John portrayed as a bishop in the Great West Window. Hardman & Co. 1859-64
We know a great deal about John of Beverley. He died in 721 in his monastery and, during excavations, evidence was found of Saxon stone foundations close to the Minster.
Details of the life of John are known because the Venerable Bede devoted 5 chapters to John in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People – the first book of its kind. Written in 731 it is a contemporary document of the history of the period. What’s more, John had been Bede’s teacher when he was training for the priesthood.
John’s link with sanctuary is well documented but has also been embellished over the years.
John founded a monastery in Beverley when he was Bishop of York and retired to it, perhaps as a place of sanctuary, in 714. He died in 721 and was buried there. With no evidence to the contrary, his remains always seem to have been associated with the Minster where his relics lie to this day.
John’s reputation, evidenced in Bede’s book, was as a teacher and healer. His miracles were numerous and well documented. For this reason he was officially recognised as a saint in 1037 and Beverley became a centre of pilgrimage.
The story goes that King Athelstan was one such pilgrim who visited John’s shrine in 934 to pray for victory in battle. His subsequent success led to Althelstan granting the right of sanctuary to Beverley in 938 with the Minster church being the specific place for fugitives to find sanctuary.