English Churches - East Riding of Yorkshire

Beverley Minster - Part One

The outside and some history

Tourists flock to York Minster but completely ignore the undiscovered gem of Beverley Minster, which is considered to be architecturally superior to it.

The first view of the Minster coming from the south on the A164 is unforgettable with the twin west towers dominating the surrounding housing.

Beverley Minster

Built of pale limestone, it gleams in the sunshine. It is particularly magical on a bright cold winters afternoon when the stone glows in the last available daylight, giving the building an ethereal appearance. At night the minster is floodlight.

As you approach you realise how asymmetrical the building is as there is no centre tower. It collapsed in the C13th and was never rebuilt.

Beverley Minster

This is soon forgotten as you take in the glory of the outside with its flying buttresses, crocketed (nobbly) pinnacles, battlements, carved friezes, arcading, statues set in canopied niches... There is almost too much detail to take in.

Beverley Minster

Entry is through the C15th Highgate porch set under a delicately carved triangular portico with blind arcading and two statues of bishops. At the top is the seated Christ with the twelve apostles on the top.

Beverley Minster

To appreciate the inside of the church it is necessary to understand a little of its history. A monastery was founded on the site in the early C8th by Bishop John of York. Little is known about the history of this church but it was sacked by Vikings and was refounded as a College of Canons in the C10th by King Athelstan.

John was canonised as St John of Beverley in 1037 and pilgrims flocked to his tomb. The tower of the Norman church collapsed at the beginning of the C13th. All that now remains of the once substantial Norman church is the font.

The present church was begun in the early C13th, when the chancel and transepts were built in the early English style.
Beverley Minster

The east window dates from 1419 when a large perpendicular window replaced the earlier lancet windows. This contains most of the medieval glass which survived the Reformation. The nave was added in the C14th, during the decorated period and the west end is late C14th/early C15th perpendicular.

At this time, Beverley was the eleventh largest town in England and the minster was a wealthy collegiate church and centre of pilgrimage. The College of Canons was suppressed by Henry VIII in 1548 when the crown seized its revenues. It was reduced to the status of a parish church. The chapter house was demolished and all that is left is the double staircase on the north aisle of the choir which gave access to it.

There was a major restoration in the C19th when many of the exterior statues were recarved or replaced.

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