Beverley Minster is one of the finest Gothic churches in Europe and is equal to the greatest of our cathedrals.
The building of the church began in 1120. While the Minster was the church of the archbishops and provosts, St Mary’s was the church of the community and was built from the wealth of the community and merchants. The northeast transept chapel was built c1280. The extraordinary Priest’s Rooms were built above St Michael’s chapel in c1320s. They are medieval time capsules of items discarded there over the centuries from 1330s onwards.
St Mary’s is a well preserved example of a prosperous medieval urban church whose plan form and standing structure provide a palimpsest through which the principles of Gothic design and the changing demands of medieval and post medieval culture and liturgy, can be understood.
St Mary’s was substantially rebuilt in the late 14th and 15th centuries. The great clerestorys to the nave were started in 1380 allowing in much needed daylight following the Black Death and almost doubling the church’s height, giving the building its grandeur and airy feeling. The tower was rebuilt after its collapse in 1520, which also necessitated extensive rebuilding of the nave and was completed in just four years to avoid the dangers of being in ruin while Henry VIII was looking for churches to close.
The principal 19th century restorations were carried out in the 1840s and 50s by AWN and EW Pugin, and in 1864-7 by Sir George Gilbert Scott.
The collection of 625 ceiling bosses throughout the church are of exceptional significance. The 28 misericords in the chancel are extraordinary as an example not only of the fine wood carving of the Ripon carvers, but also characteristically representing the typological development of the wild man misericord in English art in the wider context. A Maiden’s Garland on display in the priest’s room and dating to 1680 is the oldest remaining example in the country.
One particular noteworthy feature is the Pilgrim Hare or ‘Lewis Carroll Rabbit’ flanking the door to the sacristy. Believed to have been the inspiration for the fictional character, this piece of carving is important both for its potential literary association and for its original association with pilgrimage.
St Mary’s church is a landmark visual feature in the town. Its physical presence dominates and frames the historic town, which, together with Beverley Minster, contributes greatly to the identity of Beverley and its tourist trade.