St Mary’s Church

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Beverley boasts two splendid churches; the Minster and St Mary’s at the opposite end of the main street. Last time I visited Beverley was a Saturday, the only day St Mary’s church is shut. Today was a Thursday, but I hadn’t done my homework properly and we arrived a few minutes before the church shut for lunch. This meant we had rather a scampered visit round and weren’t able to spend as long as we’d have liked.

The church was founded in the 12thC, but the nave and aisles were rebuilt in the 13thC. The west front is late 14thC. The central tower fell down in 1520 killing several of the congregation and damaging the church. The church was rebuilt and most of the building is perpendicular in style. It was a wealthy church and patronised by the craft guilds. It had a Victorian makeover by Pugin and Scott.

It is a splendid building, best seen from the west end with its tall perpendicular window with two small turrets at the corners. The nave has a clerestory with battlements and crocketed pinnacles. On either side are buttressed side aisles. The tall central tower has round windows with perpendicular windows above and is topped with sixteen crocketed pinnacles. The transepts are as tall as the nave and have flying buttresses.

The south porch has more crocketed pinnacles and a beautifully carved ogee arch with faces and leaves lining the arch.

Steps lead down into the large nave which is flooded by light from the plain glass clerestory windows. Above is a glorious painted ceiling with blue panels with gold stars, divided by ribs painted in brown, gold and green. Pillars with pointed arches separate nave and side aisles. Small heads are carved at the base of the arches. Those in the north arcade are of benefactors who helped finance the rebuilding of the church after the tower collapsed. Above the figures are circles with a carved quatrefoil.

On the pillar by the pulpit is a painted carving of five minstrels, although their instruments have been damaged or lost. In Medieval times, Beverley was famous for secular music and had a powerful guild of musicians which controlled all the minstrels of the north of England. The musician's guild contributed to the rebuilding of the church and their donation is commemorated by this carving.

The very tall and narrow chancel arch has a wooden rood screen across the base. There is a simple altar with green altar cloth. On the reredos is a painting of the last supper.

The carved choir stalls date from 1445 have carved angels on the arm rests and beautifully caved misericords. Unlike the Minster, these are displayed. Most are original although seven are 19thC. Each is different. There are wild men of the wood, green men, stag hunting scenes, bear baiting and even an elephant.

The chancel ceiling has painted representations of the Kings of England from Eggbert in 827 to Henry III who died in 1277. Each is set in a gold panel surrounded by scarlet ribs and gilded bosses. The style, dress and facial features are remarkably similar on all of them…. To save you lying on your back, a table mirror is provided to enjoy these in their full glory.

Don't miss the rabbit carved on the side of a doorway in the north aisle opposite the chancel. This is supposed to have been the inspiration of the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland.

This is a delightful church. It lacks the visual impact of the Minster, but is well worth a visit if in Beverley. For those with mobility problems, there is a lift to avoid the steps. The church is open Monday – Friday 10-4 (4.30 in the summer), but it shuts for lunch between 12-1. 



There is more information about Beverley here.

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