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.


Introducing Beverley 1300

Beverley’s ‘founding father’ St John of Beverley died 1300 years ago – in AD 721. The town as we know it today would not exist without St John, and so we celebrate this – Beverley’s big birthday year – with a vibrant festival.

Running from Friday 22nd October – Monday 25th October 2021, the festival encompasses ideas, events, community, family, talks, film, real ale, & more. We are thrilled to unveil the programme for the long weekend:

Events take place in Beverley’s independent cinema, Parkway Cinema, and in the town’s two great medieval churches, The Minster & St Mary’s. But on the Saturday of the festival, doors are flung open at heritage sites across the entire town centre – from the North Bar to the Beck for our mini-pilgrimage trail:

We hope that you enjoy browsing the array of events on offer and we cannot wait to welcome you to the festival later this month.

The menu of beers being sampled on Saturday

We’re pleased to reveal the identity of the four local craft beers featured at the talk & tasting with Dr Dawn Maskell this Saturday night in St Mary’s Church. These are the beers we’ll be sampling, together the breweries’ tasting notes:

Benchmark Session IPA | Wold Top Brewery

“As well as setting the standard for our future session IPAs, this highly hopped yet drinkable session IPA pays homage to the surveyors ‘benchmark’ found on the windowsill of our farm house here at WT HQ which has been used as a reference point in measuring the altitude in our local area. Hop forward flavours are key in this beer which uses Chinook and Cascade hops to create floral and citrus notes alongside our home grown malt.” 

Saazy Blonde | Bricknell Brewery

“This beer is available throughout the year but is ideal summer drinking and one to tempt lager drinkers into trying some proper beer!  Pale malt, together with caramalt and wheat malt, produce a straw-coloured beer.  Saaz hops from the Czech Republic provide minimal bitterness and a lovely aroma.”

Oddfellows Red | (East Yorkshire Beer)

“Our Oddfellows Yorkshire Red named after an iconic pub on Trinity lane, Beverley, opened in 1753 and closed in 2013. I researched old ales and came across a red ale brewed using lighter roast barley which gave the ale a red glow as opposed to most of the older dark ales. Using the finest Maris Otter base malt, a healthy addition of darker crystal malt, lots of Wheat and extra Oats. Lightly hopped using English Goldings and Fuggle hops. The Malts are the star of the show, toffee and caramel aftertaste”

 Venn – Helles Lager | Atom

“Pale, golden and crisp with a sweet malty roundness. Brewed using traditional noble hops for a spicy floral flavour and light bitterness to balance.”

Tickets are still available. Don’t miss this special chance to learn more about the science (and magic) of beer production from an expert in the field of brewing.

The heritage sites on Saturday’s mini-pilgrimage trail

Today, we reveal the list historic buildings & boats participating in our mini-pilgrimage trail In the Footsteps of St John on Saturday 23rd October. We are delighted that from 10am- 4pm doors will be flung open at these eight heritage sites across the centre of Beverley:

St Mary’s Church
Toll Gavel United Church
The Guildhall

East Riding Theatre
The Treasure House
Beverley Minster (image: beverley photography)
St Nicholas Church
Beverley Barge Preservation Soc. (the Beck)

Pick up your Pilgrim Passport (and map) at St Mary’s Church, Beverley Minster, or the Tourist Information Centre, any time from 10am, and visit the sites on the trail, collecting stamps as you go. Return to either St Mary’s or the Minster with a passport full of stamps to receive a prize marking your achievement.

The Royal Banners Forward Go

A ‘royal’ banner has been raised high up on the south side of St Mary’s Church to announce the forthcoming Beverley 1300 festival. The banner originally flew outside London’s British Library during the exhibition Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War which ran October 2018 – February 2019. The smash hit exhibition featured treasures from the British Library’s collection including a beautifully illuminated copy of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History (which tells the story of the life of the Angl0-Saxon bishop, John of Beverley, who died 1300 years ago in AD 721).

The banner is intended to create an Anglo-Saxon ‘backdrop’ for the anniversary celebrations in Beverley this weekend.

For me, it evokes the era in which St John of Beverley lived and the legends which sprang up in the centuries following his death, such as King Æthelstan’s visit to the shrine.

Roland Deller, organiser of Beverley 1300

The banner, however, features a different Anglo-Saxon king, Edgar the Peaceful. The image comes from a document in the British Library, the New Minster charter (Cotton MS Vespasian A VIII) given by King Edgar the Peaceful to the New Minster at Winchester in 966.

The figure on the left is the Virgin Mary, and on the right St Peter with the keys and a book. In the centre is the king himself, holding a book (his charter), and above him four angels hold a frame around the enthroned Christ, who is blessing the king. Sentences on the facing page record (in Anglo-Saxon) ‘Thus He who established the stars sits on a lofty throne. King Edgar, prostrate and venerating, adores Him.’ 

Professor Barbara English who dreamt up the idea of bringing the banner to Beverley for the festival explains:

Edgar, king of all England from 959 until his death in 975, was the first English monarch to have a formal coronation, at Bath in 973, and the ritual formed the basis of all subsequent coronation services, including that of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. The book, now in the British Library, is written entirely in gold.

Prof Barbara English

Both Æthelstan & Edgar the Peaceful are among the 40 monarchs who appear on the Ceiling of Kings inside St Mary’s Church which was made in 1445. When visiting the festival, be sure to look up at the ceiling in the chancel: it is truly unique!

King Edgar the Peaceful on the Ceiling of Kings (made in 1445) in St Mary’s Church Beverley

    A double anniversary!

    As well as being the 1300th anniversary year of St John of Beverley, 2021 also marks 600 years since medieval England’s most well-known king, Henry V, visited the town in 1421.

    Henry had won the Battle of Agincourt on the Feast of the Translation of St John (25th October) and attributed his victory to the saint.

    We spotlight this kingly connection in two events at the festival:

    • A screening of Laurence Olivier’s 1944 classic adaptation of Shakespeare’s epic play, Henry V.
    • A talk ‘From Agincourt to Beverley and back‘, given by the historian Professor Anne Curry.