot of history to offer. At the heart of the community lies Beverley Minster; an enormous, gleaming monolith surrounded by little rows of houses, tightly packed like teeth.
There has been a place of Christian Worship on the site of the Minster for over 1300 years. In the 8thcentury, a monastery was founded on the Minster’s site, named Inderawuda. Today this is substantiated with archaeological research, adding more information to the site’s already rich history. The monastery founded by Bishop John of York became his retirement community, joining the monks after ending his bishopric. John died in 721AD and soon afterwards, pilgrims began to visit his gravesite. The modern church community references how,
‘Until the Reformation in the 16th century one of the great places of pilgrimage in the north of England was the tomb of John in Beverley.’
St John of Beverley was revered for his work in healing the sick and for triumph in battle. For many years, it was common for those about to enter battle to visit the tomb of the saint and wish for his powers to grant them victory against their enemies.
‘Alfred’s grandson, King Athelstan, is said to have prayed for success at his tomb, as a result of which he destroyed a coalition of his enemies in a great battle in 937. In 1138 John’s banner was one of the Northern banners behind which the men of Yorkshire marched to beat an invading Scottish army near Northallerton.’
In the 10thcentury, a cult had emerged around the adoration of John of Beverley and he was placed on a calendar of saints. Today, the plaque marking the tomb of John of Beverley is still revered as an important and interesting part of the Minster’s history.
In 1188, the Minster suffered a devastating fire, destroying most of the east end. All that remains today are some reused bricks and building materials and the Norman font. In 1190, the reconstruction of the Minster began and was repeatedly interrupted over the following centuries by Popes, collapses, famine and the black death of 1348. Throughout the 13thto the 16thcenturies, architectural alterations were made including gothic stylings and the addition of misericords to the choir stalls (Norwich Cathedral also has a wonderful collection).
On Easter Sunday 1548, all catholic worship in Beverley was supressed, ending 850 years of worship at the site. Thanks to the Reformation, within 10 years, the Minster was in a terrible state of disrepair, with a report stating that it was –
‘in great decay, and in a short space is very likely to fall into utter ruin and decay’.
Despite Henry VIII’s attempts to destroy all saintly relics and associated cults, the bones of St John of Beverley (thought to be lost after the destruction of his shrine and tomb) were rediscovered and re-interred in a new site beside the choir stalls.
Throughout the 18thand 19thcenturies, there was a constant stream of conservation, recreation and reconstruction within the Minster walls. These centuries saw the construction of a stone choir screen, designed by Hawksmoor, which was later replaced by an oak screen in the 1870s, new bell mechanisms and a new organ, which was built by John Snetzler and installed in 1769.
In the 1890s, a number of statues were carved and installed. The larger 12 statues, by Nathaniel Hitch sit in niches around the Minster. The smaller 69 statues, carved by Smith and John and Bryant Baker are scattered throughout church niches and in the tower. Trying to see all the carved figures within the Minster is a task in itself, with little carved faces peeking behind every corner.
The 20thCentury was a time of cleaning, restoration and the addition of war memorials, including the war chapel and cenotaph. At last, a memorial slab to St John of Beverley was set into the floor in 1936, bringing the celebration of St John into another century and for another thousand years of visitors.
One of the biggest draws for minster visitors today is the collection of carvings of medieval musicians. It is reportedly the largest collection of such carvings in the world and can provide entertainment for visitors of all ages, mainly for the bizarre gurns of minstrels, contorted around a variety of lutes and pipes.
MONUMENTS AND MEMORIALS (Highlights)
Aside from the grave of St John of Beverley, there are several large and impressive monuments to wealthy merchants and people of standing within the Minster.
The Warton Family
The larger, most impressive memorials within the Minster belong to that of the Warton family.
The first of these is the memorial to Michael Warton who died in 1655. He is depicted kneeling on a cushion in front of a desk and an open bible. The entirety of this memorial is in the most brilliant alabaster.
The largest of all Warton tombs is that of Michael Warton who died in 1725. The enormous monument is flanked by two grieving women and an extensive list of his charitable actions and achievements. As it is positioned so close to the window, it is illuminated daily by a kaleidoscope of colours.
The last of the Warton tombs are to Michael Warton and his wife Susanna, featuring elaborate scroll work and beautiful 17thcentury text.
Presumably, all of these Michael Wartons are related, but I’m unsure as to how!
Major General Barnard Foord Bowes
Bowes commanded British troops in several battles of the Peninsular war (1808-1814) and spent a life in the forces, rising through the ranks. He joined the 26th Foot regiment aged only 12 and finally became Major General in 1810, aged 41. During the Siege of Badajoz in 1812 (Napoleonic Wars), he was severely wounded and died shortly thereafter in battle at the Siege of the Salamanca Forts. His wife and family erected an enormous monument at the Minster, depicting many military symbols such as cannons and associated weaponry alongside his family crest and short summary of his military life.
Henry Percy, V Earl of Northumberland
Percy was born in 1446, was a supporter of Richard III and was present at the battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 (when Richard was killed and Henry Tudor was proclaimed King.) Percy’s funeral was an enormous and elaborate affair with around 500 priests in attendance and over 13000 paupers, each being paid to attend.
His tomb is rather simplistic in design, being a chest tomb. However, originally, the edge was decorated with stained glass which has sadly been lost to time.
Rev. Joseph Coltman
The Reverend Joseph Coltman was a great benefactor to local schools and a believer in education for all. His memorial states that,
‘he devoted much of his time and talents to education, training up children in the way they should go, forming the young in Christian principles…’
However, it was not just his kindness that made him a familiar sight in Beverley. He would frequently be seen zipping about the town on his velocipede (early bicycle), which was impressive considering that he was thought to be the fattest man in England, at 37 stone.
Should you find yourself in the vicinity of the Minster, I recommend taking a stroll past its many little chapels and monuments. And, while I can’t say that St John of Beverley has helped me in battle, I might say a quick prayer the next time I’m challenged to a duel.
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37 stone! I hope he had good brakes and a strong frame!
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I possess a series of personal letters written by the Reverend Coltman in the 1820’s to Harriot Taylor Fox and her mother Elizabeth Taylor,Harriot Fox died in the 1830 and is buried in the Minster beside her father Richard Fox.
George W. R .Johnson