Its a minster, not a cathedral, and a minster is a centre for the training of priests. Our guide on the roof-space tour explained that the north of England was more heathen so more priests were needed to bring them the word of God. Somehow that made me feel proud of my Yorkshire heritage.
There is a three colour plan showing ages of the minster here. As a teacher-training institute it had lots of students and so the original minster had lots of dorms, wash houses, kitchens, teaching rooms and administrative buildings – it would have looked like an abbey or monastery, with cloisters and all that stuff you can see at places like Fountains Abbey (grand but in ruins) or Salisbury Cathedral (incomplete but not in ruins). Now its just a parish church – but a big and delightful one, if you like this sort of thing.
The current church was built between 1220 and 1425, starting at the east end in the Early English style (simple lancet windows, solid stone columns decorated with detached columns of Purbeck marble). 40 oak tree were contributed for the build by someone (Royalty?) and most are still in place spanning the width of the transepts and choir, above the stone vaulting.
About the mid thirteenth century and hammer and chisel replaced the axe-like stonemasons main tool. This permitted more detailed and undercut carving, and saw the shift into the Decorated gothic, most noticeable in window stonework and foliage and other decorative detail.
One of my favourite details is in the Percy tomb:
The pleasure taken by masons in carving bits and pieces comes across well:
Perpendicular is mainly seen on the outside, and the twin towers of the west end apparently form the best example of its kind in Britain, but I don’t really know how to interpret that. Anyway the key features are the huge window, occupying most of the wall area, and the squarish stone panels topped with pinnacles at the top of the building, and the vertical stone mouldings spaced across all the walls perhaps exaggerating the verticality, or the perpendicularity of the structure.
Although the west end was the last part to be completed in about 1420 the process of keeping the Minster standing has gone on forever since then. or perhaps a century after completion things went well for the Minster – money came in to town from a growing wool trade and into the church from the stream of pilgrims paying for a miracle from their chosen saint, or buying an indulgence to get them more smoothly into heaven. But in 1530s came Henry VIII and the church lost huge amounts of land and wealth to the Crown and his friends. All the land round Beverley had belonged to the church, with its loss went the rental income. In the 1540s the Reformation struck, and further power and influence was taken from the English church and people began to question the power and central place of the church. Beverley lost its collegiate church status, and the minster became a parish church, there for the people to pray, rather than for the maintenance of a group of clergy. But without the old wealth of the church the building began to deteriorate, and it was sold to a group of local businessmen in 1548 for £100 (they more than recovered their cost by dismantling and selling the stone of the Chapter House). Soon the minster is in seriously poor condition, no glass in the windows and anything of value removed and sold. The decline of the local wool trade (the centre of production moved to the west riding) and the English Civil War didn’t help.
By the early 18th century there was an improvement in circumstances as people raised money to bring Nicholas Hawksmoor to town to rescue the north transept from collapse (the gable wall was leaning away from the building by four feet at the top). Later Sir Gilbert Scott was brought in to carry out more restoration work and in the 1890s the vicar of the church was married to a millionaires, so the rate of improvements accelerated with 100s of new statues, new bells and doors, and 15 new stained glass windows. The most recent round of major repairs was in the 1970s, and today work is under way to patch the leadwork on the roof of the Nave.