St John of Beverley

St John of Beverley

When John was Bishop of York he set up a monastic community in a remote spot where Beverley stands today. He spent his retirement here and died in 721.

There are many images of St John of Beverley in the Minster including a life-sized statue (above) from 1781.

John was one of the leaders of the Northumbrian Church in the 620s and 630s. He was Bishop of Hexham (687-706) and then York (706 – 714).

In old age he retired to a monastery he had founded in a secluded spot called by Bede Inderawuda, (an old name for East Yorkshire), where he died in 721. Tradition identified this place with Beverley, probably correctly; certainly a major church stood on this site before the Norman Conquest, as excavations have confirmed, and John’s tomb seems always to have been here.

It was John’s reputation – his holy life, and miracles after his death – that made the Minster a privileged sanctuary and a centre of pilgrimage, and which turned the remote spot to which he had retired into a thriving town. By 1377 Beverley was one of the dozen largest towns in England.

From very early days John’s miraculous powers were believed to include the granting of victory in battle. 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 1415 King Henry V won the Battle of Agincourt on the Feast of St. John’s translation (25 October); afterwards the King visited John’s shrine to give thanks, and made him one of the patron saints of the Royal family.

The cult of John, like all other saints, was abolished by Henry VIII, who robbed and destroyed his splendid tomb and shrine, but Beverley did not forget what it owed to John. His bones, rediscovered in 1664, were re-interred in their present tomb between the nave choir stalls.

Read more about royal visitors to the Minster here >