Medieval pilgrims would have walked up the church to the area behind the high altar. Here they could pray to their saint without disturbing services taking place in the Retor-Quire. Exquisite carvings of central bosses within the vaulted ceiling show the skill of the masons.
The Great East Window contains the oldest glass in the Minster, dating from c1220-30 to the early 1400s. The Window was reshaped then, 200 years after the original East End was built. Because of various restorations not all the figures are clear, but some saints are visible, including Peter with his keys, and St Andrew with his cross (the 'Saltire' of Scotland).
Look at the single lancet window in the Retro-Quire and note in the right hand corner a seated pilgrim with a triangular hat. Further up the window similar figures climb towards the light in the centre which represents the love of God. This great light shines on two bronze figures who travel searching for the meaning of life. The bright colours of the glass do not compete with the medieval glass of the East Window.
At the time of the millennium the Friends of Beverley Minster wanted to place a piece of modern artwork into the Retro-Quire transforming the area into a place of meditation and prayer. Several northern artists were asked for their ideas. The suggestions of Helen Whittaker were accepted. Helen designed new glass for a single lancet window, two sculptures, a three level candle stand (representing the Trinity) and benches from which to contemplate the meaning of the window and figures.
Pilgrimage is a sign of contradiction, and of resistance to our prevailing value system, that of the market. Pilgrimage, after all, has no function other than itself; its means is as important as its end, its process as its product. Its utility value is small, and its benefits cannot be quantified or costed. Its value is intrinsic. It is something that is good to do because it is good to do. It states clearly that the extravagant gesture (because it is extravagant in terms of time and commitment) is an irrepressible part of what it means to be human and to walk on the earth. And whether the context for pilgrimage is solitude or community, we will be drawn deeper into the mystery of God and the care of creation. (Kathy Galloway)
In the Retro-Quire are several tombs and plaques representing members of the Warton family who were benefactors to the Minster. The tomb of Sir Michael Warton (died 1655) dressed in armour, and that of his grandson John (died aged six in 1656), both in the retro quire, were made by Thomas Stanton of London. The tomb of Michael Warton (died 1725) is under the east window and was carved by Peter Scheemaker. Brass plaques in the floor indicate where bodies once were buried.
The Wartons originated from Hull. During the reformation of the 16th century they bought up much church property, including the Dominican Friary in Beverley. Sir Michael Warton (died 1655) gave £20,000 to the Royalist cause in the Civil War. His grandson, Michael Warton (died 1688) was said to be to be the richest commoner in England. Under the tomb of Michael Warton, (died 1725) is an inscription which records his many benefactions.
This space, accessed through the quire on the south east corner of the church, has an altar dedicated to St Katherine and is a place of quiet prayer, as well as being used for occasional smaller services. St Katherine was a Christian in Roman times who was martyred for her faith. This chapel has two separate areas laid out in different ways, one formal with an altar and chairs and one informal, focussing on a large wooden cross. If you look up you will see that you are in the lesser transept, part of the first phase of the building and very beautiful, with darkened stained glass and towering pillars.
There is a leaflet available in this chapel which explains something of what it means to be a Christian, and another which will lead you into prayer. These are free so please take one. Christians believe that God hears and answers prayer through the work of the Holy Spirit who came to bring life and power to God’s people at Pentecost. Linger awhile in this lovely chapel and try it for yourself.
Lord, here I am and here you are. I bring myself before you with all that I have been in the past and all that I will be in the future. Forgive all the things that I regret and guide my steps into the way that leads to eternal life.
In medieval times clergy were required to stand when praying. The services were often very long. By the Norman period clergy were allowed to perch on a 'misericord' - a shelf on a hinged seat. Misericord (from misericordia) literally means 'pity'. By the 1500s the carving under the shelf had become an artform, and Beverley Minster has 68, the largest set in the country.
The high altar, or communion table, stands in the quire and is used regularly for services of Holy Communion. This is just one of the places in the minster where the priest takes bread and wine, asks God’s blessing on them and distributes them to the people as symbols of the body of Jesus broken for us and his blood, shed for all for the forgiveness of sins. Other tables can be seen around the minster which are used for the same purpose, the most prominent being the modern round table in the nave. At the back of the high altar is a beautiful carved screen called the reredos, which is a Victorian restoration of the original 14th Century one which was found under layers of plaster in 1824.
The service of Holy Communion, in some churches known as the Mass, is a service inaugurated by Jesus Christ himself at the last meal that he took with his disciples on the Thursday before he died on the cross. Christians throughout the world share bread and wine to remember him on a regular basis. As we eat the symbols of his broken body and drink the wine we remember that his life is now part of our life, that he fills us with the gift of his Holy Spirit and gives us the means to live our lives in a different way. Even though we often fail to live up to God’s standard we can come to his table knowing that we are redeemed, put right with God through the death and resurrection of Jesus, his Son.
The reredos, which stands behind the high altar, was originally built in about 1340. There is a winding staircase leading to the top. It was partly damaged in the 16th century and the remains plastered over. It was hidden by a huge classical altar screen designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor in the early 18th century, which was sold and removed in 1825. Stones from the original reredos were found in a well in the floor beneath. It was rebuilt by William Comins in 1826 and in the late 19th century figures associated with the life of St John of Beverley carved by Nathaniel Hitch were placed in the niches.
In 1308 a new shrine for St John of Beverley was made of gold and silver and placed behind the high altar of the church. Thirty years later the reredos was built and the shrine placed upon the wide platform at the top. Thus, it would have been visible throughout the whole church. In 1416 the great east window was built and gave more light to the shrine. Precious gifts would have been displayed here.
The frith stool (or sanctuary chair) is the oldest object in the minster and it dates from Saxon times when Saint John of Beverley first established a monastery on this site. It may indeed have been a bishop’s throne. It is extremely rare and there is thought to be only one other surviving example, in Hexham Abbey. During the medieval period, when the present minster building was completed, the chair became part of the process of the granting of sanctuary for those being pursued.
The frith stool is traditionally associated with the right of sanctuary. Sanctuary means a safe place and churches could be places of sanctuary for fugitives seeking safety for 30 days until justice took its course. Fugitives had to obey the church leaders, stay out of trouble, list their wrongdoing and pay for up to 30 days' protection. The right of sanctuary (recorded in 1106) was granted to Beverley Minster by King Athelstan and was eventually abolished by Henry VIII.
O Lord God, your Son Jesus Christ suffered and died for us. In his resurrection he restores life and peace in all creation. Comfort, we pray, all victims of intolerance and those oppressed by their fellow humans. Remember in your kingdom those who have died. Lead the oppressors towards compassion and give hope to the suffering. Through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Percy Tomb has been described as “probably the finest 14th century canopied tomb in northern Europe”. Medieval art tells the story of Christian belief. The theme of the carvings on this tomb is the journey of the soul after death. The tomb represents heaven itself. On the north side Christ in Majesty sits at the pinnacle surrounded by angels carrying the instruments of the crucifixion.
After much research into the Percy family, who were one of the richest in the north of England in the 14th century, it has been concluded that the member of the family most likely to have been buried in the tomb was Lady Eleanor Percy who died in 1328.The wealth of the family is reflected in the position of the tomb (adjacent to the High Altar) and the cost (6 master masons worked on the carving). A shield held by one of the knights indicates that the family was loyal to the crown. The rest show family connections.
The Percy Chapel on the NE corner of the Minster is the last major addition to the church and was built after the death of the 4th Earl of Northumberland in 1489. The north window (typical late 15th century design with its four-centred arch) was a memorial to the earl. The stained glass shows the Percy Arms.
For many centuries the Percy family (later earls of Northumberland) lived at their castle at Leconfield (two miles north of Beverley), far away from the wars with the Scots. In the 14th century they bought Alnwick Castle and Warkwith Castle which was their preferred residence. After that, in 1489, the fourth earl when staying at his manor at Topcliffe was murdered by a crowd when trying to levy an unpopular tax. His body was carried in procession to Beverley Minster. 500 priests and 13,000 people attended his funeral.
In early religious communities the business meeting of the day would conclude with a chapter from their monastic rule being read. The place of meeting was then called the 'chapter house'. This became the name for the meeting room of other types of community, and so the clergy of the Minster had their 'Chapter House'. All that remains is the remarkable staircase, with its well worn steps.
Up to the time of Henry VIII the Minster had a large body of clergy and staff. At the Reformation it was converted to a parish church with a very small number of clergy, and there was no need for a Chapter House. It was eventually sold and demolished, to enable the rest of the Minster to be preserved.
Before the Reformation of the 16th century there would have been many medieval tombs in the minster. When Beverley Minster changed from being a collegiate church to a parish church many of these tombs would have been thrown out. The two remaining tombs, both 14th century, lie in the shop – a priest (Nicholas de Huggate, d. 1338, who was provost of the Minster) and a merchant.
The tombs in the shop are believed to be of a cleric and a medieval merchant. The priest is thought to be Nicholas de Huggate, an important official in the court of Edward lll and provost of Beverley Minster. He died in 1338. His effigy shows the coats of arms of many leading Yorkshire landowners. The merchant is unknown but is likely to be one of the wealthy burgesses in the town.
In the 18th century parts of the Minster were at the point of collapse and there was a national appeal for funds. A great cause of concern was the north transept wall which was leaning 4 feet away from the vertical. This was ingeniously moved back to the vertical by Wiliam Thornton, and the Minster was saved. The pillar at the left hand side of the shop entrance can still be seen to lean towards the restored wall. But what technology in the 18th century could be utilised to restore the leaning wall without re-building it?
The 18th century engravings on the north western pier of the transept show how a wooden scaffold cradle designed by William Thornton, was used to return the wall to the vertical. The pier by the shop doorway shows how far the north wall was leaning, and probably on the point of collapse. The bottom of the wall was cut and its connection to internal walls and the roof were severed. This freed the wall to enable it to be inched back into place with a see-saw action. The medieval brick ceiling was removed in this transept and a lighter plaster ceiling was put in its place to lessen the strain on the restored wall.
A 700 year old medieval building requires constant maintenance. However, from time to time the urgency of repair work causes our resources to be stretched beyond our limit. Currently we know that several million pounds will need to be spent on major projects. We depend upon the generosity of our visitors and external grants to enable us to keep the Minster open, just as they did in the 18th century. Our aim is to complete the restoration work so that the Minster can continue to be a symbol of God's presence, through his church, in the world today.
In the left hand bay of the south transept can be seen an old wooden cross with an interesting history. It once stood on the site of a First World War battlefield, on land that had been covered by German trenches and where many young men died trying to capture part of what was known as the Hindenburg line on the battlefield of Arras.
It was erected on Henin Hill, Arras, France in May or June 1917 and was dedicated to the officers and men of the 64th Infantry Brigade who fell on 9th April.In July 1931 the wooden cross was replaced by a stone cross which today can be seen in the Cojeul British Cemetery and the original was placed in the north-east chapel in the south transept of the Minster.
In the central part of the transept to the right of the Henin Cross, there is a cenotaph where illuminated scrolls bear the names of officers and men of the East Yorkshire Regiment who died in the First World War. Other screens show the names of the 9,500 men of the East Riding who were killed when serving with other regiments. Around the area of the south transept there are individual memorials to those who fought in the various wars.
A cenotaph is an "empty tomb" or a monument erected in honour of a person or group of people whose remains are elsewhere. The word derives from the Greek: κενοτάφιον = kenotaphion (kenos, one meaning being "empty", and taphos, "tomb"). Many noted cenotaphs are dedicated to the memories of groups of individuals, such as the lost soldiers of one country or empire, as is this one.
The furniture and cross of the south-east chapel are a memorial to the dead of the Second World War, and made by Robert Thompson (the Mouse Man of Kilburn) Some of the chairs in the chapel have mice carved into them, (see how many you can find); and the altar rail is to commemorate soldiers killed in Malaya.
The silk flags above the memorials and in the Percy Chapel are the regimental colours of the East Yorkshire regiment. They were laid up in the Minster in 1911 and left to decay slowly, which is the reason for their state of disrepair. The oldest flag dates from 1859. The darkened stained glass in the south transept was installed in 1921 in memory of those who died in the First World War and symbolises “the Age-Long Conflict between Good and Evil’.
O God, who longs to enfold both heaven and earth in a single peace: let your amazing love be at work upon the wasted efforts of our anger, injustice and grief; and give peace to your church, peace among the nations, peace in our homes, and peace in our hearts; through your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen
Based on a prayer by Eric Milner-White (1884-1963)
Tradition tells us that St John of Beverley was born in Harpham, a village near Beverley. He died in 721 and his remains were buried in the Saxon church of the monastery he had founded which was on this site at that time. Many believe that his tomb has never been moved. The building of the present church began in the late 12th century and finished in about 1400. It was built round the tomb of St John
St John studied at Whitby Abbey and later became bishop of Hexham and then of York. During his lifetime a number of miracles took place and after his death his tomb was visited by thousands of pilgrims. Many miracles of healing were recorded. Until the 16th century the tomb of St John at Beverley and St Cuthbert in Durham were the great centres of pilgrimage in the North of England.
"A prayer for Pilgrims
Teach us, O God, to view our life here on earth as a pilgrim’s path to heaven,
and give us grace to tread it courageously in the company of your faithful people.
Help us to set our affections on things above, not on the passing vanities of this world,
and grant that as we journey on in the way of holiness we may bear a good witness to our Lord,
and serve all who need our help along the way."
As you walk down the nave towards the middle of the church you will see on the right a large brass lectern, or reading desk. Every week the bible is read out from there. On the left is a carved wooden pulpit from where the preacher explains what God’s word means for us today. This beautifully carved pulpit was originally installed in the quire in about 1824 but was moved here in the late 19th or the early 20th century.
The bible: a reading from the Old Testament, stories, prophecies and poetry from the writings of the ancient Jewish nation in what we now know as Israel; the letters of St Paul from the New Testament; and the stories of Jesus from the gospels; are read every week in our main service in the nave of the church and even more often during smaller services in the quire. The bible is the central text of the Christian church and Christians believe that it is “God breathed”, written by human beings but inspired by the Holy Spirit and as such is the written word of God to all human beings. In it can be found all that we need to know about God himself and the means of salvation he put into place when he sent his son Jesus to earth to be our saviour.
If you look up to the ceiling from the tomb of St John into the central tower you will see a large circular boss painted in gold and red. Smaller stone bosses can be found throughout the Minster but this one is made of wood so that it can be lifted out of the opening it sits in. Having been lifted, it is moved to one side on a cradle and building materials can be lifted on a hoist from the floor to the roof space where our maintenance team have a workshop. In the 18th century a treadwheel was installed for building works and is still used today to lift the boss - see picture gallery.
The Minster Organ dates from 1767, and still contains pipes made by Snetzler, the builder. Music by Handel was played at its dedication in 1769. All church organs go through modification, and the latest new work was completed in 2016. There are 4000 pipes, with four 'manuals' (keyboards) and pedals. The organ screen dates from the 1877-80, designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott and made by James Elwell, and his employees at his workshop in Beverley.
It is thought by some that there was music before speech. From the beginning of recorded history we have sung, or played instruments, to give glory to God. Some of the carvings on the organ screen depict the musicians of the Old Testament, like King David. St Augustine said that 'the one who sings prays twice'. God the creator gives artistic gifts to humanity, and music offered in a place of great beauty gives praise to God which mere words cannot convey.
As you enter you are immediately struck by the sheer scale of the building which took over 200 years to build starting in the late 12th century. It replaced a Norman building which was damaged by fire. The earliest building on this site was a Saxon chapel used by the monks of a monastery founded by John, Bishop of York. What you see today reflects the development of Gothic architecture in three styles which are represented by the colour coding on your plan. The Early English style of the Quire was followed by the Decorated style in the nave and the Perpendicular style at the west end.
The word nave comes from a Latin word 'navis' meaning 'ship'. Although you can't see beyond the ceiling, if you were to go into the roof space you would see a lot of timber supporting the lead on the roof. The same structure is used in building the hull of a ship - but upside down.
The site on which the Minster stands has been a place of prayer and praise to God for over 1,300 years. As you stand at the nave crossing you may like to use this reflection from the prophet Jeremiah: "Stand at the cross-roads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls."
To your right as you look east you will see two statues. They are made of lead but painted to blend with the colour of the stone and are 18th century. On the right is Saint John of Beverley shown as a bishop and on the left is King Athelstan. They both played a very important part in the history of the Minster and the town of Beverley.
John of Beverley retired to a monastery here and died in 721. As a result of his gift of healing (recorded by Bede) he was considered to be a saint before 1000. This was confirmed in 1037 when his relics were translated to a new shrine. John's reputation meant that the Minster became a place of pilgrimage and the town grew to be one of the largest in the country by the 14th century. Over 1,000 years ago, King Athelstan came to pray before the tomb of St John before he went into battle with the Scots (or Danes?). After winning the battle, in thanksgiving to St John, he gave rights, land and wealth to Beverley Minster establishing a college of canons which lasted until the dissolution in 1548.
The font has been in use for over 900 years. Imagine how many children have been baptised here! It is made of Frosterley Marble which was brought here from County Durham, and if you look closely you will see fossils in the stone. Above the font itself is a very elaborately carved font cover or lid which would have been lowered and raised and used to keep the holy water safe from theft. It was made in 1726 and is a wonderful example of Georgian carving.
Baptism, or Christening as it sometimes known, is a ceremony that marks the beginning of the individual’s faith in Christ and their entrance into the Church. In its original form the person would have been fully immersed in water as a symbol of dying to the old life and rising again to a new life in Christ. Today the Church of England often baptises both adults and very young children and at a font like this they are sprinkled with water that has been blessed by the priest. The meaning however is the same, and the family makes promises to bring their children up as Christians within the family of the church. The ceremony is then confirmed when the person decides for himself/herself to follow Jesus.
Heavenly Father, by the power of your Holy Spirit you give your faithful people new life in the water of baptism. Guide and strengthen us by the same spirit, that we who are born again may serve you in faith and love, and grow into the full stature of your Son, Jesus Christ, who is alive and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit now and for ever. Amen.
At the west end of Beverley Minster are two large wooden doors carved in the early 18th century by a York wood carver named William Thornton. On the doors are figures of the four gospel writers Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Beneath the figures are their symbols – an angel, a lion, a bull and an eagle. Between the symbols and the figures are four carvings representing the different seasons of the year.
At the beginning of the New Testament of the Bible are the four gospels which tell the story of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Matthew, Mark and Luke relate their stories in a similar way, but John differs in that his main purpose in writing is to show that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing in him people may have everlasting life. Hence John is known as John the Evangelist.
The windows in the Nave are all Victorian. The aisle windows each take an event in the life of Christ, on the right, and pair it with an Old Testament story - for example the building of the Temple and Jesus ejecting the money changers from the Temple. The Great West Window depicts the story of the church in the north of England, and is the largest window ever made by Hardman of Birmingham.
During the Middle Ages Beverley was the headquarters of the musicians fraternity in the North of England. Throughout the Minster are many medieval carvings of people, and of minstrels with their instruments. Along the north wall medieval musicians play a variety of instruments; note the detailed carving. Many have been restored in the early 20th century by John Baker. Along the nave, above the central pillars, angelic figures play to the glory of God.