Thousands celebrate 1300th anniversary of Beverley’s saint

A major community event took place in Beverley last weekend to celebrate the 1300th anniversary of town’s founder, St John of Beverley. One week on, we publish a gallery of images from this joyful festival, and we reflect on some its highlights.

On Saturday, eight heritage sites across Beverley came together to create a mini-pilgrimage trail around the town. Those who followed In the Footsteps of St John included the town mascot, Bertie the Beaver, and the Mayor of Beverley, Councillor Linda Johnson & her consort.

As well as getting their ‘Pilgrim Passports’ stamped at the heritage sites along the route, many people carried one of the 1300 scallop shells (an ancient symbol of pilgrimage) which had been gathered especially for the festival. The shells were collected by festivalgoers from the medieval porch of St Mary’s Church which was bedecked with backdrops painted by local artist Emma Garness. High up above the church – at the very top of the hoarding currently up for the restoration works – flew a huge banner which previously stood outside the British Library in 2018-19 for its smash hit Anglo-Saxon exhibition.

A stack of Pilgrim Passports designed by Mark Atkinson and printed by Pullan Printers

Byzantine Beverley?

The festival kicked off on Friday with a fascinating talk by pilgrimage expert Dr John Jenkins. He illuminated two Turkish links to the success of John of Beverley as a bishop and a saint – (1) the extraordinary education he received in Canterbury from Theodore of Tarsus, and (2) the flowing of oil from his tomb in the Minster, a phenomenon which originated at the tomb of St Nicholas (Santa Claus) in Myra! Dr Jenkins also traced pilgrim routes between York, Beverley and Bridlington.

Part of an early 15th century pilgrim badge from the shrines of St John of Beverley & St John of Bridlington. Museum of London ID 88.84

On a roll

2021 is also 600th anniversary of Henry V’s royal progress to Beverley in 1421, making it a significant double anniversary year for the town. And the festival ended on a high note with From Agincourt to Beverley and Back, a talk given by Professor Anne Curry on Monday. Professor Curry explained how the king had also visited the shrine of St John of Bridlington, and she amused the big audience with some of the Beverley entries from this fifteenth century roll of excuses from military service:

The National Archives reference E 101/55/13

Let all the trees of the forest sing for joy

In between these two amazing talks were services in the Minster, a screening of Henry V (the Laurence Oliver 1944 version) at Parkway Cinema, a beer tasting (of local craft beers) with an international brewing expert, and tales of My Journeyman Years from master stonemason David Switalla. The festival also included the dedication of a sapling oak, the first of 1300 trees to be planted by Beverley Town Council and Beverley & District Civic Society to help green the area.

Heartfelt thanks to everyone who helped make the festival happen, in particular my colleagues Professor Barbara English & Dr Jennie England.

Published by Roland Deller

Director of Development at St Mary's Church Beverley and Founder of New Paths Music

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