Beverley Minster ranks architecturally with the cathedrals and thus with the best Gothic churches in Europe.
Simon Jenkins, England’s Thousand Best Churches
Beverley Minster is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful Gothic buildings in Europe. It contains elements of three Gothic styles – Early English, Decorated and Perpendicular all combined into a harmonious whole.
It is 333 feet (102m) in length, larger than a number of English cathedrals.
Approaching Beverley from any direction the visitor sees the slender twin west towers of the Minster standing high above the flat surrounding countryside. Special points of interest on the exterior are the west front and the Highgate door, both considered to be exceptional examples of the Perpendicular style.
The layout of the Minster conforms to that of most medieval cathedrals and large churches. Starting at the west end and proceeding east we find the nave, transept, choir, sanctuary and retro quire. There was an octagonal Chapter House but this was demolished in 1550 when the Minster changed from a collegiate to a parish church; only the steps remain. Two features of the Minster are unusual: there is a second transept near the east end and the main transept has aisles on both the east and west sides.
The Minster was built in the period 1190-1420. The east end up to and including the main transept is largely Early English, typified by pointed arches, lancet windows, stiff-leaf decoration, dog-tooth moulding and Purbeck ‘marble’. However, the great east window, which was originally composed of lancets, was replaced by a Perpendicular-style window in 1416 to match the style of the recently completed west window. The east window is the only window dating from medieval times. At the other end of the time scale, in 2004, a new window was installed in the retro quire celebrating pilgrimage.
The nave is Decorated, characterized by windows with curved tracery and by elaborate carvings on the label-stops and columns; some dogtooth moulding continues into this part of the building. The Percy tomb canopy is an outstanding example of the intricate carving done in the Decorated period.
The west end is Perpendicular having large windows with vertical tracery, and a general feeling of space and verticality. There is a splendid window depicting the history of the church in Northumbria.
The stone used throughout is limestone, mostly from Tadcaster near York. It is light in colour, giving the Minster a bright, luminous aspect not often found in medieval buildings. Especially at the east end there is considerable use of black Purbeck ‘marble’ (actually not marble but a hard limestone from Dorset) in shafts and columns.
One reason the Minster is judged to be one of the most beautiful Gothic buildings in Europe is that the different styles have been carefully harmonised. A magnificent example of this is the continuous vaulting from end to end.