John of Beverley was an eighth-century clergyman who became a bishop in the year 705AD, at the height of the power of the medieval kingdom of Northumbria. He is best known for his work in establishing the town of Beverley in north east England and for founding the town’s first minster, making Beverley one of England’s most prosperous medieval towns.
The Life of John of Beverley
John of Beverley seems to have had a good start in life, being born to noble parents in the East Riding of Yorkshire, possibly at Harpham near Driffield. As with many of his wealthy contemporaries, he received a good education, and was schooled at Canterbury. He spent part of his early religious life within the community of St Hilda, Abbess of Whitby, after which he was consecrated Bishop of Hexham in 687AD. John has a strong significant connection with a major figure of the early Christian church, as he ordained the Venerable Bede as a deacon and a priest. John was also ordained as Bishop of Hexham (687 – 706AD) and Bishop of York (706 – 714AD).
John retired from mainstream religious life around the year 717AD, retiring to a monastery he had founded close to the settlement of Beverley, where he died four years later.
John of Beverley and Beverley Minster
After the death of John of Beverley, miracles were noted and he was canonised by the Catholic Church in 1037, and given a feast day of 7 May. The town of Beverley prospered due to the number of pilgrims visiting John’s tomb and the writer Folcard was commissioned to write his life around the year 1066. In 1295, a chantry was established in his honour by Edward I, who paid for a shrine at Beverley Minster, into which John’s remains were placed. Right up until the Reformation, kings and commoners alike visited the shrine, making prayers and offerings and even attributing the saint’s intervention for military success, as did Henry V after the Battle of Agincourt.
The Shrine of John of Beverley
The shrine appeared to have been destroyed in the Reformation, but was rediscovered in 1664 and interred under the floor of the minster in 1738. The saint’s feast is still observed in Beverley around the time of his feast day, with processions and prayers.